Artist pastels are one of my favorite artist mediums to work with. I prefer to use top quality Rembrandt © brand artist pastels in combination with Conte’ © pastel pencils to create my fine art pastel portraits.
Also known as “chalk” pastels, they are actually one of the “purer” artist mediums in use today. At first glance, pastels appear similar to chalkboard chalk. Nothing could be further from the truth. This belief is perpetuated by their use for quick draw caricature portraits that you see done at fairs or shopping malls. However, pastels are so very much more . They are in fact an fine art medium whose use dates back centuries.
Chalk is made from the raw mineral Gypsum, The same material that plaster and wallboard is made from. It is a very crude as a pigment in comparison to the pigments used in fine artist pastels. There is an old artist saying that goes, “Chalk is an abomination of a pastel.” and the more you understand about pastels, the more this saying rings true. Unlike chalk, pastels contain pure finely ground artist quality pigments that will not crack or fade. Pastels are proven to maintain their vibrancy and depth of color even over the test of time.
Artist pastels are actually made from finely ground mineral, animal and vegetable based pigments, the same pigments one finds in fine artist oil paints and watercolors. This explains why there is such a wide range of beautiful rich deep colors available to pastel artists. These pigments are then held together with a binder of kaolin, also known as “china clay” or “pipe clay”. Kaolin is to a pastel, what linseed oil is to artist oil colors. This unique combination enables the artist to create drawings that are more similar in both color and technique to paintings. It also helps explain why many pastel artists will tend to view their work as painting rather than drawing. Hence the saying, “ painting with pastels!”
Pastels in History
The evidentiary use of pastels as a artist medium dates back to Leonardo da Vinci who first mentioned them in 1495. Throughout the centuries, many famous artists have painted with pastels. Maurice Quentin La Tour and Rosalba Carreria have used pastels as far back as 1703. The portraiture and still life’s of Jean Baptista Simeon Chardin, 1699-1779, were also extremely popular. In the late nineteenth century pastels popularity for portraiture became evident in the United States. Other famous artists like Whistler and Degas showed great enthusiasm for this medium. Mary Cassatt was instrumental in popularizing both pastels and impressionism in America. Modern day artists such as Daniel Green and Fransesco Clemente are known to work exclusively in this medium today.
Whether or not you decide to purchase a pastel portrait of your prized animal or beloved pet, is entirely up to you. However, it is my hope that you will at least benefit from an increased awareness and appreciation of this unique and beautiful artistic medium.