Notebook, 1993-


Pastels - The Pastel Chalks - Manufacturing the Chalks - Table of chalks & Binders - Binders - Supports & Grounds - Paper for Pastels - Painting Procedure - Fixative - Care and Display


Pastel - A drawing or painting material consisting of a stick of colour made from powdered pigments mixed with just enough gum or resin to bind them. Pastel differs from other methods of painting in that no medium or vehicle is used. In other methods the colour as applied is different from the colour when dry; in pastel this is not so, and the artist may know at once what effect his colour will give. The practical disadvantage of pastel is the difficulty of securing adhesion to the ground and its liability to be disturbed by the slightest touch or even by vibration. As with drawings in chalk or charcoal this may be counteracted by spraying with a fixative, but fixing is apt to impair the characteristic surface quality and reduce the brilliance of colour. Protection under glass and careful handling are perhaps the best safeguards.

Pastel is opaque, and the colour of the ground does not influence the final effect unless parts of it are left bare. The usual ground is a neutral-toned paper. Sometimes the design is made up of individual strokes of colour not blended together, and sometimes the pastel is drawn lightly over the rough ground to produce a half-tone--a process known as "scruffing"; in such cases the ground will show through and its tone is important. In its restricted range of tone pastel resembles fresco and gouache, but the brilliant powdery surface is peculiar to pastel.

Pastels originated in Italy in the 16th cent. as a development from the use of chalk for drawing--Barocci was a noted early exponent. At first colours were generally limited to black, white and red or flesh-colour, and the invention of pastel painting in a full range of colours has been ascribed to the landscape painter and etcher, Johann Alexander Thiele (1685-1752), and also to his contemporaries Mme Vernerin and Mlle Heid of Danzig. Essays in using a full range of colours had ben made earlier, but Thiele perhaps used the method more extensively than any of his predecessors, and the first artist to devote herself almost exclusively to it was another contemporary of his, Rosalba Carriera, who introduce the technique to France. The heyday of pastel was the 18th cent., when it was particularly popular for portraiture (Chardin, Maurice Quentin de La Tour, and Perronneau being famous exponents). During the first half of the 19th cent. the art declined, but in the second half of the century the medium became popular with the French Impressionists, and there was a general revival. In 1870 the Socié té des Pastellistes was founded in Paris, and the first exhibition of the Pastel Society in London was held in 1880. The possibilities of the technique began to be more fully exploited. The earlier method had been to blend the colors together by rubbing with the finger or stump. Now, in pastel as in oil painting, a variety of techniques was developed. The new practitioners saw the value of the individual stroke, of the outline enclosing a flat area of colour, and of a more open technique in which the colours were juxtaposed without blending. Their subjects were also far more various. Among the many distinguished artists who have used pastel may be mentioned Cassatt, Degas, Redon, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Whistler.

[Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osborne, and Dennis Farr, eds. Oxford Dictionary Of Art. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.]

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Pastels are dry chalks made of pigment and a weak, nonwaxy binder that serves to hold the pigment particles together in the form of chalk stick. During the making of a pastel picture, the pigments are attached to the ground only because they are forced into the tooth, or roughness, of its surface and are there embedded. No liquid binders, such as drying oils or glue adhesives, are used during the application of the colors. Usually a very dilute liquid adhesive, called a fixative, is sprayed over the finished pastel to prevent the pigment from powdering away from the surface of the picture.

Pastel technique as it is known today was practiced in the middle of the seventeenth century by portrait artists such as Robert Nanteuil (1623-78), and in the eighteenth century by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-88). Its use was continued through the nineteenth century by Manet, Degas, and Renoir, and in the twentieth century by Picasso, Redon, and Chagall.

Since pastels are applied in the form of dry chalk, colors remain very much the same as in the pigments from which they were made. In other techniques the clear, velvety intensity of dry pigment is always somewhat lowered when the pigment is mixed and applied with a liquid painting medium, just as dry wood becomes darker when it is wet. Pastels keep the range and clear intensity of the original pigments much more than does either oil or encaustic technique. Furthermore, they have an advantage over gouache or aquarelle in that they produce their final effect instantaneously. There is none of the annoying change of tone that accompanies the initial drying out of most opaque and transparent watercolors. If pastels are made of permanent pigments, they will not change at all with age, whereas media containing oils will darken more and more with the passage of time. On the other hand, the absence of a strong binder causes some difficulties. The pastel remains comparatively fragile and certainly unsuited to large decorative works, such as murals. No actual impasto or high relief of pigment is possible. Although optical mixtures of colors are possible in pastel, direct physical mixtures of colors, which are so easily obtained on the palette in oil technique, are difficult. Finally, one color may not be laid over another in a transparent film or glaze. [pp. 204-205]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.]



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