Pastels are a great addition to your rubber stamping toolkit. They can be used to create soft backgrounds, or to add dramatic accents to your stamped images. The tricky thing is if you stamp first on the paper and add pastel over the image, you will obscure your image, or completely cover it up. Then, if you try to stamp on top of a layer of pastels, you are stamping on top of dusty chalk which sticks to the ink, leaving you with a poor image, or no image at all. So how is it possible to do this?
There are a couple of essentials to making this work. One is a decent set of soft pastels. You don’t need a super soft pastel like Sennelier, rather I prefer one that is a bit harder like Rembrandt, but either kind would probably work. I have tried inexpensive colored chalks too, and they work okay, but not great (they tend to generate a lot of dust that falls off rather than sticking to the paper). The higher quality pastels come in lots and lots of colors, and are much more enjoyable to use.
The second essential is paper with a good “tooth”. You want a rough surface that will grab and hold the pastel. But because you will be stamping on it, you also need the surface to be even so that you will get a good stamped image. You can buy special pastel papers that have a fine surface of grit on them (Art Spectrum Colorfix has a good range of colors), or you can make your own. I prefer to make my own because it is so easy to do, and much less expensive than buying the specialty pastel paper.
The way to make your own pastel paper is to start with watercolor paper. I’m using a pad of Fabriano watercolor paper here. It doesn’t need to be the expensive stuff, you just need to be able to apply wet media to it. Then get a small jar of acrylic ground for pastel. Pour or scoop out a bit of the pastel ground into plastic dish, add a bit of water to thin it, and use a brush to apply an even coat of it to your watercolor paper. If you use a foam brush you should get a good, smooth application. Let the paper dry thoroughly. If the paper is a bit warped when it is dry, just weight it down overnight with some heavy books and it should flatten out. You can make a whole batch this way and have lots of pastel paper on hand for when inspiration hits you.
Here are a couple of examples. In the the first one, I wanted a soft background and applied about three pastel shades in pink, beige and green. I used the side, rather than tip of the pastel, to get broad strokes. You can be assertive with these pastel strokes, and then blend them a bit with your finger afterwards. Gently tap off any excess pastel dust into a dustbin, or do this outdoors. Don’t blow on your paper, because you don’t want to breathe in the pastel dust! The paper should now have an even layer of pastel on it, that is well incorporated into the tooth of your paper. Now you can stamp on top of it, as you normally would on any surface. (Image: Peony by Nature’s Blessings Rubber Art Stamps)
Here is another example, this time using the pastel to add a bit of drama to an image. This time, I used the tip of the pastel to draw long, curving strokes. I layered about five shades of blue and mauve to achieve the wind-blown look. (Image: Alice and Cards by Nature’s Blessings Rubber Art Stamps.)
Lastly, a tip on finishing and mailing your artwork… Some people like to spray their finished pastels with fixative. I don’t recommend doing this because it will really change the look of the pastel you’ve just laid down on the paper. A little dust will normally come off, but for the most part, the paper will hold onto it. We have pastel drawings that are over a hundred years old, that have lasted just fine without fixative. A good way to protect your artwork if you plan to mail it is to cut a piece of glassine paper to fit over the image. This kind of paper will protect your image from smearing, and it won’t lift the pastel off of your finished work.