Blog Archives

Q: How do you remove pastel dust from your clothing, fingers, etc.?

Pastel dust

Pastel dust

A:  Pastel usually comes out of my clothes easily in the laundry, unless I have had an intense studio session where I let it make a total mess.  I try not to wear good clothes to the studio.  Getting it off my hands is easy with Artguard, a barrier cream I always apply before working.  A good scrub with soap and water washes the pastel right off.

The worst occupational hazard, believe it or not, is what happens to the tops of my shoes!  As I work, the dust falls onto my feet and I usually don’t notice until the end of the day.  Whether made of canvas, leather, or whatever, shoes can be a problem when it comes to removing the dust.      

Comments are welcome!

Q: What do you do to protect yourself from toxic pastel dust?

Used surgical mask

Used surgical mask

A:  Certain sticks of soft pastel contain toxic lead and cadmium so some precautions are necessary.  Before I begin working, I liberally apply a barrier cream, called Artguard, to my hands and wrists so that pastel will not be absorbed through my skin via small cuts that I might have.  I wear a surgical mask to avoided breathing the dust.  Also, I try to work so that my hand is below my head, to lessen the likelihood of breathing particles of pastel as they fall to the floor.  I ensure there is good air circulation in my studio.  Once the dust has settled onto the floor, I try not to stir it up again until I dispose of it.  I’ve been working with soft pastel for 27 years and have managed to stay healthy so far.

Comments are welcome!   

Q: When and why did you start working on sandpaper?

Raw sandpaper

Raw sandpaper

A:  In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League in Alexandria, VA, I took a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint.  I had just begun working with soft pastel (I’d completed my first class with Diane Tesler) and was still experimenting with paper.  Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper.  I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else. 

The paper (UArt makes it now) is acid-free and accepts dry media, especially pastel and charcoal.   It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment, blend, etc. without having to use a fixative.  The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel.  If the tooth does fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again.  My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper (occupational hazard:  rubbed-raw fingers, especially at the beginning of a painting as I mentioned in last Saturday’s blog post), making countless corrections and adjustments, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors, etc. – evolved in conjunction with this paper. 

I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over.  Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper.  I buy it from ASW (Art Supply Warehouse) in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10 yard long rolls.  The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it it lays flat immediately.  With Ersta I laid the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Are you close to finishing any pastel paintings?

"Absencee" not quite finished

“Absence” not quite finished

A: I’m putting finishing touches on a small one, “Absence,” which is 26″ x 20″ unframed. It depicts paper mache figures that I bought some years ago in Oaxaca and Mexico City. I added those two blue and white “volcano” shapes on the left after my recent trip to Bali. Check out the dust (and torn pastel wrappers) on the easel. That’s what inspired the name of my blog.