Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat

Today, a product review! I’ve finished one drawing and made enough mistakes on another to write a thorough review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat. So let’s get to it!

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat by Carrie Lewis

What I Bought

There’s no doubt about it, Pastelmat is expensive. That’s why I first got a sample piece to try.

But the color I received was the Sienna color, which is close to Prismacolor Yellow Ochre. I wanted something different, so purchased the smallest pad available (7×9.5 inches) in an assortment of colors. Three sheets each of white, sienna, brown and anthracite. The price from Dick Blick was $36 including shipping.

The pad has a rigid back board, with each sheet protected by glassine-like paper to keep it fresh and clean. Those cover sheets also come in handy while I’m drawing.

Pastelmat is 170lb paper, so is quite substantial. Personally, I like the additional heftiness, but I do enough layering that a paper with a bit of weight is better.

I like the feel of pencil on this paper. The better the pencil, the nicer the feel. Soft and waxy Prismacolor pencils have a good feel. Color goes down quickly and with good coverage. Derwent Drawing pencils layer nicely on bare paper or over other color. Derwent Lightfast glide onto it like a dream, while Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils didn’t perform very well over or under other color.

Now for the details.

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat

I’ll talk first about the things I like about this paper, then about the things I didn’t care for, and wrap up my review with a general recommendation.

What I Liked About Pastelmat

It Takes a Lot of Color

For artists like me who like to work with lots of layering, Clairefontaine Pastelmat is ideal. I used countless layers of color on both pieces and was still able to add more on my finished piece.

I didn’t count layers on either of the pieces I’ve worked on, but it was a lot. I’m confident I could have added still more layers even on the finished landscape.

It doesn’t matter whether you blend with solvent or not (I did,) or whether you use any other drawing tool. Pastelmat simply takes a lot of color.

You Can Add Light Colors Over Dark

Yes. It’s true! You can add light colors over dark for bright accents and details.

Add middle values over dark values by glazing color, or add accents and details by stippling. Both methods work with sharp or dull pencils.

Here, for example, I layered a light-medium value green evenly over the bushes, and then stippled white highlights. After that, I stippled light yellow or green accents, and you can see the greens even over that dark, dark sky. I was delighted!

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat. You can layer light colors over dark.

You Can Do Smooth Blends

Even light blending produces soft looking transitions. You can easily blend just a few layers of color, but the more color on the paper, the better and softer the blend.

This illustration shows a dry blend after just a few layers of color. Note the softness in the two brown shapes. The blue background is also fairly soft looking even with fewer layers of color and less blending. Adding and blending more layers continued producing soft color and value transitions.

Corrections are Easy on Pastelmat

It’s easy to correct mistakes.

Mistakes on traditional paper often mean starting over from scratch or living with a partially corrected mistake. Not so with Pastelmat!

It’s easy to sketch changes over existing color, shade the shapes, and end up with a drawing in which such corrections are not obvious. Try that with most traditional drawing papers!

You can Remove Color Totally

In cases where a simple correction isn’t possible, you can make major changes by removing color. A little bit of odorless mineral spirits, a bristle brush, and paper towel is all you need.

This is a drawing I didn’t like. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d ruined it. Not a pleasant thought.

After a few days of indecision, I tried softening those background shapes by blending with solvent and a stiff brush.

That resulted in a mess, so I wiped the drawing a couple of times with paper towel.

It’s still not pretty, but most of the mistakes are now gone and the paper dried as flat and fresh as the day I transferred the line drawing. I may need to freshen up the line drawing, but I’m confident I can redraw the background with no harm done to the paper.

Paper Colors

Pastelmat comes in fourteen colors, with pads available in white and anthracite, and four different assortments. Most of those colors are ideal for nature subjects, pets and human portraits.

So those are some of the things I liked about Pastelmat. Were there things I didn’t like? Yes.

What I Didn’t Like About Pastelmat

Pastelmat is not very good for dry blending.

This may surprise many of you, but one of the things I didn’t like about Pastelmat is that it’s more difficult to dry blend color.

I’ve gotten used to sanded art papers producing enough pigment dust for effective dry blending with a bristle brush. In fact, I’ve found ways to make good use of that pigment dust.

So I was disappointed to discover that Clairefontaine Pastelmat doesn’t produce the same amount of pigment dust produced by other sanded art papers. The first few layers produced no dust at all, and I had to put down several layers of color to get enough dust for dry blending.

