Saturday, October 10, 2009

Examined: Pastemat paper

Before I jumped onto the Pastelmat bandwagon, I decided to do some research and a few experiments to learn more about it. I am sharing the results. Maybe others can learn and benefit. More knowledge will help you and me use this paper in the best, most appropriate ways.

.Where does it come from?
.What is it made of?
.What is the support? What is the surface?
.How does it "take" a mark?
.How does it react to washes?
.Is it lightfast?
.What colors does it come in and how much does it cost?
.My Conclusion
.Links to other reviews of Pastelmat paper.

continue reading - - - -

DISCLAIMER: Neither I or Observe Closely is affiliated with Clairefontaine, Armadillo Art, Colorfin, or any art supplier or retail store and I did not accept payment of any kind for this review. I have been as fair and unbiased as I can possibly be.

Where does it come from?
Pastelmat is made by Clairefontaine, a division of the publicly traded and diversified French company called Exacompta-Clairefontaine. A very large majority of its stock is held by one family, the Nusse. Despite having recently lost about 30% of its stock value, Exacompta-Clairefontaine upgraded its manufacturing plants last year and also purchased a paper company in the UK, further consolidating its position. They are the manufacturers of other well-known paper products such as Rhodia pads and portfolios. So here's hoping that if we fall in love with this paper, we can be confident that Clairefontaine isn't going to vanish soon. (Fingers crossed anyway!)

Pastelmat paper is distributed in the US by a partnership of Colorfin (located in Kutztown PA, the inventors, patent holders, and makers of PanPastels) and an art supply wholesaler called Armadillo Art and Craft (located in Hillsborough NJ.)

What is it made of?
ADDENDA [9Nov09] Received from Armadillo/Colorfin today*: ". . . there is an error on the French Clairefontaine website about cork which they will change.
This is the info that came from Clairefontaine:
. There is no cork in the Pastelmat coating.
. The backing paper is a white Kraft cardboard, coated on one side.
. The coating consists of thin cellulose fibers applied to the cardboard.
. Pastelmat is acid free
. The coating is lightfast
. Pastelmat is lignin - free"

Here is the description of Pastelmat paper from Armadillo's website:
"CLAIREFONTAINE developed this paper to meet the specific expectations of the most demanding pastel artists. Its single and original surfacing is a true innovation, which combines the advantages of two papers tradionally [sic] used: "Velour surface" and "Pounce". The fine particles are well fixed for a smooth surface and an optimal comfort of use. The smoothness of the cork grain fixed in the adhesive ensures longevity to artwork. The character "fixing" of this surface with such a pleasant touch is so extraordinary that the superpositions of multiple layers of coulours [sic], the realization of flat tints and precise details of delicate transparent veils are easy to achieve."

We are all relatively familiar with "Velour surface" paper. But what is "Pounce"? According to, the definition is 'paper coated with pumice for polishing felt hats'. Which actually sounds like it ought to be quite useful for pastel work, but in the context of Armadillo's garbled sales blurb, quoted above, it probably refers to the whole family of sanded papers, such as UArt and Wallis, used by pastelists.

It appears that Clairefontaine is positioning Pastelmat in the niche between velour paper and sanded surfaces. So the first thing I did was look very closely as the differences among PastelMat and Hahnemühle Velour and Wallis 'professional grade' Belgian Mist.

* [9Nov09] I don't know about you, but I am a little disturbed about the apparent "confusion" (dissimulation, duplicity) coming from Clairefontaine about exactly what the surface material consists of. Why would they lie? What are they hiding? This is a big and sophisticated company that knows how to communicate with precision in English. This is NOT some backyard operation that might get muddled about what's in the vat. I don't like it.


What is the support? What is the surface?
First of all, look the weights of each of the underlying support papers:
Paper g/m2 lb surface
Hahnemühle Velour 260 120 "inert synthetic fibers"
Wallis Belgian Mist (pro grade) 240 about 110 "inert white aluminum oxide abrasive"
Pastelmat 360 170 "cork grain" and "acid free"
Pastelmat's support is heavier than both of the others. Good sign, but that tells us nothing about quality or performance.

