Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rolling my own

This afternoon the gum tragacanth came out of refrigeration and warmed up for a few hours. Then with a bit more warmth on a double boiler, the solution was nearly lump free.

4 ounces of solution was mixed with 12 ounces of distilled water (1:3) to accommodate a few selected pigments. Different pigments require different strength solutions. (More on that in a later post.)

For the white base, used for white chalk and tinting other pigments, 2 ounces of titanium white was dry mixed with 6 ounces of chalk.

2 ounces of the white base materials was mixed with 4 tsp of the 1:3 solution. (A second batch was later mixed.)

The first sticks were made of white chalk. Then quickly came ultramarine blue reddish (2 tbsp pigment and 2.5 tsp 1:3 solution).

An often described process is to divide pure pigment sticks into quarters and mix down with white, continuing to quarter and mix down. I found comfort in simply mixing my own tonal range by eye. Sometimes I'd mix straight pure pigment and white; sometimes I'd start with a bit of a previous stick, a method somewhat similar to the quarter and mix down method but without the structure.

Here's a set of viridian all mixed out. (1 tbsp viridian and 1.75 tsp 1:3 solution)

And here's the viridian set rolled out.

Now with a comfortable process established I was able to focus on extending the tonal nuances.

And here's the chromium oxide set. (2 tbsp pigment and 1 tsp 1:3 solution)

Some of my pigment/solution recipes might be off. I tried to keep ongoing records but kept getting caught up in the process.

The sticks should be dry within a day or two. In the meantime, I'll get into my earths.

I'm rolling on the thin side and don't know if there will be a durability issue there. Some pastel makers shape into triangles as they like points and sharp edges.

A couple of lessons learned:
  • Mixing 450 ml of gum tragacanth starter is a lot. Half that would still be plenty. I'm only using teaspoons of diluted solution and many pigments require even more diluted solutions. 
  • Mixing lots of white is useful. It is used in every stick except the pure pigment.
When I first began making sticks, it didn't take long to think that this effort was going to be a real pain. Once I got into the swing of it I began to enjoy the process. It's really thrilling watching the tints develop.


  1. Nothing beats making our own supplies from scratch right?

  2. You are so right, Zarina, as your hand dyed threads prove! Pastels are considerably more work than grinding watercolors or oils but seeing all the lovely shades spread out just tickles me.

  3. Oh I agree! For some reason, there is nothing quite as pleasing to the artistic eye than seeing multiple shades of pastels laid out like this; and when they are handmade, that's even better! Your pastel sticks (both in color and shape) look exquisite. I think you will have fun playing with them when they are dry- using pastel is unique experience; you are drawing and painting at the same time. Once you get a feel for using them, treat yourself to a pad of Sennelier La Carte - it is like working on "buttah"!
    ~ gretchen

  4. Most seem to already be dry. Tapped the pure ultramarine blue and it broke!

    Thanks for the link to the Sennelier paper. Looks awesome! I checked out the video... Sennelier uses gum arabic for their pastels and one can brush over with water!

    I think for today I will dilute some gum tragacanth and roll up some earths.

  5. That's kind of ironic that Sennelier's pastels can be brushed over with water as you cannot get even one drop of water on their La Cart papers without disastrous results; that being said, the card is amazing to work on- you can layer and layer until your heart's content without disturbing what you have already put down.
    Have fun making the earth pastels!
    ~ gretchen

  6. I've been reading today about how to layer, soft over hard. Interesting with the paper that it can take many layers. I'll be ordering some in my next order as well as a few Senneliers and perhaps a few other brands to check out texture and handling.

    Got a batch of raw umber green done. Now into a reddish french ochre white making shrimp chowder. Lots of hand washing going on here! :-)