I was able to do some dry blending toward the end, but not as much as I usually do. I could have left my bristle brush in the tool box and gotten the same effects with other methods.

It takes a lot of layers to fill in the tooth of the paper.

The number of layers you can put on Pastelmat is a disadvantage as well as an advantage.

While I liked the ability to continue adding layers well into the final stages of the drawing, there were times when I just wanted the paper holes to be gone! I finally resorted to solvent in some areas, just be done with it.

(An approaching deadline had a lot to do with my impatience. It will be interesting to see if I experience the same impatience to finish when I can work on a piece without a deadline!)

Pastelmat seems to eat pencils for lunch.

If you’re a sharp pencil fanatic, you’re not going appreciate Pastelmat all that much. Two strokes and that nice, needle-sharp tip is history. You’ll feel like you’re sharpening pencils a lot more, and that will leave you thinking you’re burning through the pencils.

But wait a minute! That is an illusion for the most part. A lot of color is going onto the paper, so it builds up faster. You’re not wasting color, you’re using it.

And Pastelmat is ideal for dull or blunt pencil methods. You can use a pencil down to the wood and still cover the paper as well as with a sharp pencil. So in the long run, you’re saving time (fewer sharpenings) and pencil (less pencil ending up in the sharpener.)

Should You Try Clairefontaine Pastelmat?

My overall recommendation of this paper is favorable. It comes in a nice variety of colors. It’s very sturdy, so it stands up well under heavy pressure, tons of layers, and solvent blending.

And you can layer light colors over dark colors with more ease than most other papers.

But it does take a lot of layers to fill in the tooth of the paper, and there is a bit of a learning curve in using it.

If you have an adventurous spirit, like trying new things, and are patient, then give Pastelmat a try.

If you don’t, then you may want to skip it.

Personally Speaking…

My overall impressions of Clairefontaine Pastelmat are good, but I probably won’t make it my preferred paper without more work on it. I’ve learned a lot, but there’s still a lot to learn.

The full tutorial on the landscape drawing featured in this post is available in the March 2020 issue of CP Magic. It includes more in-depth information on my experiences with this paper.

Last week’s post also features work on Pastelmat. Read How to Draw a Blurred Background.

4 Replies to “Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat”

  1. Hi Carrie,
    I love your email every Saturday morning! I too just did my first project on Pastelmat. I use Polychromos as my go-to pencils and actually found I could dry blend like on no other paper, even after just the first layer. It did not work the same with Prismacolor (as you detailed). I work with an extremely light hand and was able to blend even the lightest layer with a small rubber applicator, allowing me to have a smooth base layer of colour, making fewer successive layers necessary to finish. I did not feel it ate my pencils at all because of my light hand and fewer layers. This project was a portrait of a little girl wearing a jean jacket done on white paper. The texture of the paper itself was perfect for the jean jacket and I was able to get the effect I wanted with a mere 4-5 layers, using 4 different blues. It was wonderful.
    I am now looking forward to trying a landscape. As I have only white paper, I am going to paint the Pastelmat light blue with a very watered down acrylic Paint. It worked beautifully on several test pieces I did (a trick I read about on a video I happened upon). The paper takes the wash amazingly well, leaving the texture intact. I am anxious to try pencil on these test pieces now before I start the landscape. I really love this paper. Thanks so much for your article!

    1. Mary,

      Thank you so much for reading this review and sharing your experiences.

      I have Polychromos, but didn’t use them very much. Next time around, I will, thanks to your suggestions.

  2. I think I’ll try Pastelmat too. I use Polychromos colored pencils and Derwent Inktense pencils. I wonder how the Inktense pencils will work as a background in lighter colors since it is permanent color. I’ll test color some swatches first. Looking forward to a new adventure.

    Carrie, I always enjoy and learn so much from your newsletter and website tutorials. I always look forward to them too. Thanks so very much for hosting so much helpful information!

  3. Thanks for a fantastic review on PastelMat.
    My go-to pencils on PastelMat are the Derwent Studio and Artist pencils, which have very hard cores and have worked like a dream on the PastelMat. I did not like how quickly they produced a wax bloom on other papers, but do not have this problem with the PastelMat.
    After reading your review, I plan to use my Prismacolor Premier pencils as I haven’t yet used them on the PastelMat.

    PastelMat is expensive, but I was astounded how quickly I could finish a colour pencil artwork on PastelMat versus other papers I have tried. I also like that I can use light colours on top of dark colours.

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