Recently I've experienced three novel and important changes to my pastel work; the size of my surface, the type of surface and the tools I use. Most of my work since November of 2013 (around the time I began taking pastel seriously) was 12x16 inches or smaller, due to economic considerations. My reasoning was that I could get 10 sheets of pastel card in a pad for a reasonable price and I was pleased with the results. I was using good materials from Sennelier and my pictures seemed alive and interesting, more so than anything I made in college. Something I neglected though was the importance of working large. Larger scale works allow marks whose scope and thrust are un-attainable on a 7x10 pastel board. There is something more familiar with a scale that mirrors the dimensions of the human body, a spatial sympathy.
The next novelty was my use of Pastelmat surfaces. These heavy coated pastel papers were unlike the gritty Sennelier La carte card I have grown to adore. The surface was not on initial inspection rough or sanded like many other pastel surfaces. Pastelmat has almost a leather like texture to it, with no free abrasive particles to come loose from the substrate, like the cork flakes of Sennelier's card. Pastelmat has an incredible ability to hold onto color, which really surprised me. An area can be rubbed with your finger with much less disruption of the image than you'd get with Sennelier or Ampersand Pastel-board (I am still fond of both these surfaces for different reasons). Pastelmat comes in a variety of nice colors and costs less than Sennelier, so it is in the running for my new favorite pastel surface.
The third new addition to my pastel painting process is the use of Sofft Tools in conjunction with PanPastels. PanPastels are simply pastels in shallow cylindrical containers that are applied with foam applicators. The Sofft Tools are really the star here though. These foam tools offer a degree of control and mark making not permitted by simple use of one's pastel sticks and fingers or other blending devices. Sofft tools allow for much more painterly and expressive marks and don't merely blend the color, but transport it across the surface by really grabbing onto the pigments. Both distinct edges and diffuse, blurred shapes are attainable with the same tool. Additionally large areas can be covered quickly, using just the right amount of pigment, rather than rubbing a stick on its side until there is nothing left.
As I continue to delve into the world of pastel, I am increasingly satisfied with my decision to switch to this medium as my primary mode of painting, and recommend that every painter give it a try.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.