“Brilliant color that does not yellow with time, a velvety matte surface unlike any other medium, dry color that is capable of a range of effects. These characteristics are distinctive to pastel.” Sherman Fairchild Conservator in Charge of Photographs and Works on PaperThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pastel is powdered pigment rolled into round or square sticks and held together with methylcellulose, a non-greasy binder. It can be either blended with finger and stump or left with visible strokes and lines. Generally, the ground is toned paper, but sanded boards and canvas are also popular. If the ground is covered completely with pastel, the work is considered a pastel painting; a pastel sketch shows much of the ground. When protected by fixative and glass, pastel is the most permanent of all media because it never cracks, darkens, or yellows.
The origins of pastel can be traced back to the sixteenth century, when Guido Reni, Jacopo Bassano, and Federigo Barocci were notable practitioners. Some more familiar artists are: Delacroix, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Redon, Vuillard, Bonnard, Glackens, Whistler, Chase, and Hassam.
Degas was the most prolific user and champion of pastel, raising it to the full brilliance of oil. His protégé, Mary Cassatt, introduced the Impressionists and pastel to her wealthy friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States.
Some tips on preserving your Pastel work
The greatest glory and the greatest weakness of pastel is its powdery composition. These opposing factors have provoked countless debates among artists as to how to stabilize these works, and which substances to use. While some materials and methods may suit a particular artist’s goals, there is no ideal fixative. In theory, any liquid applied to pastel will penetrate the spaces between the fine particles of powder and cause certain colors or the overall composition to become dull or darken, thereby diminishing its characteristic light-scattering property. Fixatives can also alter the color of exposed paper. These factors should be kept in mind if you choose to fix your pastel, and if so, it is best to experiment in advance with the materials you plan to use.
If you do not fix your pastel, its surface can still be well protected. This is most effectively done by framing, which avoids accidental smudging and abrasions, as well as the settling of dust. Whether the support is paper, canvas, or wood, at least a 1⁄4-inch space should be provided between the surface of the composition and the inner side of the glazing. This should protect against rubbing and the possibility of condensation and subsequent staining should there be a rapid drop in temperature. This space can be created by using a deep mat bevel, or by inserting spacers or lifts between the artwork and the glazing. Pastels on loose sheets of paper should be hinged at all edges or over-matted to avoid cockling and the consequent rubbing of powder against the glazing once framed. Matting materials should be 100% rag board. This helps to avoid discoloration due to acidity and provides mild buffering action against changes in humidity. For glazing, use only antistatic materials to avoid having the powder lifted off the surface of the composition. Such products include ordinary glass, as well as nonreflective glass that incorporates an ultraviolet barrier (such as Schott Amiran, Denglass Water White, or Tru-Vu Museum Glass). Acrylic sheeting should be used with caution because of its static charge. If it is used, apply antistatic solution to the inner and outer sides of the sheet. Guard against large thin sheets of acrylic because they will bow and rest on the surface of the pastel, and avoid turning any pastel facedown. From The Pastel Society of America
This workshop is designed for all artists from the realism painter to the abstract.