ART Smart: Pastel Paintings

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No one is born understanding all the different types of paintings and art that artists are creating. In this series we will be taking a look at the basics of each type of art so that you can feel confident and art smart! Wondering how I got to be ART Smart ? I apprenticed in an art shop for three years and while I was there it was my job to play with everything and teach people how each medium works.

What are Chalk Pastels?

A mix of a binder (Methyl cellulose is a 20th century binder option) and coloured pigment,  chalk pastels come in different hardnesses categorized as hard pastel and soft pastel. Hard Pastels and pastel pencils are often used for linework. They can create sharp, clean lines but they don’t blend particularly well.  Soft pastels create the paintings that you most likely have seen before. Degas was known for his ability to create layer after layer of delicate soft pastel work to create depth and subtle tonal blends.

Artists in this group work on special papers, called pastel papers. The paper is designed with little “hills and valleys” to catch the little pastel particles. Without the little “teeth” in the paper the pastel would simply slide off the working surface. Watercolourists use the white of the paper so that they can avoid using white paint in their art which tends to have a flat look. In a similar way, pastelists use the many shades that the papers come in to enhance their specific designs.  

Generally, pastel artists don’t mix colours like a painter would. As a painter, if I needed a green I mix a yellow and blue. If the green is too intense I may add more yellow, some brown and a spot of white and I’ll fool around until I get a colour mix that works for me. Like coloured pencil artists, pastelists often buy different shades of the same colour, like green. So they will have a celery green, a light olive green, a medium olive green, a dark olive green, a kelly green, 5 shades of hunter green….etc. Over time these artists probably collect hundreds, if not thousands of shades and colours.  

Pastel artists are using a very thoughtful approach to their work and select their colours carefully so that the colours remain clear. If too many layers of pastel build up on the paper the colours start to get really muddy and it is almost impossible to remove a layer. Once it’s there, it’s there so the pastel artist needs to be precise!

How do I care for a Pastel Painting?

Very carefully! These paintings are delicate by nature and often pastel artists avoid using a fixative spray on their work because the spray can alter the colours.

The best option is to have these artworks professionally matted and framed. This keeps dust, fingerprints and other things that could smudge your art off the surface of your painting.

More About Chalk Pastels 

If you are thinking about picking up a set of pastels my best advice is don’t buy the cheap stuff. You get the experience you pay for with pastels almost more so than in any other medium – you either pay in frustration time (why are all my flesh colour mixes so ORANGE???) or in money.

I’d recommend taking a class in pastels if you are looking to create more representational/realist art. If you’re into experimental stuff, go buy yourself some appealing colours and have at it! Nupastels (a form of hard pastel) are lots of fun for sketching and I’d recommend them over the pastel pencils – I’ve found most of the pastel pencils I’ve tried have a really “scratchy” feel.

I think this is the last post in the ART Smart series – I think we’ve been through most of the major art mediums now! If there’s something I haven’t covered yet or if you have questions on anything let me know and I’ll field them as best as I can.

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One thought on “ART Smart: Pastel Paintings

  1. this was quite helpful… i have been using pastels for as long as i can remember, but i’ve been using on flat paper. now it makes sense!

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