Now, look at the descriptions of the surface treatments. Despite the fact that inertia appears to be important, this comparison also doesn't tell us much about performance or "feel". Pastelmat looks and feels (to the fingertips) very smooth and a bit slick and hard. It doesn't seem as if it can grab nearly as much pigment as either Velour or Wallis.

But wait.
How does it "take" a mark?
Next, I made a mark on each with a Townsend softie, pushing down fairly hard. As you can see the pigment goes on more crisply and more richly than on the fibrous Velour paper. But not as impasto thickly as the Wallis. But almost! (Click on the image to open a larger version. You can almost see the fibers of the Velour, the sand of the Wallis, and the smoothness of the Pastelmat.)

Naturally, Pastelmat will not accept as many layers as the Wallis, but it did surprise me with how many it did take before clogging.

And you can layer veils of color easily as well. A 'sampler' sheet is below. Provided it's taped to a rigid surface to keep it flat and parallel with your sticks, you can layer and layer.

I didn't have much success with blending, particularly the overall blending with a sponge brush to create a toned support. This does not work well on Pastelmat. My suggestion: if you need a special overall tone, use a wet wash.

The Tape Test: Some have reported issues with artists' tape, used to tape Pastelmat paper to a board. There are rumors that the surface may be damaged as the tape is removed. I tested this with a few different brands of artists' masking tape that I have on hand and didn't have any problems with the tape, either leaving a residue or removing the surface. As in all things, however, a bit of care is required. Just don't yank it off.

How does it react to washes?
Below are test sheets showing how the Pastelmat paper reacted to various washes. (BTW, these samples are on the 'Light Grey' colored paper.)
As you can see, all of them look just fine. The surface treatment was not disturbed at all. No movement, no dissolving, no gouges or scrapes. And the paper did not warp or buckle much at all. If the paper is taped to a drawing board (or mounted to museum board) then you'll have no warping worries at all when using washes. (If you want to get a closer look at how the washes look, click on the image.)

ADDENDUM [16Mar2013]: Clairefontaine recommended NOT mounting with heat. Perhaps "dry" adhesive sheets would work, if mounting is necessary.

So then! I took these three wash samplers to the sink and scrubbed the surface with a brush under running water. Then I put them in front of a fan to dry. Result: no buckling, no de-lamination of the surface. They had a significant 'ghost image' but otherwise seemed as good as new, the tooth clean and ready to go. (A pic of how the Turpenoid sampler looked after that vigorous washing is here.)

The Humidity Test:
If a loose sheet of Pastelmat is just sitting around on my table, it tends to curl up just a bit. (I live in a fairly humid environment.) So I do very much prefer to tape it to a rigid board when I work on it. If I decided this was my ultimate paper of choice, I’d consider ordering a number of sheets dry-mounted to museum board.

ADDENDUM [3Dec09]: Here is a WID/demo of a pastel painting begun with a watercolor underpainting on Pastelmat. There are some interesting initial and followup comments on the performance of the paper.
ADDENDUM [19July10]: Ideas on how to "erase" a pastel painting from Pastelmat.

Is it lightfast?

A sample sheet of the dark gray colored paper has been hanging on the window glass, in my south-facing window, for about two weeks and shows no fading. I will report back after six months.
UPDATE: Here (on the left) is the result of the lightfast test. It was an 'Anthracite' colored sheet and it was in my south-facing window for almost a year. As you can see, there is no fading.


What colors does it come in and how much does it cost?
There are eight colors, as shown below. There are two different kinds of pads.  Pad A has three sheets each of those 4 colors as shown, for a total of 12 sheets. Pad B comes with the other four colors.. The sheets in the pads all have glassine interlaced, which is nice. All eight colors are also available in 20" x 28" sheets.

