Pastel Drawings
History, Types, Uses of Pastel Media in Sketching & Painting.

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Other Graphic Art Forms
- Chalk drawings
- Charcoal drawing
- Conte Crayon
- Pen and Ink drawings
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- See also: Disegno

Pastel Drawings

In fine art, the term 'pastels' refers to sticks of colour made from powdered pigment bound with resin or gum. The name derives from the word pastello (Italian), meaning little bread roll.

Developed in the mid-16th century from coloured chalks used for drawing, pastels first became popular with portrait artists in the 18th century, for their soft atmospheric effects. Typically, pastel is applied dry to paper, allowing the artist to apply colour to a composition from the very beginning, without preparatory line and tonal preparation.

Manufacture and Composition of Pastels

Pastel is made from ground pigments combined with a base such as chalk or clay and held together with gum arabic, gum tragacanth or other binder to form a stiff paste. This paste is then cut, formed into sticks and allowed to harden. Four types of pastel are commonly available. Soft and hard pastels, pastel pencils and oil pastels. They come in various shapes - round or square, thin or thick.

Two Dancers, Drawing in Pastels
by Edgar Degas.

See: Types of Art.

For an guide to the aesthetic and
classification issues concerning
fine/applied arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Soft Pastels

The most widely used type of pastel, these sticks contain a higher proportion of pigment and less gum, and yields brighter colors. Their smooth thick quality produces rich painterly effects, including better three-dimensional effects. Easy to apply, requiring little pressure to make a mark, they can be smudged and blended with a finger, rag or paper stump. However, due to their reduced binder-content, they tend to crumble and break more readily. Also, artists usually apply a fixative to their work, to minimize further smudging.

Hard Pastels

Containing less pigment and more binder than the soft variety, hard pastels produce duller colours but maintain a firmer consistency. They can be sharpened to a point with a blade, which enables the artist to execute fine lines and detail.

They are often employed in sketching or in the early stages of a painting to outline the basic design of the composition, and in the final stages to add detail - often in combination with other fine art drawing/painting media.


Pastel Pencils

These are thin pastel sticks encased in wooden shafts, just like a regular pencil. Convenient and clean, they neither crumble nor break like traditional pastels. They are used mainly in combination with soft or hard pastels, to add extra fine detail.

Oil Pastels

These are prepared from a combination of raw pigments and animal fat and wax. Oil pastels produce thick buttery strokes of more vivid colour. They are stronger than non-oil varieties, tend not to smudge - requiring little if any fixative - but are more difficult to blend. Blending is achieved by using a brush or rag mixed with turpentine which helps to dissolve the pastel. Another oil-pastel technique is sgraffito, the application of a palette knife or other sharp implement to thick layers of colour, creating interesting patterns and textures.

Pastel Drawings and Paintings

Artists use pastels for both drawing and painting, often in combination with other media, including pencil, charcoal, chalks and different paints. By working with the side of the crayon, the pastellist creates broad painterly strokes capable of being either blended and smudged, added in semi-opaque layers (scumbling style), or built up in thick impasto-style layers, with the solid buttery appearance of an oil painting. Alternatively, by working with the tip of the crayon, a draughtsman can produce thin crisp lines with a completely different effect. Generally speaking, if only partly covered with pastel, the work is referred to as a pastel drawing: if fully covered, it is termed a painting. Whatever the intended result, the best support is tinted paper with a textured surface, which brings out the best of the pastel media.

History of Pastel Art

Used sporadically during the Mannerism era of the late 16th century, pastels were seriously taken up (sometimes in conjunction with gouache) by 18th century portraitists such as the Venetian pastellist Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), the Frenchmen Maurice Quentin de Latour (1704-88) and Jean Chardin (1699-1779), the Geneva-born Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-89), the French engraver and pastel painter Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (c.1715-83) and the Swede Alexandre Roslin (1718-93).

Pastel-use was revived and widened in the 19th century, when their greatest exponent, the French Impressionist painter and draughtsman Edgar Degas, used fixative as a key feature of the creative process. After first developing the drawing in charcoal, he sprayed it with fixative, then overlaid it with layers of soft pastel. But instead of blending the colours he applied more fixative and added more pastel. The rich optical juxtapositions of colour was achieved by different layers of colour rather than one thick blended layer. Other famous modern pastellists include: Degas' pupil Mary Cassat (1844-1926), James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Pablo Picasso. Twentieth century pastellists include RB Kitaj, Daniel Greene and Wolf Kahn. Another modern example of the use of pastels, can be seen in the National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland at the University of Limerick.

Professional Pastel Artist Groups

Although less well known than organizations reprsenting other media like watercolours and oils, there are a numerous pastel societies around the world. For example, the UK's Pastel Society was established in 1898, with founder members including Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin, William Rothenstein and James Whistler. It promotes the best contemporary work by pastellists, and is committed to restoring the medium to the level of popularity it once enjoyed. Recently, in 1994, Urania Christy Tarbet founded The International Association of Pastel Societies.

• For facts about painting movements, styles and Old Masters, see: History of Art.
• For details of drawing/sketching, see: Homepage.

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