Original Pastel Paintings

Pastels have been in use since the Renaissance, although the peak of their popularity did not come about until the 18th century, when Joseph Vivien became the first artist to be called a “painter in pastel”. However, Vivien mainly utilized pastels for preparatory work, and finished his paintings with other mediums. The first paintings made entirely from pastels were created by Italian artist Benedetto Luti. Perhaps the most famous pastel artist was Edgar Degas, who was revered for his pastel paintings of ballerinas, such as Dancers Practicing at the Bar and Dancers, Pink and Green. His student, Mary Cassatt, was credited with bringing the popularity of pastel to the United States. Pastels are pure powdered pigment held together by a binder in stick form. It looks a bit like a piece of chalk and a bit like a crayon, and they are held the same way that you would hold a pencil or a paintbrush with your fingers. There are four types of pastels: soft pastels, hard pastels, pastel pencils, and oil pastels (or Cray-Pas). Soft pastels, hard pastels, and pastel pencils all utilize a gum or resin binder, and they are all compatible, and suitable for use within the same painting or drawing. Oil pastels utilize an oil and wax binder, which gives them a texture similar to oil paints, and they cannot be blended with other types of pastels.

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There are two types of art which can be created with pastels: Pastel paintings, which are works whose entire surface area is covered in pastel, with none of the foundation showing through, or pastel drawings, which are works whose entire surface area is not covered in pastel. Pastel drawings are often centered, as a sketch would be, with much of the paper, canvas, or other surface area left bare.

To create a pastel painting or drawing, simply drag the stick of pastel across a textured surface, such as a grainy pastel paper or a rough canvas. The surface must be abrasive in order for the pastel pigment to remain. If the paper or canvas is too smooth, the particles will simply fall right off. Once your pastel is applied, you may blend colors with your fingers, a blending stump, or a piece of cloth. Using a paintbrush dipped in water can also produce a beautiful watercolor effect on your pastel painting.

There are many benefits to working with pastels. Pastels are easily blended, and in fact, are built for blending, since colors must be mixed directly on the surface area, rather than on a separate palette. When blended, the color created by pastels is the closest that an artist can get to using the pure dry pigments on their canvas; much closer, in fact, than any other medium they can use. Completed paintings often appear rich and velvety in texture, and when applied properly, they are also permanent, and the particles can stay in place for hundreds of years. They do not crack, yellow, or darken over time, and finished pastel paintings are often just as brilliant and bold as their counterparts.