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Pastel that has not been sprayed with fixative contains no liquid binder that may cause other media to darken, yellow, crack or blister with time. Pastels from the 16th Century exist today as fresh as the day they were painted.
The pure, powdered pigment, is ground into a paste with a small amount of gum binder then rolled into sticks. The infinite variety of colors in pastel range from soft and subtle to strong and brilliant. The word Pastel in this case does not refer to pale colors as it is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion venues.
An artwork is created by stroking the sticks of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the tooth of the paper, sandboard, canvas etc. If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; a work with much of the ground left exposed is termed a Pastel sketch or drawing. Pastel is sometimes combined with water color, gouache, acrylic, charcoal or pencil in a mixed-media painting, but it is not compatible with oil paint. Pastel paintings reflect light like a prism. No other medium has the same color power.
Today, Pastel has the same stature of oil and water color as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned living artists have distinguished themselves in Pastel, enriching the art world with this beautiful medium.
Working clean to keep colors vibrant:
Be organized. Baby wipes or a damp paper towel kept in a small plastic bag attached by a push pin to the side of your easel makes keeping your pastels a snap. You can easily reach in to clean your working hand or glove and the bag keeps the wipes from drying out quickly. A spray of water will refresh the moisture if needed and you can take this along on your paint outs as well.
Keep pastels clean while working to avoid unwanted smears of other colors. Place a clean paper towel near your easel to drag a pastel across to clean the tip. Try to clean the stick automatically before putting it back, that way you won’t get a nasty surprise.
To keep dark colors clean some artists work from the top down and slant their easels forward. If you need to work all over the surface, (sometimes even working from top to bottom), light particles of dust attach themselves to the dark areas which are situated below. Always do a final cleaning to keep the colors brilliant. Go over every dark area with the same colors and wipe the light dust off the pastel stick before reapplying to the area, vice versa for the light areas.
Working from the top of the paper down, having the paper on an easel rather than flat will allow excess pigment to drop down and out of the way. To catch excess dust, always stand on a carpet piece that can be vacuumed or washed and, eventually, thrown out. An old mail tube cut down the middle or a wallpaper tray can be attached to the bottom of your easel, making an excellent dust catcher. It can also be a stand for your pastel board. Make sure the opening is wide enough to catch the pastel dust…then just empty.
Keeping clean in the studio.
To make clean up easier, place a damp cloth on the ledge of the easel to capture the falling particles. You can protect your easel by making a wider ledge of foam core board wrap with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and securing it to the easel ledge. Kneedable Erasers are excellent for using as a pick up for pastel particles in unwanted places (i.e. on your nice clean mats). Rice cleans pastels beautifully and keeps them safe when travelling. Reuse clean meat trays to keep basic colors in use separate when working.