Pastels – what are they?





Well you know that i do pastel artwork.

Well yes so what exactly are pastels??

And why use them?

Pastel are pure pigments held together by a non greasy/oily binder of a neutral hue and low saturation.



So here is a short FAQ on pastels

1) What is the composition of a pastel?

A) Pastel consists of a pure powdered pigment held together by a binder of low saturation and neutral hue. So they consists of minimal binder and hence are the brightest among other color media

2) Why care about pastels? Why not use other media?

A) Due to a minimal binder the pastel produces the brightest coloration among all the media ie watercolor painting, oil painting, acrylic, tempera etc. Also pastel painting will last the longest among paintings of all other media again due to the presence of a non reactive and minimal binder.  Many of the French artist Degas’ more than 100 year old paintings are as brand as new and while you  see cracks appearing in many oil paintings of the same era!

3) How does pastel stick to the surface of the paper? Is it permanent?

A) A pastel sticks to the surface due to the tooth of the paper. On a good quality pastel paper there is enough tooth to hold the pastel almost forever! Yes pastel can be very robust!

One day my own pastel painting fell off some stairs landing face down! But to my great relief the picture didnt get even a minor damage! It was as it is! Once the painting is framed under a glass then it will last forever!

4) How to use pastels? How to blend them? How does one create compound colors?

A) Pastel simply has to be held by fingers and directly applied to the surface! Yes no need of oil, mixing pigments with oil and then varnishing the finished work! Pastels blend quite easily on the surface of the paper. You can use a paper stump or just you cleaned fingers to blend! Creating the colors one wants is an advanced part of a pastel painting because unlike other media this blending of colors can’t be made on an palette. To create compound colors one has to mix them on the surface gradually adding either colors slowly and mixing them with white or off white pastel.

5) Pastel create dust so are pastels harmful?

A) They used to be in past as pastels did contain harmful elements like cobalt and chromium but now many of such harmful elements have been removed from them altogether. But still if you are allergic to dust you can use a surgeon mask, i use them.

6) Since a pastel painting has to be framed does that mean that the  glass will impede my viewing experience?

A) No not at all! It fact nowadays you have a museum quality glass available which is completely non reflective and hence will cause no effect on one’s viewing experience!

7) What is some interesting pastel history?

The manufacture of pastels originated in the 15th century. The pastel medium was mentioned by Leonardo Da Vinci. Pastel was sometimes used as a medium for preparatory studies by 16th-century artists. The first French artist to specialize in pastel portraits was Joseph Vivien.

During the 18th century the medium became fashionable for portrait painting. Pastel was an important medium for artists such as Jean Baptiste Peruronnea, Maurice Quentin de la Tour (who never painted in oils), and Rosalba Carriera. The pastel still life paintings and portraits of Jean Chardin Simeon are much admired, as are the works of the Swiss-French artist Liotard. In America John Singleton Copley used pastel occasionally for portraits.

By the mid-19th century, French artists such as Eugene Delacroix and especially Jean Francoise Millet were again making significant use of pastel[. Their countryman Eduard manet  painted a number of portraits in pastel on canvas, an unconventional ground for the medium. Edgar Degas was an innovator in pastel technique, and used it with an almost expressionist vigor after about 1885, when it became his primary medium. 

Whistler produced a quantity of pastels around 1880, including a body of work relating to Venice, and this probably contributed to a growing enthusiasm for the medium in the United States.In particular, he demonstrated how few strokes were required to evoke a place or an atmosphere. Mary Cassatt an American artist active in France, introduced the Impressionists and pastel to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington.

On the East Coast of the United States, the Society of Painters in Pastel was founded in 1885. The pastellists, led by Leon Dabo, was organized in New York in late 1910 and included among its ranks Everett Shinn and Arthur Davies. On the American West Coast the influential artist and teacher Pedro Lamos, who served as Chief Administrator of the San Francisco art institute and Director of the Stanford university Museum and Art Gallery, popularized pastels in regional exhibitions. Beginning in 1919 de Lemos published a series of articles on “painting” with pastels, which included such notable innovations as allowing the intensity of light on the subject to determine the distinct color of laid paper and the use of special optics for making “night sketches” in both urban and rural settings. His night scenes, which were often called “dreamscapes” in the press, were influenced by French symbolism, and especially Odilon Redon.

Pastels have been favored by many modern artists because of the medium’s broad range of bright colors. Modern notable artists who have worked extensively in pastels include Fernando Botero, Francesco Clemente, Daniel Greene, WolfKahn, and Kitaj.

8) What brands of pastels to use? Are they artist grade?


So here is some short FAQs on pastel.

If you have any questions let me know in comments!

Here are some of my color pastel portraits :