American Realism In Pastels
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How They’re Made...
Pastels are made from the same pigments used for oil paints.  Instead of oils, a
binding agent is added to the pigments to create a chalk like stick, which is applied to a textured surface, usually paper.  Available in many vibrant colors, pastels maintain their just painted look indefinitely, unlike oils, which can crack and darken over time.  “It’s an unfamiliar medium to a number of people, and I ’d like to do my part to help change that,” says Sierak.

Pastel paintings and sketches are created by stroking the sticks of dry pigment
across the abrasive surface, embedding the color in the “tooth” of the paper, sand board or canvas.  If the surface is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; leaving much of the surface exposed produces a Pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. Pastel can be blended or used with visible strokes.  There is no drying time, and no allowances need to be made for a change in color when dry, unlike oil paint or acrylics.

A Brief History...

Pastels originated in the16th century and still exist today, as fresh as the day they were painted, no restoration needed, ever!  “Pastels” does not at all refer to pale colors, as is commonly thought, but comes from the French word “pastische” because the pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste, with a small amount of gum binder, and then rolled into sticks.  The infinite variety of colors in the Pastel palette range from soft and subtle to bold and brilliant.

Its invention is attributed to the German painter Johann Thiele.  A venetian woman
artist,  Rosalba Carriera, was the first to make consistent use of Pastel.  Chardin did portraits with an open stroke, while LaTour preferred the blended finish. Thereafter a galaxy of famous artists . . . Copley, Delacroix, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Whistler, Hassam, just to list the more familiar names, used Pastel as finished work rather than preliminary sketches.

Edgar Degas was the most prolific user of Pastel, and its champion.  His protégé,
Mary Cassatt introduced the Impressionists and Pastel to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States.  In the spring of 1983, Sotheby Parke Bernet sold at auction two Degas Pastels for more than $3,000,000 each! Both Pastels were painted about 1880.  Today, Pastel paintings have the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned living artists have distinguished themselves with Pastels.

Note: Pastels used in fine art should never be confused with colored chalk.  Chalk is a limestone substance impregnated with
dyes.  Pastel is sometimes combined with watercolor, gouache, acrylic, charcoal or pencil to create a "mixed medium" painting.


Phone:  800-787-5040

All images © Tom Sierak