Pastel Painting

What are “pastels”?
The name pastel comes from the French word pastiche, meaning a work of art. In the art world, pastel refers not to pale colors, but to bright, durable sticks of pigment used to make paintings. Made of pigment and a binder, which converts a dry powdery pigment into a moist lump, thus forming sticks that are then baked. Being a compressed pigment, they will adhere easily to any paper that has a tooth or texture. When cared for properly, pastel paintings last indefinitely.

Pastels are the most permanent artistic medium that exists and are more permanent than other art mediums (oils, watercolors etc) especially when properly framed. This is because pastels have no liquid blinder that can cause other media to darken, fade, yellow, crack or blister over time.  Pastel artworks from the 16th century still exist today, showing the longevity of this medium. Art materials expert Ralph Mayer author of The Artist’s Handbook wrote, “Framed under glass and given the care that any work of art normally receives, (pastel) portraits of the 1750 period have come down to us as bright and fresh as the day they were painted.”

A number of great masters including Delacroix, Millet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, and Whistler produced their great works using pastel.  Edgar Degas pushed the envelope of pastel painting and changed the reputation of the medium from a pale medium to a sketching tool into a major artistic medium.

A brief history of Pastel art ( from Wikipedia )
The pastel medium was first mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495.
Artists such as Maurice Quentin de La Tour and Rosalba Carriera have been using pastels to create masterpieces as far back as 1703.During the 18th century the medium became fashionable for portrait painting, sometimes in a mixed technique with gouache.
In the United States, initially pastels only had occasional use in portraiture. However in the late nineteenth century, pastel (like watercolor) became more popular. The Society of Painters in Pastel was founded in 1885. The Pastellists, led by Leon Dabo, organized in New York in 1910.

Some Famous Pastel artists:
Rosalba Carriera, Self-portrait holding a portrait of her sister, 1715, pastel on paper; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Maurice Quentin de La Tour, a bravura pastel portrait of Louis XV, 1748
Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin. Self Portrait, in pastel, 1771, The Louvre
Edgar Degas, La Toilette (Woman Combing Her Hair), c. 1884–1886, pastel on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow
Mary Cassatt, Sleepy Baby, 1910
Leon Dabo, Flowers in a Green Vase, c. 1910s, pastel

Contemporary Patel Art
Mary Cassatt introduced the Impressionists and pastel medium to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and helped popularize both in the USA. Whistler produced a quantity of pastels around 1880, including a body of work relating to Venice, and this probably contributed to the growing enthusiasm for the medium.

Most contemporary amateur and professional pastel artists trace their roots to 19th century French impressionists, especially Edgar Degas. Degas took his pastel work very seriously, developing his own fixative allowing him to paint over previously painted surfaces. His figures were often lit from below and painted while the subject was singing or dancing. He frequently employed underpainting in watercolor to intensify the light catching effects of dry pastels. Modern notable artists who have worked extensively in pastels include Fernando Botero, Francesco Clemente, Daniel Greene, Wolf Kahn, and R. B. Kitaj.

Today’s dry stick, Conté crayon, oil pastel, and pencil pastels now form an aesthetic and technical bridge between drawing and painting.
                                 “Painting With Words” – Leona M Seufert