Oil Pastel Paper

The Benefits of Gesso

Gesso is a remarkable substance that can transform the surface, or “tooth,” of paper. Its primary purpose is to create a barrier between the oil pastel and the paper, making it easier to work with. Additionally, gesso can alter the color of the working surface, adding a unique touch to your artwork. One of the advantages of using gesso is its ability to make oil pastels completely reworkable. You can effortlessly wipe off the colors down to the gesso layer, without leaving any unsightly stains behind.

Is Gesso Available in Different Colors?

You might be wondering if gesso comes in other colors. Well, according to John Elliott’s FAQ section, it is primarily designed to protect the paper from oil pastels. However, he clarifies that as long as the oil pastels you use contain inert oil, such as mineral oil, instead of chemically active oil like linseed oil, you can confidently paint directly on the paper. In fact, Mr. Elliott himself has oil pastel paintings that are more than 40 years old, done directly on pastel paper, museum board, and heavyweight watercolor papers. These paintings have stood the test of time and are expected to last for many more years to come.

While Mr. Elliott doesn’t know the exact formulas used by most oil pastel manufacturers, he has received assurances from both HK Holbein and Sennelier, two well-known brands, that their professional artist quality oil pastels use inert oil. So, you can confidently use these professional quality brands. There may be other brands out there that also use inert oil, and this article will be updated as more information becomes available. Just remember to select archivally safe papers, looking for terms like acid-free and archivally safe, to ensure the longevity of your artwork. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to check directly with the manufacturer.

The Great Paper Debate

When it comes to paper, opinions can vary. Some insist that you can use oil pastels directly on quality paper without any issues, as long as you use high-quality oil pastels and archival paper. On the other hand, there are those who believe that gessoing the paper is a must. They claim that if you don’t use gesso, the oil in the pastels will eventually seep through and ruin the artwork over time. It’s a bit of a long-winded debate, but the bottom line is this: use your judgment and choose what works best for you. Oh, and speaking of pastel paper, does it refer to the sandpaper type? If so, isn’t that specifically designed for soft pastels? Additionally, wouldn’t the abrasive surface of sandpaper wear down oil pastels faster compared to normal paper?

Make Your Own Sanded Paper

If you’re a prolific artist or if you work on large-scale projects, making your own sanded paper can be a more cost-effective option. With colorfix primer or clear acrylic gesso, you can create your own sanded surface. It may take some practice and technique to achieve a smooth and even surface like the commercially available colorfix paper, but it is definitely doable.

My Preferred Choice: Watercolor Paper

Creating my own sanded paper might be appealing, but unfortunately, I lack the necessary space and proper ventilation to undertake such a project. That’s why I usually opt for paper, particularly watercolor paper. I find it to be a delightful choice due to its unique texture. I have experimented with various samples, including Rives printmaking paper, Strathmore watercolor paper, and Blick’s primed canvas. Although the canvas option doesn’t suit my taste for oil pastels, I’ve found the watercolor paper to be quite satisfactory.

The Versatility of Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper, especially the cold press or rough variety, is a popular choice among artists. Many artists use it, whether gessoed or not, simply because they already have it from previous art experiences. It offers a substantial and durable surface that allows us to be more aggressive with our oil pastels and artistic tools. For those who prefer using gesso or primer, stretching the watercolor paper can prevent curling and buckling. However, when you purchase watercolor paper, keep in mind that you’re paying for sizing, which controls absorbency. This feature is not necessary for any medium that doesn’t require absorbency control.

Finding the Perfect Paper

To clarify, when someone mentions paying for sizing that is not needed in watercolor paper, they are referring to the added cost of the sizing process that controls the paper’s absorbency. This is of particular concern for me as I want to ensure that my oil pastel artwork does not deteriorate over time. As mentioned in the Oil Pastel Society thread, I have recently received and experimented with samples of various papers, including Rives printmaking paper, Strathmore watercolor paper, and Blick’s primed canvas. While canvas doesn’t meet my preferences for oil pastels, I remain open to exploring other options.

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