"Pastel? you mean chalk?"
"Pastel? like crayons?"
"you don't use a brush?"
So, today I want to share a very brief description of pastel, with an even more brief history of pastel use.
Who used Pastel?
Cave paintings were created using coloured earth pigments.
Cro-Magnon cave painting from Lascaux, southern France (20,000 years ago)
Alex Greely/Alpha/FPG LINK
Art Masters such as Leonardo da Vinci used red chalk for architectural and engineering drawings.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Measured study of a foot, about 1490-2, Red chalk on paper, 9 x 7 cm LINK
Rosalba Carriera is described as one of the first artists to make pastel painting popular. Her portraits (exclusively in pastel) were in high demand in 1721.
Rosalba Carriera, Self Portrait 1715 LINK
Edgar Degas, known for his nicely rendered paintings of dancers, was an accomplished artist of paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures. By the late 1870's Degas was using pastel often and experimenting with strokes, fixatives, and surface applications.
La Toilette (Woman Combing Her Hair), c. 1884–1886, pastel on paper, by Edgar Degas LINK
What is pastel? It's simple; pastel is pure pigment, the SAME pigment used in oil paints or other paints, held together with a binder in a dry, stick form. The quality of the pastel stick is determined by the amount of binder combined with the amount or type of pigment. Some pastel sticks are harder than others. Some have a more gritty texture, and others feel buttery smooth.
Pastel can be applied to almost any surface, but most pastel painters prefer textured surfaces that hold multiple layers of colours. I like to use 'sanded' papers. Some artists use fixatives, and others choose not to. But almost always, pastel paintings should be preserved behind glass.
Why do I choose pastel? Pastel is a tactile medium. There is nothing between my fingers and the pigment. I can feel the paper, and play an intimate roll in the application process. Because it's a dry medium, there is no waiting/drying time required. I can continue to work uninterrupted until I'm finished, or return to a work in progress exactly as I left it.
One artist described pastel as little crystals, and if seen under a microscope, you would notice how easily light can pass through those little crystals. It wouldn't surprise me if that were true. When light hits a pastel painting that has not been "smudged" for the purpose of blending, certain colours seem to come to life with a magical glow.
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