What are pastels?

Pastel is an art medium in the form of a stick. It consists of pure powdered pigment and a binder – generally gum arabic or gum tragacanth. Pastels have no chalk component. The pigments (colors) used in pastels is the same as those used to produce oil paints, acrylics and watercolor. However, as this medium has the highest pigment concentration of all painting media it results in very intense saturated colors.

When properly protected behind glass, pastel is the most permanent of all media because it never cracks, darkens or yellows; on the contrary, a pastel painting will maintain its brilliance and vibrancy.

Pastel is a dry medium and is available in varying degrees of hardness and softness. It is quite distinct from oil pastel which is an entirely different medium.

I use both soft and hard pastel sticks. Soft pastels have a higher proportion of pigment and less binder, resulting in brighter, purer and more vibrant colors. Hard pastels have a higher proportion of binder and less pigment, producing a sharp drawing material that is useful for fine details, drawing outlines and adding accents.

My favorite brands include Sennelier, Schminke, Mount Vision, and Nu-Pastel.

A pastel painting is created by applying the sticks to an abrasive ground, leaving color on the grain of the surface. A pastel support/ground needs to provide a "tooth" (often finely ground pumice, marble dust or vegetable fiber) to which the pastel will adhere in order to hold the pigment in place.

My preferred support/ground is Sennelier La Carte which is a high quality, acid-free, heavyweight paper with a surface of slightly abrasive vegetable fiber.

HHistorically, 19th Century French painter Edgar Degas was a prolific user of pastel. Mary Cassatt first introduced pastel to the USA and became its strongest proponent of her era.

Pastels have undergone resurgence in recent years and are now popular in modern art due to the medium's broad range of bright colors.