Painting Cactus in Pastel on Pumice Board

Painting Cactus in Pastel on Pumice Board - Experimenting with a New Painting Surface

As many of you know, my normal medium of choice is pastel over watercolor on watercolor paper. I have recently decided, however, to stretch myself and try something very different - pastel over acrylic on gator board primed with pumice gel. The pumice is similar to a very fine sand and when applied to the board creates a very fine sanded surface to paint on. It grabs hold of the pastel and holds the color beautifully. Besides, it seems only natural to paint cactus on a prickly surface like this. According to renowned artist, Daniel Greene, the pastel doesn’t seem to trickle off much either, even when transporting. There is a great article in the July 2009 issue of International Artist Magazine by Daniel Greene that thoroughly covers this process and other pastel surfaces in detail.

My friend and fellow pastel artist, Rita Kirkman, uses this process in her own work as well. She uses Art Spectrum pastel primer, although she adds, any pastel primer (gesso/pumice mix) will work.

I used a premixed "Fine Pumice Gel" by Golden and began by adding a good amount of water to it so that it was not so thick. This made it easier to apply to the board. Using a 3" brush, I gave it 2 coats and used my reference picture to guide the direction of my strokes. I then blocked in my darks with a blend of burnt umber, yellow ochre and black acrylic washes.

Next, I layered subsequent washes of dark blue, violet, green and shades of red and yellow to establish rich colors that will ultimately peak through the layers of pastel on top. This is what I believe gives the painting that "living quality". The depths of color beneath the surface of the painting ultimately "glow" through and gives the painting life.

In my next post I will show you the beginning steps of the layering of pastel, and lo, the evolution of the cactus image will begin.


  1. Hi JC! love the new medium. It sounds so rich. I'm looking forward to your next layer! luv ya! mo

  2. Hi, Jeannette, I just stumbled upon your work today. It's stunning! I'm in So. Tx. (Beeville), too - when I'm not escaping the heat in Cloudcroft, NM which is where I am at the moment.
    Your technique is very intriguing. I mostly work in colored pencils and acrylics, but I dabble in pastels, too.
    All the best!

  3. I am very grateful to you for the information.


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