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Learn to Draw > Pastels


Another lasting medium of artistic expression is color used without a binder, such as pastels, true fresco, painting with waterglass, and silica painting.

PASTELS are technically the simplest medium to use. The only requirements are suitable paper, pastel crayons, and a fixative with a diffuser. No palette, brushes or vehicle are required. Drying offers no problems, and once you have chosen your materials correctly, you are unlikely to make any technical mistakes. Instead, we encounter difficulties of quite a different kind.

What is most awkward is that colors cannot be mixed in advance, an unbreakable rule in all other media. With pastels you have no choice but to use each crayon as it stands, and then to blend them in. This fact led to boxes of pastels containing many colors. If you try to get along with a modest assortment of possibly 20 or 30 crayons, you will soon discover the technical limitations of the medium: you will need so many superimposed colors that it will become impossible to fix the powder firmly to the paper.



The only way to manage with a very few pastel colors is to adopt the pointillist method; but this scientific manner of picture building is not for everyone. When you have at your disposal not less than a hundred or so crayons, however, a fresh difficulty arises: you forfeit the contact with the pigment which you are used to with any other medium. The chalks remain purely objective and external to you. It is true that with pastels the properties of the individual pigments are virtually inexhaustible. Their glazing and hiding power and their richness and ability to blend well are largely offset by the manner in which the powder is applied.

Crosshatching, rubbed and not rubbed As a rule gradations of brightness are produced by white pigments. Those sold commercially are usually chalks, earth pigments and gypsum, which can also be used as fillers. It is true that these pigments cloud the colors, but by this very clouding they emphasize the special characteristics of the medium: the hazy, nebulous colorings and a soft, tender expressivity. "Pastel color" is a widely used term.

It is a term which recognizes the pastel's peculiar power of expression, which, like every medium, has its own range. The logic of this will possibly become more apparent if you imagine a violin concerto played on the trumpet, or military music played on the harp. The art of pastel painting marked the style of a particular epoch, the rococo, and this could hardly have been otherwise. For although pastels were already known at the close of the Renaissance, it was not until the eighteenth century that the medium reached perfection, above all in portraiture. It was immediately abused, for ultimate refinements such as high lights could not be added firmly or precisely enough with the crayon, especially in miniature work; therefore the artists resorted to the use of fine brushes and opaque colors.

Apart from this, the use of some type of crayon is older than the hills, and by for the oldest method of painting. The cave paintings were carried out with crayons, although admittedly not in the manner of a pastel. If prehistoric men had thought of applying their earth colors, chalks and coals, with brush and binder, they would probably not have gone on using crayons. Crayons were very keen for rendering shapes with precision, and the results are models of figurative representation.

It is fortunate for us that prehistoric man remained loyal to his crayons, as it is unlikely that any cave art would otherwise have survived. The only conceivable binding agents of the time were adhesive plant sap, blood serum, and animal size, all of which, after so long a period closed up in the caves, would have perished.

So you see that, aesthetically, the binding agent is the root of all evil, at least where contemporary pastels are concerned. For the pastel can maintain its singular, misty effect only until it is fixed, and the effect is often damaged by fixing. Without fixing, the powdered pigments are held together in loose strata like the scales on butterflies' wings.

Fixatives cause the color particles to stick fast and the light is then reflected off a level surface, as when color is applied with a brush. The picture will take on an appearance reminiscent of normal glue paint technique. The only way to avoid this effect is to leave your pastels completely unfixed. The rococo pastel artists did exactly this. In any event, since pastels are so sensitive that they must be framed behind glass, they can in fact last quite as well unfixed, especially on a velvety surface which improves the adherent qualities of the particles. The rococo painters used roughened parchment.

Next: Pastel paper

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