In my hands the pads fell apart quickly. When I removed a single sheet the whole glued area at the top of the pad came loose from the front and back covers. So if you are expecting the pad to travel as a unit, you'll need a binder clip to hold the whole thing together. The back cover is very thick, smooth, and sturdy, so it might also stand-in as your drawing board.  

Here is the price per square foot for Pastemat sheets from Dakota, as compared to the other two papers. I am hoping this will drop as the novelty of the paper wears off and it becomes more widely available. (I sometimes hope for things fruitlessly.)
Paper sheet size + price $/sq. ft.
Hahnemühle Velour 28x40 sheet@$12.00 $1.56
Wallis Belgian Mist (pro grade) 24x36 sheet@$17.00 $1.62
Pastelmat 20x28 sheet@$9.90 $2.61
Right now Pastelmat is available online at Dakota and at Fine Arts in Rochester NY. (Other retail stores are listed here.)

ADDENDUM [3Dec09]: This is posted on the Fine Arts website, on the page for the 19.5"x25.5" white sheets: "PLEASE NOTE: Our initial shipment of Pastelmat was dented on one corner. We are selling these sheets off at an additional discount. Once these sheets are gone (and we receive our next shipment), the price will go back up to the original MSRP. Buy them now while you can at this price!!!" Note: the current price is $8.99 ($2.61/sq.ft.) and the "MSRP" is $16.99 ($4.92/sq.ft. <--yikes!). The question of why the shipment to Dakota had a different sized sheet, by 2" in length, than the shipment to Fine Arts is an interesting one.


My Conclusion
I like this stuff! It's not as aggressive as Wallis and not as fuzzy-wuzzy vaporous as Velour. It works very nicely with the Panpastels. It takes a good strong mark when you need to make one and it accepts layers. I am going to shift to this exclusively for a few months, to give it a real work-out.

(My Next Step: Make a direct comparison between Pastelmat and the smoothest UArt, the 'P800'. This would seem like a good head-to-head comparison of two papers that seem to be aiming at the same fine-surfaced niche. The UArt 'P800' sheet, 27"x40", is $1.65/sq.ft., about a third less than Pastelmat. Report coming!)

Links to other reviews of Pastelmat:
. Richard McKinley, 'A New Surface for Pastels', in his Pastel Pointers Blog (17Aug09). "As pastel was placed to the surface, it was like magic. It grabbed the pastel, retaining a heavy bold indication of the stroke. Multiple applications of pastel could be added without any indication of the tooth being compromised."
. REVIEW: Clairefontaine Pastelmat
, by Tracie Koziura, in the 'Pastel Scribbler' the newsletter of the Pastel Guild of Europe. It's on page 10 of the November 2009 issue.
. Deborah Secor, 'Pastelmat is Coming to the US!, in her Deborah Secor: Art and Faith blog (30Jine09). "The depth is surprising considering the feel of it. I also found it to be forgiving. I could lightly scrub out offending areas with a stiff paintbrush and repaint."
. Deborah Secor uses Pastelmat paper in this half-hour video entitled Panpastels: Landscape Painting with Deborah Secor. You can watch and see how the surface reacts to the pigment.
Robert Sloan, 'Product Review: PastelMat -- Fine New Art Surface!', on Hubpages (Aug09). "It has its own feel. Maybe the softness of the cork is what fooled me that it wasn't even coated -- but it acts coated when it's time to do layer on layer on layer!"
. Kim Ratigan, 'Paper Fun- Fisher 400 and Pastelmat', on Paintings and Portraits blog (23May09). "I liked the fact that I could blend with a stiff brush or stump, but finger blending didn't work well here."
. Gayle Mason, 'Comparison of Pastelmat, Pastelbord, and Fisher 400 paper', on her blog Fur in the Paint (22May09). "It took several layers, you could get a nice sharp line and on the black it was possible to get a really white, white."
. Pastelmat - color choice
- Discussion of paper color choices and reactions to wet underpainting.
. Pastelmat is actually amazing stuff!  - Quick review on WC.
. PastelMat - How Much Abuse Can It Take?   - Another thread on WC.


