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Pastel...
by L. Diane Johnson PSA

..is pure powdered pigment which is ground into a paste with a small amount of gum binder and then rolled into sticks. The infinite variety of colors in the pastel palette range from soft and subtle to bold and brilliant. It has no liquid binder that may cause other media to darken, fade, yellow, crack or blister with time. Pastels from the 16th century exist today as fresh as the day they were painted.

An artwork is created by stroking the sticks of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the "tooth" of the paper, sandboard or canvas. If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a pastel painting; leaving much of the ground exposed produces a pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. Pastel can be blended or used with visible strokes. The medium is favored by many artists because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, and no allowances to be made for a change in color due to drying.

Edgar Degas, an impressionist painter was the most prolific user of pastel, and its champion. His protégé, Mary Cassatt introduced pastel and the impressionist style to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States.

Famous Pastel Painters of the Past

Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Eugene Delacroix, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Mary Cassatt, Jean-Francois Millet, Berthe Morisot, Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, James McNeil Whistler, Jean-Etienne Liotard, Rosalba Carriera, Leonardo Da Vinci

Care of Pastel Paintings

As with all works of art, pastel paintings require a few simple steps for their preservation and enjoyment:

Frame the painting under but spaced away from glass.

Hang away from direct or brightly sunlit areas.

Provide an environment with low humidity and consistent temperature control.


(This article adapted from pastel description published by
the Pastel Society of America.)


L. Diane Johnson NAPA PSA NAPPAP, is an fine artist and instructor with over 30 years experience. Visit her online gallery for more information or reach her via email.

©1996-2004 L. Diane Johnson

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