Using White Paper For Pastelling

I have done a few pastel demo videos now, all of them on toned Wallis paper. A question I’ve been asked is, Why don’t you use white paper? and What would the pastel painting look like on white paper?

I have taken these questions to heart and decided to do a demo on white paper even though it’s not my usual surface colour. In the demo, I use, for the first time, Terry Ludwig’s set of 14 Best Loved Basics – the company’s uber starter kit. When I first looked at these, I was surprised and a little bit anxious, if I’m truthful, because there wasn’t the usual saturated colour selection I’m used to, for instance, no bright yellow, orange, or green. But I was up for a challenge! Here’s the result.



So let’s have a closer look. First the set-up:

White Paper blog: The set-up of bowl and fork on a green background
The set-up of bowl and fork on a green background. You can see how orange the bowl is and how bright the green.


Next the thumbnail.

White paper vid: The thumbnail sketch, pen and ink, about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in
The thumbnail sketch, pen and ink, about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. This delineates the three main values: light, middle and dark


So let’s look at a few progression pieces:

Vine charcoal sketch on Wallis white paper
Vine charcoal sketch on Wallis white paper
Pastelling on white paper: Three values beginning to show in early layers
Three values beginning to show in first layers
Pastelling on white paper: The pastel all blocked in and value areas settling in to what they should be
The pastel all blocked in and value areas settling in to what they should look like
The final piece after 35 minutes of pasting. Gail Sibley, "Orange Bowl, Red Fork," Terry Ludwig pastels on Wallis white paper, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in
The final piece after 35 minutes of pastelling.
Gail Sibley, “Orange Bowl, Red Fork,” Terry Ludwig pastels on Wallis white paper, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in
And just for fun, the final piece in black and white. Gail Sibley, "Orange Bowl, Red Fork," Terry Ludwig pastels on Wallis white paper, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in
And just for fun, the final piece in black and white.
Gail Sibley, “Orange Bowl, Red Fork,” Terry Ludwig pastels on Wallis white paper, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.


The combination of the softness of the Terry Ludwig pastels and the sanded texture of the Wallis paper allowed layers to be built up thus eliminating most of the white specks of paper showing through. Where you can see them, I rather like the sparkle that the white paper brings, for instance in the shadow side of the bowl.

Here are the photos of the Terry Ludwig set:

Pastelling on white paper: Terry Ludwig pastels - 14 Best Loved Basics
Terry Ludwig Pastels – 14 Best Loved Basics. Box cover
Pastelling on white paper: Terry Ludwig pastels - 14 Best Loved Basics. The pastels circled are the two I didn't use
Terry Ludwig soft pastels – 14 Best Loved Basics. The pastels circled are the two I didn’t use


I love the name of this set of pastels – Best Loved. It doesn’t have the name “starter box/kit” or anything like that. Instead, it appeals to our emotions. And this is typical of the way Terry works. For instance, while at IAPS conferences, I have received free samples. (You can see a whole piece I did from this selection of IAPS samples by clicking here.) Terry (and team) also posts artwork by others created with his pastels on the company’s Facebook Page. It’s through this generosity that we not only come to love his pastels but also the man himself.

I was curious as to how this selection of pastels came about – how were the colours chosen? I put the question to Marie Ludwig, President of the Terry Ludwig Pastels. Here’s what she had to say: “The Maggie Price Best Loved Basics, a set of 60 pastels, is the set we most often suggest to new pastel artists just getting started with the medium. We became aware this set would be a price stretch for those new artists and decided to create a small set geared toward them. Terry selected the 14 pastel colors and values he believed would be most useful for the new pastelist.” So there you have it! A fabulous beginner set for sure.


Limitations, counter-intuitively perhaps, enable you to grow as an artist. A limited colour selection, working with colours not usually in your palette, these things will lead to creativity and progress. I leave you with this quote (substitute the word ‘artist’ for ‘writer’):


pastelling on white paper: Neil Gaiman quote on the value of barriers


That’s it folks! Tell me, do you use white paper? If so, why? I’d love to know how you use the white paper. Let’s get a discussion going!

Until next time,

~ Gail


PS. I recently did a pastel self-portrait using the same set of 14 Best Loved Basics. Watch for that coming soon!!

