Use the Best Primers for Pastels to Prepare Your Next Work on Paper

Pastel paper, which is specially designed to hold pastel dust, can be pricey. One way to cut costs is to make your own by coating papers in a premixed primer, which adds rough texture to their surface. The process can be relatively quick, and it gives you control over the coarseness of your surface—perfect for artists who are picky about their materials. This is also a smart way to recycle nice papers bearing unwanted or practice artworks: simply brush on a layer of primer to make them pastel-ready. Our roundup will help you find the right primer for your studio.

1. Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastel

Golden’s textured acrylic primer is perfect for creating surfaces with medium grit, like sandpaper, and it can be applied to many materials including paper, wood, and canvas. The milky-white mixture features finely ground sand in a pure acrylic emulsion and dries clear without fracturing. You do have to thin it with water until you reach the desired consistency, but one or two coats will be enough to yield good tooth for soft pastels to adhere to.


approximate price: $16.63

2. Art Spectrum Sanded Pastel Ground

Art Spectrum’s primer is a little coarser than Golden’s, producing surfaces with a fine, rough tooth. It comes ready to use in an 8-ounce jar and can be brushed, sponged, or rolled onto surfaces from glass to ceramic. The formula is quick-drying and creates a uniform texture to which layers of pigment can cling. Besides its performance, Art Spectrum’s primer stands out for its assortment of colors: artists can choose a clear liquid or a special shade such as rose gray or terracotta.

approximate price:


approximate price: $32.53

3. Liquitex Professional Clear Gesso

Many gessoes would be too smooth to use alone as a preparatory base for pastels, but Liquitex’s dries with substantial tooth. Unless you’re painting over a highly vibrant image, one coat of white is usually enough to provide an opaque surface that will emphasize textures beautifully. The gesso is also available in black, gray, and a clear formula that dries translucent. All variants dry quickly and have a low odor, which are nice bonuses.


approximate price: $16.59

4. Golden Fine Pumice Gel

This product is similar to Golden’s Pastel Ground, but it’s slightly less gritty. Made of finely ground pumice and clear acrylic gel, it creates a beautiful, subtle texture that takes soft pastels, like pastel chalk, very well. You can either use it right out of the jar or dilute it; this gel also serves as a supplement to the Pastel Ground, helping to decrease the amount of tooth. An important note: because it contains ground volcanic rock, this pumice gel dries with a grayish color rather than sheet-white.


5. Fredrix Powdered Marble

The most cost-effective way to produce pastel-ready surfaces is to make your own primer. This bag holds 4 pounds of fine powdered marble that easily mixes with water and can be blended with glue to yield the gesso of your dreams. With a little experimentation with ratios, you can create a paste of your ideal texture. Slick this mixture onto your working surface, and you’ll have a premium coat with reliable tooth, whether you’re using soft or hard pastels.


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