Wednesday, 5 October 2011

8 ways to deal with pastel dust

Pastel is a great medium: fast, luminous, subtle. The drawback of working with almost pure pigment is dust. Whatever technique you use, whatever style is yours, soft pastels crumble and generate dust. Here is my personal way to deal with it:

1. I always put an old vinyl tablecloth on top of the table I am working on. At the end of the session, I use an old sponge to clean the dust (don't use the sponge for the washing-up... some pigments are harmful chemicals).

2. I affix my pastel paper to a drawing board with strips of framer's tape and I tape a rolled paper towel under the pastel paper to catch some of the falling dust (see photograph).

3. I start by working with harder pastels (like the square Conté sticks) that do not make as much dust as the softer sticks.

4. If I feel that I have too much dust floating on the surface of the paper, I bring my drawing board outside of the house, hold the board straight and tap gently on its back to make the dust fall.

5. I wash my hands regularly with soap during the painting session. I am conscious that some chemicals may pass through the skin pores and, as I do not like to paint with gloves, I make sure I clean my hands often. I take extra care to wash my hand if I want to eat something during a break.

6. I apply fixative early in the process. Fixative can change the colour of pigments and some artists stay away from fixing their work for this reason. I take a medium approach. I will spray fixative two or three times during the painting process, but not in the last stage. I think this is a good compromise because it settles some of the pigment onto the surface but let the colours of the last layer intact.

7. If a pastel stick is dirty because it gathered dust from other pastel sticks, the trick to clean it is to have a small plastic container with raw grains of rice. You pop the dirty stick into the container and gently shake it. The rice will clean the stick.

8. I frame my work with a gutter behind the mount to catch any dust that falls after the work has been framed. See my article on how to frame a pastel for more details.


Cindy Michaud said...

Great suggestions! One more to add, build a gutter with aluminum foils and tape it in the tray beneath the painting. I collect the dust in various color coded old jars with the intention of mixing up new greys!

Benoit Philippe said...


Great tip. Thank you for sharing.