Cleaning Soft Pastels
The subject of cleaning pastels often comes up followed by questions. Is it really necessary? Why do it? What do you use? How long does it take? How frequently to do clean them?
Why clean them? for me its so I can see what the colour and tone is!! After a painting session they can get covered in dust and become unrecognisable except by shape. Another good reason is so as to not transfer grease from fingers, to pastel, to painting and watch it come back to you in ten years or so with a mould bloom on it. Clean pastels are easy to sort and put away.
I like to clean my pastels after a painting especially if I am going on to a different subject. That way I can see the colour and tone family they belong to which makes picking a colour so much easier. If I'm staying say on beach scenes using the same pastels, I won't clean them and put them away. Rather just wipe them as I pick them up for use to make sure I don't carry any 'wrong' colour to the bit I'm working on.
Cleaning pastels is something I do if I'm stuck at painting. You know that procrastination, wanting to start but not really ready ? Cleaning the pastels is a way to do something useful while I study the painting...or not!
What to use to clean soft pastels?
Here are four ways that work. Do watch out for dust as you clean them. Dust is a hazard and when we clean soft pastels we make a lot of it. So do take some precautions. These include an open window with the breeze going across your hands not toward you. Some wear a mask or latex gloves. Sounds over the top but the you have been doing this for a lot of years, experience says at least wear a mask.
#1. Organic Cereals have been popular. Rice, oats and such can be used to keep the pastel clean. Try a lidded container with a layer of cereal about an inch in the bottom with the pastels laying on the top. I have a small travel kit with rice in it and many bits of pastel hiding amongst the rice. (See the photo below). This is a travel box for plein-air so the bits of pastel stay clean as its constantly moving. The rice in that container has been there for over 20 years. It still works. The one thing to watch out for is vermin. I have seen artists using this method, storing their plastic boxes in an outside area that's undercover or a shed. The rats have eaten the plastic through to get to the cereal, then eaten the pastels too.
#2. Recycle Sheeting or Rags. Cut the rag into usable size cloths, no need to hem them either. Mine are about 10x12" so there is plenty of room to use. When finished I can put them into a bucket or washing machine, and wash them out for reuse, or just throw them out.
#3. Toilet Paper/Tissue is easy to use, available, soft disposable and cheap. During Covid it was hard to get toilet paper so when I did get some I bought a studio pack of 10 rolls. I bought a cheap 2Ply brand. If it's embossed it can help clean faster and it's hard to get unembossed paper. Dispose of this in the bin or flush it.
#4. Paper Towel brands mostly have a repeat texture that is helpful with cleaning. They are also tough. I tried paper towel across various brands until I arrived at one for my studio. I use it in painting too, so it has value, not just a one purpose use. For cleaning pastels it is a bit of overkill, maybe a bit over zealous.
The question of how long does it take to clean them is arbitrary. Sometimes I draw out the process and other times it's a quick wipe through and keep it moving. I clean fairly regularly, as I go along painting by painting so its not a huge job.
Remember to keep you hands clean and the dust away from your face when you do this job.
What is your go to cleaning item and routine? Share it here or drop over to the Facebook group Pastel Secrets and share it there. www.facebook.com/pastelsecrets Not a member? Easy! Just ask to join, answer all three questions and agree to the group rules then you are in.
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The Curious Artist Blog-
talks about everything and anything to do with painting.
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Either way this blog is about art, artists and everything to do with painting and drawing, being informative, heck maybe even inspiring, all aimed at making painting enjoyable. I sincerely wish you to join me on this adventure. best wishes, Karol