Information on Pastels

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Pastel is made up of a combination of a very fine powder of pure pigment, bound together with either gum tragacanth or similar. These pigments are the same used in the manufacture of oil and watercolour paint. Varying degrees of white chalk or clay is added during the manufacturing process to achieve different hardness and shades to the colours. Higher clay content pastels, produce a harder pastel referred to as "conte". These are normally used in drawing, sketching, and for working detail into paintings. Softer pastels such as Senellier and Schminke, have a soft and velvety texture and are favourable for their use on fine tooth paper for building up layers of colour. Given their high pigment content, these pastels allow the artist to achieve a high colour brilliance to the finished painting.

With the introduction in recent years of a wider variety of pastel colours and papers, the pastel can be used in much the same way as building up a painting in oil, watercolour, gouache or acrylic. Textured papers that are receptive to water and alcohol, allow the pastel to be applied with subsequent washes, allowing manipulation of the pigment in the pastel. Pastels can then be applied in varying hardness, strokes, dabs and blending, and can be built up / blended on the painting or even on a palette, achieving a myriad of different styles and effects.

Paper types also allow for a variety of textures and colour variation in pastel drawings and paintings. Pastel papers are manufactured with a varying degree of indentations or a sandy surface (the tooth of the paper), in order that the pastel can obtain a purchase. Finished paintings can be fixed using spray fixative in order to reduce the chance of smudging of the finished work, however another preference is to frame the picture behind glass or Perspex as soon as completed, as fixing can darken the completed picture.

© Chris Amos 2007.
© 2007