In addition to the set of pastels, you also need something to draw on. The cool news: A wide range of papers and pastel boards is available for pastels, including pastel papers, charcoal papers, sanded papers, and specially prepared cardboards and hardboards. When choosing a support to use for pastel, read the manufacturer’s product description to see whether pastel is a suitable medium for that material. You can find this information on the cover of a pad of paper, in the display at the art supply store, in the catalog description, or online on the manufacturer’s or distributor’s Web site.
The following list gives you a brief description of various kinds of paper and boards available so you can decide what you need.
Charcoal papers: Charcoal paper is the most common support used for pastels; when you’re just beginning your pastel drawing endeavors, we suggest you start with this type. Charcoal is a soft drawing material similar to pastels. Papers made for work in the charcoal medium also work very well for pastel. Charcoal papers do tend to be more textural than papers made specifically for pastel, however, so you may or may not like the heavy texture. We recommend that you try it to see how you like it. Charcoal papers are widely available in pads and as individual sheets; some well-known manufacturers are Strathmore and Canson, and they come in a wide variety of colors.
Art papers: Art paper is a term for papers specially made for drawing, printmaking, and other media. Sometimes referred to as rag papers, they’re acid-free, archival papers meant to last well into the future, which means they don’t yellow, turn brittle, and decay like papers made from wood pulp (such as newsprint). Arches Cover, Rives BFK, and Stonehenge are common, high-quality art papers that are worth trying. Generally you can find these types in white or off-white colors and some have black also.
Boards for pastels: In addition to papers, commercially prepared boards are available for pastel. The manufacturer mounts pastel or sanded paper onto rigid composite cardboard supports. These boards are convenient and easy to use, but they’re not all acid-free, so make sure you know what you’re getting. Another interesting type of board made for pastel is a specially primed Masonite or hardboard panel. These boards are convenient and the surfaces are very nice to work on, but the boards tend to be a little pricey, so you may want to stay away from them until you become a bit more experienced with pastels. All come in a variety of colors.
Specially prepared supports: Sanded papers have a mixture of sand, marble dust, or other grit applied to the surface that firmly captures and fixes the pastel pigment to the surface. You can add many layers of pastel to the surface, sometimes with little need for spray fixative. They come as heavy sheets of paper or mounted onto foam core or cardboard. They’re available in white and a variety of colors. Many beginners experiment with this type of surface by using sandpaper from the hardware store. This experimentation is good, but keep in mind that commercial sandpaper quickly ages and turns brittle. If you want to try this, get 400- or 600-grit sandpaper for your experiment.
Canvas and unorthodox supports: You can use other surfaces for pastel as long as they’re properly prepared. You can paint specially made primers onto a wide variety of surfaces, such as Masonite panels, rigid canvas panels (but not stretched canvas), metal, and wood, to make them receptive to pastel. Some artists prefer this process because it allows them to customize the surface for a particular project by toning it.