I buy art magazines from my local newsagent every now and then just for something to read on the train to and from uni, and one of the ones I got late last year advertised an offer from an art supply store (SoftPastels.com.au) to send out samples of UArt pastel paper to anyone who emailed and asked for it. Usually requests for samples don’t result in much but I sent off an email anyway, and a few weeks later I received an envelope with two sample sheets.
The sheets I was sent were about postcard size and in two different textures; one 400 and one 600. There are seven grades available (the higher the number, the smoother the texture), starting at 240 (a very gritty, rough surface) and going up to 800, a fine-toothed paper. Sheet sizes available start at 9X12 inches and go up to 27X40 inches, but you can also buy rolls or boards (pads are available but only in 400 or 600 grade). Their site says the paper is ideal for soft pastels, charcoal or coloured pencils, but if using coloured pencils, I’d choose either the 600 or 800, as laying down smooth colour would be difficult on the rougher grades. For soft pastels, though, the artist has a good range to choose from; I know some pastel artists love an extremely gritty surface that they can get countless layers of pastel into, while others like me prefer smoother sanded papers. Of the two pieces I tested, I preferred the 600, but I still quite liked the 400, even if it did wreak havoc on the poor pastels I drew on it with. UArt paper is hard to find in Australian stores, but on average, it seems to be about half the price for a pad of UArt as it is for a pad the equivalent size in, say, Sennelier or PastelMat pastel paper. This makes it well worth trying if you can find it, but you’ll probably have to look around online and you may be better off ordering from an overseas seller.
UArt sanded pastel paper only comes in one colour: beige. This may disappoint some artists, who like to buy pastel paper in various colours rather than working on a white background, but UArt does allow you to underpaint in a variety of mediums to create your own coloured surface, whether by using watercolour or thinned acrylic or by washing early layers of soft pastel with water or alcohol (use a cheap brush if you do this, because the sanded surface will chew up the bristles pretty quickly). For the drawing I did on the 600 sheet, I applied a layer of pastel and washed it before doing the rest with dry soft pastels, and the wash didn’t appear to affect the tooth in any way. The surface is also uniformly textured, with no inconsistencies that might have resulted in blemishes showing up after colour was applied.
Here’s a drawing I did on the 600 paper with Art Spectrum soft pastels (based on a photo uploaded to the WetCanvas Reference Image Library by DavidMunroeArt), and my drawing on the 400 piece using Lukas soft pastels (drawn from life).
Regardless of how much tooth you like on the surface of your pastel paper, UArt is a good choice and will have something to offer for most soft pastel artists. It may be difficult to find, but it’s definitely worth trying a sheet or two in a few different grads to see which one suits your style.
For a demonstration post of my jellyfish drawing, click here.