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Painting with Pastel and Alcohol

The technique of painting with soft pastel, alcohol, and a brush,
is a method that is facilitated by Solid Ground Pastel Panels.
Not only are the panels non-absorbent and tough, but they have
a particular affinity for alcohol, and the materials work stunningly
well together.

This method of working has much to recommend it. It can produce
beautiful washes, as well as startling painterly effects. It's a great way
to tint pastel grounds, or to do a sort of pastel "underpainting". It
can give your work a fascinating painterly appearance, while
remaining a "pure pastel" medium. It adds a whole new vocabulary
of textures and gestures to pastel works. Perhaps best of all, the
quick-drying nature of the alcohol makes the technique feel very much
"of a kind" with the direct application that is so central to pastel.

For materials, watercolor brushes in a variety of sizes work best.
Both rubbing alcohol (experiment with both 70% and 91% types)
and denatured alcohol work well. As far as solvents go, they are
among the least dangerous and least toxic you can find. Since they do
evaporate very quickly, you may want to use a fan to keep your head
out of a cloud of alcohol, and use ventilation if you don't like the smell.
For a palette, I like to use a piece of wet / dry sandpaper. If you want
to get fancy, you can spray glue it (removable type) to the bottom of a
small cookie sheet. Or try a piece of frosted glass or plastic. A
plastic slant-well palette that has had the wells roughed up with a
piece of sandpaper works very well. A sumi stone is great for making
washes. A dropper bottle filled with alcohol is also very helpful
for using with your palette.

Set up your palette by "drawing" small spots onto it with your soft
pastels (dry!). Then add alcohol to a color with your brush or the dropper
and work them together. (The pastel dissolves instantly.) Work quickly,
adding more alcohol as needed to keep the colors wet. You can also
"grind" the pastel stick into alcohol on your palette, or dab a wet brush
right onto your pastel sticks as you would with cake watercolor.

The extremely rapid evaporation of the alcohol takes some getting
used to. (The 70% rubbing alcohol sticks around a little bit longer.)
Although there is a kind of constant "maintenance" of the palette
required, you can work almost nonstop without having to wait
for the paint to dry, and you can put one color on top of another
almost immediately, just like you are used to doing.

Experiment, as the number of ways of working are large indeed.
Consider them as additions to your usual techniques, and you may
find some new helpful and beautiful additions to your work.
Let me know what you think!


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