Which Drawing Board Is Best For Pastel Painting?

Large MDF Drawing Board On My Studio Easel

Lifeguards Relaxing At Trebarwith Strand on MDF Drawing Board
Lifeguards Relaxing At Trebarwith Strand on MDF Drawing Board | Source

Do You Need A Drawing Board For Pastel Painting?

In short, the answer is yes. When painting with pastels it's absolutely vital to use an easel, so that the work is pretty vertical, allowing the waste pastel dust to fall away from the paper, otherwise the dust accumulates and creates a muddy mess. Because of this, it's important to use a drawing board, so that you have a smooth surface to work from when the work is placed on your easel.

Smooth is the key word when choosing a drawing board for pastels. If the surface of your drawing board is textured, this texture will show through in your final painting, much as when you make a brass rubbing. However, you can use this to your advantage by deliberately placing textured items underneath your pastel painting, to create different effects.

Hardboard

Drawing boards need not be expensive. In the past, when starting out and I needed to produce work on a shoestring, I would sometimes use the hardboard backing of the frame that I was ultimately going to frame a piece in as my drawing board. These tended to be a little flimsy, especially if large, so I would sometimes stiffen this with corrugated cardboard from packing cases, taping this to the rough side of the hardboard and leaving the super-smooth surface for taping my pastel work to.

MDF Drawing Board At Pastel Workshop

Jen Manley's work in progress on MDF drawing board.  Winner of the first Moretonhampstead Pastel Group's exhibition
Jen Manley's work in progress on MDF drawing board. Winner of the first Moretonhampstead Pastel Group's exhibition | Source

MDF

MDF (medium density fibreboard) makes an ideal drawing board. There are varying thicknesses on the market, I find roughly 1/4" (5mm) is about right. MDF comes in huge sheets that you can ask your local woodyard or DIY store to cut down to your required size.

I have two such boards, one slightly larger than A1 to accommodate my big black and white tree drawings, and one half that size that suits my pastel work. The board is very smooth and firm and can withstand the pastel paper being taped to it's surface and is pretty waterproof. It's also pretty cheap and you can have whatever size you wish to be cut. Most DIY stores have an 'offcuts' bin, and I've found some really useful MDF boards in those for just a few pence.

I have heard of artists using plywood, but I find this has just too much grain for pastel work.

The Wall

Very cheap - you already own it, but the tape does pull the paint off the plaster and pastel dust stains. Not to be tried outside of the studio methinks, although I have used the wall to paint very large pastel pieces. Other family members may not be too keen on this option.

Masonite Drawing Boards

There are some great masonite drawing boards on the market. These are pretty light, have a lovely smooth surface and come in a variety of sizes. Most have clips at the top so that you can clip your work in place. However, I prefer to tape my paper all the way round, as then I can be as forceful with the work as I wish without the paper ruckling. And with a ready-made board you are then limited to creating work in a standard size. Nevertheless, a masonite board would make a great starter's support and as they're very light would be great for working outdoors or on the move. Again, these are pretty cheap to buy, so won't break the bank.

Draughtsman Drawing Boards

There are some quite sophisticated drawing boards on the market, with a movable angled working surface on a stand. Some have a desk style base and some are made to stand alone on your work table. They come in wood and metal and most have a ledge for pens etc. These are great if you want to be able to sit to work, but are not entirely suitable for pastel work, as often the angle of the surface is not acute enough. They are also more expensive; you would pay a lot for the sort of draughtsman board that an illustrator might use.

In short, a drawing board is a necessity for pastel painting, along with your easel, but you really don't need to pay a lot for one and it's best to shop around.

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