Your reward for reading this far: For the first 20 people who send me a request, I will (a) send you a 4" x 7" sample of Pastelmat paper and (b) I will erase/delete/destroy your address as soon as I mail the envelop. I promise not to keep your info for any reason whatsoever! If interested, send your free sample request and your mailing address to me at: observe[dot]closely[at]gmail[dot]com


Deborah said...

Excellent review and well written. Thanks so much for carefully examining this paper and letting us know your results.

One thing I want to address is this: "I didn't have much success with blending, particularly the overall blending with a sponge brush to create a toned support. This does not work well on Pastelmat. My suggestion: if you need a special overall tone, use a wet wash."

I've been using this paper for almost a year now and have found that I can get perfectly gorgeous wash-like blends using the PanPastels and the large round sponge in my initial application. I lay in two or three colors and blend horizontally, then vertically.

I had some masking tape (not Artist's Tape) pull a good section of the coating off one corner of the paper after it had been wet quite thoroughly. It seemed dry but I believe the water had loosened the surface beneath the tape. Care is recommended, as you said.

I also find that this surface is a bit fragile. It can be scratched more easily than Wallis and deserves to retain its companion sheet of glassine over it as much as is reasonable. I store the sheets between glassine (and I'm delighted that the larger sheets come in a poly-bag with glassine between them.)

Thanks again--great review!

Observe Closely said...

Thank you, Deborah, for your valuable tips and your comments!

I had not tried the panpastels on the Pastelmat for an overall wash-like blend. (I just tried a soft stick and then the foam brush.) Thank you for your report! It's good to know that it's an alternative that works well.

Debi Fitzgerald said...

Hi! I just found a link to your blog while looking up some info on PastelMat. I have been using this paper for about a year now and want to try under painting for my pastels. I was trying to find some info on mounting PastelMat. I dry mounted it and found the paper changed. When researching this I found that Clairefontaine recommended NOT mounting with heat. I work in the bigger sheets and am afraid of warping. I too live in a humid climate... it does curl some. I worked on velour for years and always dry mounted. I like the extra stability it provides. I contacted the US supplier about this and they went to Clairefontaine and they recommended an "auto adhesive" glue... one that dries before mounting...? thought I would ask you if you have come across anything like this or have any ideas... Love for you to check out my work some time.... Thanks!

Observe Closely said...

Thanks, Debi, for your comments! Please give me a link to the place where you found the Clairefontaine recommendation to NOT use heat-mounting with the paper. I'd like to see that.

I am not sure what they mean by "auto adhesive" glue, but maybe those adhesive sheets that just press-on are what they are after:

I'd love to see the page where you found all this mounting info. I would appreciate it!

Also tell us more about exactly what you mean by "I dry mounted it and found the paper changed." How did the paper change? Was is ruined? I assume you mean heat-mounted, right?


Debi Fitzgerald said...

Hi Jan! Thanks for getting back to me. It has been a while since I found that link about the avoiding heat mounting. I just google "Clairefontaine PastelMat" and read whatever I could find. I do remember thinking it would have been nice if the co. had written something to that effect on the packaging! So I am pretty sure it was a co. web site. What I found was that the paper became mottled looking. And it felt like the pile was less... like it was not going to take as many layers. But it was the first 2 pieces that I did on it and they both had back grounds, so I did not care about the coloring. And since I had never worked on it before.. I did not miss what I did not know. Both portraits came out great, so I figured the paper could only get better. I did just hear from the US rep for PastelMat and they contacted the company in france and they confirmed that dry mounting (w/heat) was "not recommended". I had my framer dry mount it in their heat press. I will email you a link to the piece I did on it with the dry mounting! Thanks again for all your info! Debi

Observe Closely said...

Good warnings, Debi! Thank you again for the added info.