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8 thoughts on “Using White Paper For Pastelling”

  1. I used to hate working on white paper, especially because of those white specks. I love working on black paper because black specks make the colors sing. I liked Terry’s 14 Best Loved Basics but find the muted greens very frustrating, they’re keyed to green avoidant landscape painters but if I were to do a still life with a green bowl I’d be tearing my hair. I love his soft muted colors, just wish he’d do an equivalent series of turquoise to nearly lemon pure saturated greens like his Sunset box – maybe I want to do a surreal suburban landscape with acid brilliant lawns or something!

    But other than palette gaps, I love his pastels and have hope since he’s always inventing new colors. The little set was surprisingly useful despite absence of those brights.

    One teacher got me using white as happily as I do colored grounds. Charlotte Herczfeld showed me how using strong saturated spectrum palette on white paper gave the most intensity to colors and subtle effects to her Colourist method. She learned from Susan Sarback, who’s written a good book on it, who learned from Henry Hensche. I deal with white flecks the way Charlotte does by rubbing in the garish first layer underpainting so that my shadow area specks are a saturated cool color, highlight area saturated warm, then I choose values and hues with an eye to what I’m layering over them.

    I’d always liked those saturated colors best, now I treat all the muted and neutral colors as conveniences or extras. I work with a smaller more saturated palette of 12 pure hues and their tints and shades, counting yellow ochre and a brown as pushing yellow deeper on a value scale. That last is my own twist, sometimes the earths are handy as deeper warms. I usually have a few earths and grays but have fun without them too. It’s harder to work without tints and shades or with major hue gaps.

    But that’s a specific style and I seem to be slightly modifying it partly through my love of green, even in landscapes!

    1. Thank you for your comment Robert. I did find the lack of a brighter greet in the Basics set rather disconcerting when I came to work on the still life but once I let go of my need to recreate the green I saw, I felt much better!! I love the way Terry and team are always inventing new colours to tempt us with. Have you mentioned your colour ideas/needs to him?

      Thanks for sharing the way you work especially when it comes to using white paper. I take it you use one cool pastel and one warm pastel and cover the entire sheet with that, then rub to create an underpainting on which to continue working. When working en plein air with white paper, I use three values and then rub that in. And yes, usually the colours are bright. I believe you can always tone down! I know of Susan Sarback’s book on colour developed from her studies with Henry Hensche but I have not looked at it.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to leave such a thorough comment 🙂

  2. Do you think it is helpful for us to paint with a limited amount of pastels? What will we learn? From your demo with Terry Ludwig Basics set I can see that you painted a nice composition without a lot of strong colors that you usually use , did that work for you? Or did you want more choices? Thanks.

    1. Great question Sandi. And YES, I do think a limited number of pastels is beneficial, even if you are selecting them from hundreds that you have. Let’s see…you’ll learn to focus on values, on colour harmony, on telling the story of what you see in the most essential way. You’ll also be less bogged down in making colour selections especially if you are working from a limited palette set.

      It’s tough especially using a preselected set (as in all the starter boxes available), there’s no denying that, but there’s something about the challenge of limitation that makes a successful piece that much more satisfying. And yes, I always want more choices, especially when I have been attracted by a particularly beautiful colour in a scene, like a fuchsia or a brilliant orange neither of which is in the set. That’s a bit frustrating.

      I did find it a challenge using the Terry Ludwig Basics for the still life I had set up. But once I let go of recreating exactly what I saw and instead,focused on the values that would tell the story of bowl and fork, I was much more at ease. Like I said in the video, I was pleased with the way it turned out, surprisingly so, since as you noted, the less saturated colours are not my usual choices.

  3. Definitely like the result. I don’t know what the dots you were speaking of look like in other work – could you show me? I await your comment!!

    1. Thanks Sandy. Generally if I work on a middle value paper, there is little problem with the specks of the paper coming through. It’s only with white paper that this problem arises, especially in dark areas where the white is in strong contrast to the darks. I will have to show you the work in person!

  4. Loved your video of the bowl and fork – loved the colour palette! You have inspired me to use the white paper I have left at the bottom drawer in my studio!

    1. 🙂 Glad you liked the video. And the colour palette was a surprising delight – sort of a 19th century look. This is why I like working with limitations – you never know when it might lead you to a new direction!

      Get out that white paper and GO!

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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