© Gainor E. Roberts 2014 All the works of art shown in the website are protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States of America and may only be used by permission of the artist.


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Many people think pastel is “chalk” and to be honest many pastels contain chalk, but mostly pastels are made up of raw pigments mixed with various binders and some kind of whiting, most often chalk or gypsum. They are unique because they require no solvents or mediums and are created by layering color on color until the desired effect is achieved.

Many artists use blender tools or their fingers to create very subtle images in pastel, and in my opinion, it is sad that the word “pastel” implies a kind of wishy-washy or pale tone. Nothing could be further from the truth in fine art pastel paintings, where strong and bold images abound!

Pastels are worked on a variety of surfaces, from smooth to rough sandpapers. The paper can be bumpy or not and often colored so there is a “tone” under the layers of pastel, which in some cases is used to be the background of the work. It is said that when the background is left unfinished, just the tone of the paper alone, it is a drawing, and when the background is worked in pastel, it is a painting.

Artists have many types of pastels to choose from, and they range from hard to very soft, from cheap to very expensive. There are many pastel manufacturers and each one has various recipes for their products. The amount of binder to hold the pigment together is dependent on the type of pigment, and it is possible, but tedious, to make your own, because you need to experiment to get the exact degree of hardness or softness required to make a good line, but not crumble to bits in the hand. I made my own pastels once, many years ago, and some of those old relics are still in my old box of miscellaneous sticks. They were OK but it was a lot of work for little payback, so I buy my pastels now, and they seem to last and last for very long times.

A pastel is often finished with a final spray of fixative, which many artists eschew due to the dulling effects of the tiny crystals of shellac that are in fixatives. Others spray their work many times, as they go along. My own preference is not to ever spray, or if there is a lot of loose pigment on the paper to lightly spray with one of the finest sprays on the market, which is also the most expensive! If I don’t have to I don’t and for some reason I have been lucky not to have problems with my pastels. The main difficulty is that pastels need to be mounted under glass or plastic glazing and they can have a static charge that causes them to attract pastel dust to the undersides of the glazing, making an unattractive haze over the work. It is necessary to take the framed pastel apart and clean up the glass if this happens.

Pastels are particularly sensitive to sunlight and should always be shown in low light situations and never in a place where the sun, or fluorescent lights can damage the pigments. Today most pigments are very stable in light conditions but at one time I remember reading that one of the kings of France outlawed pastels as he thought they were not “archival” (a word he probably didn’t use as it is a fairly modern concept). But he was afraid they would fade and disintegrate and so they were banned from an artist’s repertoire until several centuries later. However, treated badly any work on paper will disintegrate and fall apart, so it is worthwhile to spend extra money on proper framing and mounting.

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