Pastelmat… the name kind of gives it away, right? This paper is originally designed for pastels – I also discovered that it works quite well with coloured pencils! I’ve been using Clairefontaine Pastelmat with my Faber-Castell Polychromos for over six months now, mostly for detailed portrait work. I feel it’s time for an honest review so you know a bit more about what to expect and whether it’s right for you 😊
You can read my review of Faber-Castell Polychromos here.
The first thing I noticed when I opened my first pad of Clairefontaine Pastelmat was how thick and heavy the paper was. It’s pretty thick, and feels like textured card (360gsm / 170lb for those into numbers). I love this, it just feels luxurious. If you’re a fan of solvents this paper is also great for that, as the thickness means it can hold solvents really well.
The only issue with the paper being so thick is that it starts to curl at the ends after a while. I spend 20-60 hours on each piece, so this can be a real pain. I used to draw straight from the pad – now I carefully rip the paper sheet out and attach to a board with low tack artists tape (for anyone in the UK, I buy super cheap canvas boards from The Works and artists tape from The Range, you don’t need fancy materials for this!).
I LOVE layers. Lots and lots of layers. Call me a bit obsessed. Each piece I create has 5+ layers, and so I need a paper that can handle this without burnishing too soon (read my Burnishing article if you’re unsure what this is). This is where the Pastelmat excels. It has a lot of tooth, and deep ‘hills and valleys’ in the surface of the paper.
The coloured papers perform very well with layering with Polychromos coloured pencils, and I’ve noticed the darker papers seem to be able to take more layers, although the difference is fairly small.
Three things you need when working with coloured pencils on Pastelmat: Patience, patience, aand more patience. Layering can take quite a while and be very frustrating. The first few layers are ugly, and when first using this paper after a few layers in I thought I would never get rid of the graininess and achieve a smooth finish. You really need to trust the process 😊
Some people say this paper wears their pencils down quickly – I haven’t really noticed this to be honest and it isn’t very different to when I was using different paper as the Polychromos are hard and durable. It’s only in the last couple of layers when I need to keep my pencil super sharp that I have to keep sharpening, which obviously wears the pencil down.
Another con to note is the white Pastelmat doesn’t seem to take as many layers. Read on for another reason why I’m not fan of the white Pastelmat below!
Paper Colour Choices
I spent years working only on white papers. I didn’t go near coloured paper and had no idea how to work with them. Clairefontaine Pastelmat has totally converted me, and now I absolutely adore coloured paper. I’m super impressed with the wide range of colours Pastelmat offers and there’s always a shade to suit what I’m drawing. It’s so fun experimenting and seeing how different colours affect the subject. I recently started a tiger drawing on green paper and I’m obsessed with the results – here’s how things look so far!
So yeah, the white Pastelmat… not great. I’m going to go as far to say I loathe working on it. It can take a decent number of layers and helps the subject stand out… wow does it attract literally everything. I always work so carefully, with my hand resting on tracing paper (which comes with the paper pads) to avoid smudges and marks. I swear it has magnets in it because no matter how carefully I work it just attracts dust and particles and marks. The marks are also frustratingly difficult to erase, so I have permanent anxiety when drawing. NOT FUN.
I’ll cut to the chase, Clairefontaine Pastelmat is quite expensive (ranging from £1-£8 per sheet depending on size and where bought). I usually buy the pads, and I have bought the large 50 x 70cm size paper in individual sheets as I was excited to find it in a little art shop. In the UK, I’ve personally found it quite hard to find Pastelmat in art shops in any colour other than white (ahh white noo!!), so I buy mine online.
Most large online art retailers sell Clairefontaine Pastelmat (Cass Art and Jacksons Art Supplies are my personal favourites), and Amazon sells it usually a bit cheaper if you’re on a budget.
At first I found Clairefontaine Pastelmat frustratingly slow and tricky to work with. Graininess was a HUGE issue. After some practise, watching a few YouTube videos and asking a few artists on Instagram, I now loveee drawing on it with my Polychromos and the pros in the end definitely outweigh the cons for me!
I personally feel it’s fab for beginners, as you can make lots of mistakes and as long as you’re building up lots of light layers these are easy to go over and fix. It’s rather relaxing to draw on as everything doesn’t need to be perfect straight away and colour alterations are relatively simple (as long as I haven’t burnished) as I can go light over dark pretty easily. I’ve also found the coloured paper less intimidating to work on than white paper.
The colour choices are amazing, and they come in different sizes to suit most projects I do:
18 x 24 cm
24 x 30 cm
30 x 40 cm
50 x 70 cm (have only found this size in individual sheets)
The only negatives I can think of are the white paper (enough said), the cost per sheet and the fact that I can’t draw a graphite outline as it’s very very difficult to erase fully. I usually use white Frisk Tracedown paper and/or sketch freehand using a coloured Polychromos pencil similar to the main colour of the subject I’m drawing.
All in all, I wanted a thick paper that could hold lots of layers – falling in love with the colour choices was an awesome bonus I didn’t expect! 😊
I hope that helps. As always, if you have any questions at all please feel free to email or contact me via Instagram or Facebook!