What are artists’ pastels? Pastels are sticks of pure pigment held together with a gum or wax binder depending on the type of pastel it is. The best quality pastels have top quality pigments held with the minimum of binder. Cheaper pastels have a lot of binder which may result it being harder to transfer the pigment to the surface and a dullness of colour, particularly in soft pastels.
What types of pastel are there? Pastels can be either soft/chalk pastels which have a gum binder or oil pastels which have a wax binder. They have very different properties and uses. In very simple terms, soft pastels act like chalk on a surface – being crumbly, having a matt finish and smudging and blending easily – and oil pastels act like wax crayons – having a sticky, waxy consistency, a satin sheen and can be built up for a more textural look.
When were soft pastels first used? Chalk Pastels were used by Renaissance Artists to add highlights and for line work but really came into their own as a Painting Medium in the 18th Century with Artists such as John Russell and Thomas Gainsborough.
When were oil pastels first used? A forerunner of the Artist Oil Pastel was formulated in the 1920s but was considered more of a colour stick for children to use. It was not until 1949 that Sennelier was commissioned by a friend of Picasso to produce a version that was Artist's quality and suitable for a wide range of surfaces. The pastels that they invented is still considered among the best Artist Oil Pastels in the world.
What surfaces can be used with pastels? Soft pastels are best on paper but can also be used on board if the board is primed with pastel primer. Pastel papers are usually textured so that they have a ‘tooth’ that the pastel can bond with and are tinted. Oil Pastels can be applied to paper, canvas, wood, card and other porous surfaces.