Friday, July 25, 2008

Just what is a pastel...?

When most people hear the word pastel, they often think of it in the terms commonly used in cosmetics or the fashion industry. The name pastel, actually originates from the French word “pastiche” because pigment used to manufacture a pastel is ground into a paste, by adding a small amount of gum binder. Once in paste form, they are rolled or shaped, often by hand into sticks. As a result, there are an infinite number of colors in the Pastel palette, ranging from soft and subtle to bold and brilliant.

Pastel is often incorrectly called a chalk both by those unfamiliar with the medium, and sadly, some who should know better. Chalk is a limestone substance, while Pastel is pure pigment taken from the earth which is the same pigment used in the making all fine art paints. Because it is pure pigment, and because it has very little binder, a Pastel, when applied to an archival ground, and framed properly is the most permanent of all media. There is no oil which can cause darkening, yellowing, or cracking, and likewise, there is no other substance or medium added which can cause fading or blistering.

Pastels from the 16th Century, which is when the medium we know today was said to be invented by the German painter Johaim Thiele, those Pastel’s are as fresh and vibrant today as the day they were painted.

It is Rosalba Carriera, a Venetian woman artist, who is credited with making first consistent use of the medium. Chardin and LaTour soon followed her lead, and they in turn were followed by such famous artists as Copley, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse-Latrec, Whistler, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and Mary Cassett. All of these artists created finished masterpieces using Pastels. But perhaps the best known and true champion of the medium is Edgar Degas who created many of his more famous ballet paintings in Pastel. In 1983, two of Degas’ Pastels sold at auction for $3,000,000 each; both of these were created around 1880. Cassett, a protégé of Degas, is credited with introducing the medium to the United States while in Philadelphia and Washington.

Today, many of our most renowned living artists, including portrait artist Daniel Greene, and landscape artists Albert Handell, Alan Flattman, Frank Federico, and Massachusetts’s own Anne Heywood, amongst others, have distinguished themselves in Pastel, and enriched the art world with this beautiful medium. ( I hope that I can follow in their footsteps)

A Pastel is created by laying strokes of the dry pigment across an abrasive ground, thus embedding the color in the "tooth" of the paper, sandboard or canvas. When the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; leaving much of the ground exposed creates what is considered a Pastel sketch. (my work is considered painting)
Techniques on applying Pastel vary per each individual artist. Pastel can be blended or used with visible strokes. Many artists favor the medium because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, and no allowances to be made because a color has changed while drying.
Care of Pastel PaintingsAs with any fine work of art, piece of fine furniture or collectible, it is advised not to place a Pastel painting in direct sunlight. When under glass, the heat of the sun can create humidity, which could cause moisture damage to develop. Also, when cleaning the glass of a Pastel, one never sprays cleaner directly on the glass, but rather, lightly spray onto a soft lint free cloth, and then wipe the glass, from top to bottom. Whenever transported or not in a hanging position, a Pastel painting should always be face up. (it should go without saying; the no heavy items should be placed on top of the glass)

Pastel is an exciting medium that has become more and more widespread, and has gained interest daily. Why, in just the past ten years, the number of pastel societies and exhibition spaces dedicated to Pastel has grown immensely and continues to prove the medium a favorite of artists and collectors alike.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of background on the Pastel medium. As always, thanks for listening, and see you out “Painting the Soul of America!”

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