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About Pastels

Teresa Freed - Evocative Pastel Landscapes and Portraits

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'Pastels' consist of pure pigments mixed with a little binder and compressed into sticks.   Because of their purity, pastels have a brilliance of color that is unequaled by other mediums, such as oil paints and watercolors. To the untrained eye, a pastel stick looks similar to a colored piece of chalk - but don't insult a pastelist by referring to their medium by that name! There is simply no comparison between chalk and the rich, lustrous hues achieved with good-quality soft pastels.

Pastels - which are sometimes called 'soft' or 'dry' pastels - are very different from a similar medium called 'oil pastels'. Oil pastels are pigment mixed with a little oil and/or wax to create a stick much like an upscale crayon. The best oil pastels may feel like applying lipstick.  A pastelist may work in either type of pastel, but usually the term 'pastels' refers to soft pastels.

In creating a painting, pastels are applied to paper or another 'support' - and there are a great number of products to choose from. A pastelist is often interested in how much 'tooth' the paper has, as that is what 'grabs' the pastel so that it can adhere to the paper. The more 'tooth', the more layers of pastel can be applied before the paper won't hold any more. Consequently, papers created specifically for pastels tend to be highly textured.  Some are very much like fine-grit sandpaper because that has the capacity to hold a lot of dry pigment.

Unlike paint, pastelists can't mix the color they need from a few tubes of primary colors. Instead, the pastelist must already have the color they need in the form of a pastel stick. Accomplished pastelists may have thousands of pastel sticks. They also become 'experts' at mixing colors right on the paper. Good 'tooth' allows the pastelist to create layers of colors that the viewer's eye mixes into the color the artist desires for them to see. These layers of color give the painting a rich and intriguing surface.

The 'look' of a pastel painting is often due to the type of paper and the hardness or softness of the pastel sticks that are used. Some pastels are so soft that they literally crumble to your feet while you're working with them. But, softness is desirable to some artists, as that allows them to create luscious strokes within the piece.  

Pastels have become increasingly popular in recent years and have attracted many artists who work in other mediums. Those who like to draw often find pastels to be ideal, as they allow the artist to draw while using expressive color and strokes. By breaking a stick in half, artists can also achieve coverage and strokes similar to what you'd find in a painting. 

Because of this, pastels are no longer regarded as simply a 'drawing' medium. 'Painting' with pastels is now a popular concept, and many artists are specializing in it. Most pastelists appreciate the 'hands on' quality of pastels. Not having a brush to manipulate often results in a very intuitive and expressive work of art.

Framing and Displaying Pastels

Because pastel paintings are fragile, they need special framing to protect them. All it takes is one accidental swipe and the painting can be ruined. Once properly framed, they will keep their brilliant beauty for generations.

It's important that pastels be framed with glass (instead of plexi-glass) to minimize static, and that the glass be kept away from the painting. The surface of a pastel painting is actually three dimensional. Because they stand out from the surface, the flecks of pastel pigment capture the light and 'glow' - thus increasing the painting's brilliance.

Framing a valuable pastel is usually not a do-it-yourself project, even for experienced framers. If your pastel painting needs a different frame, it will be worth your while - and the painting's safety - to find a framer who is experienced with handling pastels.

Teresa's paintings are framed with a hidden spacer behind the bottom mat so that dislodged pastel dust can fall behind the mat. This keeps the mat clean so that the painting always looks good.  When transporting pastel paintings, it's best if they remain flat or tipped backward so that any dust that is shaken loose can slide behind the bottom mat.  

As with any fine art, hang your pastel painting away from direct sunlight. Over time, the sun's rays can cause fading.


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