Back at the end of March, I received a sample booklet of MingART pastel papers. I’d recently purchased a sheet of their Premium sanded paper and was thoroughly enjoying it. Rather than just try a few exploratory pastel marks, I decided to make a real test out of it: I did a series of 20 paintings, one on each note card-sized sheet in the spiral bound booklet.
NOTE: Prior to using the MingART, my experience with sanded surfaces was limited to one sheet of Wallis and a few sheets of 600-grit industrial sandpaper, so this cannot be considered a proper review. I can’t compare these to UART, Ampersand Pastelboard or Sennelier La Carte since I haven’t tried them…yet! When I do, I’ll report back.
UPDATE, 5 March 2019: MingART is now available in the U.S. via Amazon.com!
UPDATE, 5 December 2018: The MingART company has sent me new contact information for questions regarding availability, size, price and color. Contact Hanxi Xu via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at（86）18550333780
MingART pastel papers are made in China, and they come in four types. This is the order in which they were presented in the sample booklet, and not in order of price:
- Standard ($)
- Premium ($$$)
- Finest ($$)
- Velour ($$$$)
I wanted to try one of each, first, and since I had already used the Premium before, I decided to work my way backward from the Velour. Then, I went through the order again with a second color, making notes after each painting. Below, I review each paper type in the order of my preference (least to most). The paintings shown in each section were done on that particular kind of paper.
Velour: great for soft blending
I’ve painted on “suede board” before, and I found it a bit too soft for my technique. MingART’s Velour was not as soft and spongy as that suede, but it was still a bit soft for my personal taste. Remember that I’m working extremely small here, so at a larger scale it may work just fine for you. One sheet had a few anomalies in it (vertical lines), but none of the other samples did. Here are my notes:
- Takes the initial strokes of pastel well
- Allows for nice soft edges, easy finger blending
- Alternating between detail and blending is okay–don’t overwork it
- As long as sharp edges are not needed, you can keep using softer pastels long after pastel pencils can add no more.
For example, “Susurration” worked great because I used few layers and needed no sharp edges. On the other hand, I struggled with “It Might Be True” and wasn’t happy with the pastel pencil work until I painted over it with softer pastels, which proved to be just the trick. The velour was perfectly happy to let me keep painting, as long as I used softer sticks.
Finest: more grit and still good for finger blending
MingART’s “Finest” actually uses a polymer for the “sand.” It feels like a grittier version of the Velour to me, and not as rough on the fingers as the Standard or Premium. This makes it good for blending while still allowing me to put down clear, fine lines when needed. I can make a decent sharp edge with it if I don’t overwork it. While it will take lots of soft pastel without making “mud” (by blending with earlier layers), it does eventually lose its tooth. Thus, I found myself wiping off something that wasn’t quite working, rather than simply painting over it. Here are my notes:
- Similar to Velour: less “sand-like” and a bit softer than the sanded papers
- Takes a nice, fine line and saturates well without mud if not overworked
- Blends and wipes off really well; can take a lot of reworking
- Stands up to heavy erasures, leaving a faint ghost image
- VERY even texture, no anomalies
- Sharp edges are easily done if you plan ahead and avoid correcting
For example, “Rest” ended up getting kind of fuzzy, but I kept painting over it until I was happy with the result. The extra layers made fine, sharp lines and edges difficult. Having learned that, I wiped off “Stone to Stone” multiple times, even erasing large areas of the image to avoid overworking it. The surface was perfectly capable of taking that kind of abuse. You can see the “ghost image” I mention (slightly accentuated) in the lower right corner of that painting. I got right to the brink of overworking “Infinite Moment,” stopping just before the tooth gave out. “Remembering the Chief” was done more methodically, so fewer layers were added. Thus, it didn’t get overworked and its edges remained pretty clean.
Standard: great bang for buck
MingART’s Standard is definitely a sanded paper: it will take your fingerprints off if you rub too hard! In my experience, the Standard holds slightly less pastel than the Premium. Still, it holds a LOT of pastel if you just need to keep layering. For me, the biggest difference between the Premium and the Standard (besides the price) is the sense of even-ness I feel when I use the pastel pencils. The Standard is a bit rougher, and the Premium is somehow more finished. Here are my notes on Standard:
- Not as fine-toothed as Premium
- Takes PLENTY of pastel, but it’s tougher to keep a sharp edge; the edge seems to “feather” when overworked
- Proper planning can go a long way to keeping colors and edges lively
- Hard to smear!
- Erases pretty well, but can leave residue in the tooth
For example, I would have done better if I had wiped off some excess from “Along the Spine,” rather than just painting more on top. After awhile, it lost some of its vibrancy, getting a bit muddy in some places. Admittedly, most of that issue is the fault of the artist (me!). Both “Legacy” and “Who Knew It Best” were painted more methodically, with fewer layers, and I got great detail in those! On “Who Knew It Best,” I used very (VERY) light pressure to lay down the sky and block in the initial shadows with soft pastel sticks. To make sure there was plenty of tooth, I rubbed in that first layer. Yes, I used my fingers, and yes, I’ve got some calluses now. It left enough fresh tooth to take the details and the highlights.
Premium: holds a sharp edge and allows for LOTS of layering
My favorite MingART surface is the Premium. According to their brochure, they somehow get the selected quality sand granules to stand vertically with the sharp edge upward. Somehow, it does actually feel like that! It keeps crisp edges while still allowing a lot of layered pastel. Details and subtle shading were easy. The brochure suggests that you can use water media. I’ll have to try it. The brush may not last long, but the paper is strong and remarkably even. Here are my notes:
- Crisp lines and still holds plenty of pastel
- The white and light beige colors were actually useful; I could get good color saturation without bleed-through.
- No anomalies; fine surface
- The white paper took enough pastel to allow true white highlights to be painted over the top of darker colors because there was still plenty of tooth.
For example, “Quarter Tank” was a complete surprise to me. I’d never painted an animal to that degree, and having the ability to layer subtle colors over each other was unexpectedly delightful! I was able to sharpen the last details without any “feathering” or clumping of the pastel. “The Last Gate” got wiped down twice, which helped me build the subtleties I was not achieving by layering alone. Once I had the look I wanted, I could easily define the details. “The Necromancer’s Daughter” also got wiped off (almost completely!) several times, each iteration allowing for more complex atmospheric effects.
Again, all of this is my personal experience, so it may not match your own. In any case, after having done five complete paintings in each of these papers, I prefer the Premium. The fine surface belies how much pastel it can take, and it allows for a lot of working, reworking, wiping off, working again, without ever getting rough or marred. I still have a letter-size sheet of the Payne’s Grey that I have not yet used, and I am looking forward to painting on the remaining cut sheets of the Dark Green sheet I purchased originally.
Bang-for-buck, MingART Standard is pretty good. I did a lot of tiny detail, and got some good atmosphere with it. I think when the process is less iterative, the Standard works fine. Even so, the pleasure of dragging a pastel pencil across the fine surface of the Premium still makes the Premium my favorite.
If you do a lot of blending and soft edges, the Velour and Finest may be exactly what you want. I tend toward sharpness in my details, so at the small scale, at least, I didn’t find either of these to be suitable to my personal technique.
All of them were a blast to paint on, though! I’m glad to have had the chance. Any questions? Let me know.