Pastel is an art medium made of pressed powered pigments and a binder. There is no need in preliminary preparations or addition media in pastel painting. Pastel is one of the easiest painting techniques.
The first famous painter to have used pastels in his artworks was Leonardo da Vinci. When drawing a sketch for the portrait of Isabella d'Este, he used black chalk, sanguine (red chalk) and yellow pastel highlights. This new technique da Vinci called «colorire a secco» (the dry color method) and identified it with pastels. According to his words, he learned this method from French court painter Jean Perréal.
In the 18th century pastel became an independent technique. It was especially popular in France, where such prominent artists as Chardin, François Boucher, later Greuze, Delacroix and others made a significant use of it. A great impact on the development of pastel painting, and especially portrait genre, had a Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera (1675-1758). She was one of the most in-demand and respected European portraitists of the time, receiving tons of commissions mostly from women of high degree. Pastel portraits executed by her are noted for astonishing refinement, velvety colours and outstanding proficiency in using pastel techniques.
Pastel is a beloved painting technique of many contemporary artists, such as Alexandra Ovchinnikova, Leonid Stroganov, Alena Kogan and others. You can explore their art and buy any painting to your taste in our online gallery.
Types of Pastels
There are three types of pastels:
- Dry pastel is subdivided into soft and hard pastels. The more binder pastels have, the harder they are. The softest pastels consist only pure pigment. Dry pastels are available in sticks and pencils.
- Soft pastels are quite difficult to work with – they consist more pigment and less binder, thus they tend to crumble and smudge readily. On the other hand, it is easy to blend them by applying one layer on the top of the other. White chalk component in soft pastels also makes hues look matte and velvety.
- Hard pastels crumble less often due to a bigger amount of binder. Colours are less bright, but strokes are smooth and steady. They are perfect for working with fine details and creating line drawings.
- Water-soluble (wax) pastels consist of wax and pigment. Picture made with water-soluble pastels will look like the one made with hard pastels but having much brighter and deeper colours. Due to water-soluble components, it is possible to mix them with water, just like watercolour pencils.
- Oil pastels’ binder has a special component – linseed oil, that makes the consistency soft and buttery. Colours are not so velvety in comparison with dry pastels. Oil pastels don’t smear and smudge much, they also don’t require a fixative. They can also be spread across the picture as well as water-soluble pastels, but only when thinned with a special solvent.
Working with Pastels
The paper for working with pastels should be textured and heavy enough to hold the pigment in place. Artists prefer to use coloured paper, because it sets the general tone of the painting and unlike the white paper, it won’t let the gaps left uncovered strike the eye. There are several types of supports for working with pastels:
- Sandpaper is commonly used by artists; it has grained texture, which helps the pigment to grip well.
- Pastel boards made of fine particles of cork.
- Velour paper with a velvety surface let strokes be smoother and it doesn’t require a fixative. A pastel picture made on the velour paper look more like a picture made with paints.
- Watercolor paper can be also used for working with pastels. For toning it you can use tea or coffee.
Pastel is a very fragile medium, it can smudge and crumble easily. That’s why the finished picture should be sprayed with a special fixative or a hairspray. After being fixed, colours lose their mattness and become bright and deep. Like other graphic artworks, in order to protect a pastel painting from dust and UV light, they are usually matted and framed using non-reflective glass.