particle of pastel pigment seen under a microscope looks like a
diamond with many facets. Therefore, pastel paintings reflect light
like a prism. No other medium has the same power of color or stability.
Properly framed, pastel paintings are among the most permanent of
are created from the same pigments as those used in watercolor and
oil paints; only the binder, the material which holds the pigment
together, is different. Gum tragacanth is used to bind the pigments
of pastels, while gum arabic binds the pigment for watercolors and
linseed oil is the binder for oil paints. Soft pastels are a different
medium from oil pastels, which essentially are oil paint in stick
form (the word pastel comes from the Italian word pastello, meaning
paste, and therefore refers to the physical form of
the painting medium, not to its unique aesthetic properties). For
this reason, paintings done with oil pastels are generally excluded
from pastel competitions and exhibitions.
have been used for centuries as a sketching medium, but in the last
hundred or so years many fine artists began using pastels for finished
work. The broken color that can be achieved by layering and hatching
made pastels a logical and exciting medium for the Impressionists.
Cassatts exquisitely sensitive mother-and-child portraits
gain much of their immediacy from her mastery of the mediums
unique layering capabilities. Degas used pastels for many of his
famous studies of ballerinas, as well as for landscapes. Renoir,
Redon, Manet, Delacroix, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, and the American
Impressionists such as Whistler, Hassam, Prendergast, and Chase,
are other examples of artists who used pastels for finished work.
In our own time, Wolf Kahn, Daniel Greene, and Janet Fish are among
the internationally known artists who have worked extensively in
pastels are available in various shapes and degrees of softness.
The softest pastels have only enough binder to hold them together,
while harder pastels and pastel pencils have considerably more binder.
Pastels may be applied to a multitude of surfaces, including various
types of paper, cloth, and canvas. Two popular surfaces are sanded
paper and rough-surface rag paper, which come in a variety of colors
to augment or contrast with the painted image. Some surfaces may
be undercoated with a mixture of gesso and marble dust or pumice,
and may be underpainted with acrylic, oil, or watercolor. In recent
years, the products available to pastel artists have increased dramatically
in number and quality, making pastel one of the most versatile and
exciting of artistic media.