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What to do with all that Dust?!

Pastel dust collected on easel

During the creation of a pastel painting there will be dust. Not the household, builds up on your furniture type of dust, but a collection of pastel pigment that collects on the ledge of one’s easel. I like to paint on a 'sanded surface' – imagine a high quality, yet very fine sandpaper. Painting on any surface will create pastel dust, but the abrasive surface that I prefer will wear down a pastel quickly, resulting in even more dust flaking down as I work.

What to do with that dust? Make a new pastel stick!

Pigment collected in paper trough

In an earlier post, I explained that pastel is pigment, held together in stick form by a mild binder. The dust that is created during the process of painting, is that same pigment and binder that has just been broken down by the painting process. It just needs to be reformed into a new pastel stick.

Collecting the pigment in a jar

I begin by collecting my pastel dust. I place a long, folded piece of paper beneath my drawing while I work. When I finish each painting, I tilt that paper trough gently over a small jar to collect the excess pigment. I do this repeatedly over many paintings until I have a good quantity of saved pigment.

To help explain the process of making a new stick of pastel, I created a short video of the process that you can watch below. (Keep in mind, I am a painter, not a videographer, so don’t judge too harshly on the video skills!) In a nutshell, to make a new stick, I shake out an amount of the pastel dust onto a palette. Add a bit of water and use a palette knife to mix to an even consistency. Ultimately, I want to get the mixture to the consistency of clay. In the video you will see at first that the mixture is too soft to form into a stick, so I continue to add more pigment until I achieve the correct consistency.

Once the mixture can be handled, it can be worked in your hands and formed into the desired shape. Set it aside to dry overnight. The next day, you have a brand new pastel stick! If you save all of the pigment in one jar as I do, the resulting new stick will most likely be a unique variation of gray. It may even have little surprise bits of color that appear as you work.

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