15 March, 2018

Exploring Art: Pastel Art

Read time 7-8 mins

William George & Co invite you to delve into the brilliant nature of pastille art. So far, we have looked at the bright and rich nature of oil paintings and the vivid life of watercolour paintings. If you’re new to the series then you can start here.

What are Pastels in Art?

Pastels have an unusual nature compared to different art forms. They blur the lines between painting and drawing. How? After it's been painted, it can look as radiant as a painting but the process of painting it will require more drawing!

To create pastel art, the pastel will need to be moved along a rough surface so it can rest on the paper. Pastels will struggle to gain traction on a smoother surface as there aren't many places for it to utilise any abrasiveness.

To help keep pastel artwork in place, you can use a fixative spray but it's important to understand that it can cause the colour to dull and darken. In order to ensure longevity, pastels must be framed under glass.

What are Pastels made of?

The reason why pastel paintings are so intense is due to the pastel being made of a powder which is pure pigment. They are then mixed with a chemical binder and then rolled into crayon-like sticks. 

Pastels can be found in a wide range of colours. Once the colours are applied to paper, preferably with an abrasive surface, they can appear fresh and bright.  

What are the different types of pastels?

There are different types of Pastels. Here are four of the most common types:

  • Hard pastels - they are rectangular in shape and have more binder in them which enables it to stick together. 
  • Soft pastels - they contain less binder than a hard pastel but contain more pigment and are rounded in shape.
  • Pastels pencils - they are encased in wood and this enables greater control.
  • Oil pastels- they are made with a non-drying oil, they can make paint-like effects but the wax binder makes them incompatible with other pastel types.

Tip - the amount of binder in the stick will determine how soft or hard it is.

When did Pastel paintings come into use?

Pastels came into use in northern Italy during the 16th century. Johann Thiele and Rosalba Camera are considered the first to use pastels.They were created with pure powdered pigments mixed with gum arabic, fish or animal glue to bind them.

Notable artists were: Federico Barocci, Hans Holbein, Jacopo Bassano and Jean and François Clouet.

Pastels became well known for their versatility which created interesting results to the extent where it could display the same richness as paintings. Artists could blend pastels with their fingers, cloth and more and this is all done on the paper and not on a palette as they would experience with other mediums such as watercolours.

What's the difference between a Pastel painting and Pastel drawing?

The answer is in its consistency. If an artwork is 100% pastel then it's called a painting because the entire surface is covered in pastel. Anything less than this is called a drawing. A pastel drawing will have parts of the surface or paper still showing through.

Are pastel paintings popular?

Pastel paints became achieved great popularity in the 18th century as they were used for portraiture.

Notable artists who used them were: Rosalba Carriera,  Jean-Baptiste Chardin, François Boucher and Maurice-Quentin de La Tour.

However, by around 1820, pastels became less used and were quoted as being antiquated. It was not until 1860 when Edgar Degas started to use them. He is credited with transforming pastels from a sketching tool to an artistic medium.

When handled correctly, pastels are permanent and can last just as long as any other medium. Pastels never crack, yellow or darken over time. When properly framed and securely hung, the particles will stay fixed in place for centuries.

Notable artists who started using pastels again were: Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, Odilon Redon and Edouard Vuillard.

Famous Pastel Artwork

  • Poppies, Isles of Shoals by Childe Hassam.
  • Watering Horses, Sunset by Jean-François Millet.
  • La Toilette by Edgar Degas.
  • Self-Portrait by William Merritt Chase.
  • Baby in His Mother’s Arms, Sucking his Finger by Mary Cassatt.

Take a look at the next instalment in our series which explores the fast-drying Acrylic medium. Origainally this was a house paint before artists noticed their potential as a legitimate art medium.

William George & Co. Art Series: Pastel Art
William George & Co. Art Series: Pastel Art
William George & Co. Art Series: Pastel Art