From Academic Kids

Missing image
A bravura pastel portrait of Louis XV by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1748

Pastel or pastels is an artistic expression which involves the application of soft colors by painting with soft crayons wrapped in paper. Traditionally, this resulted in a soft and delicate painting, although a modern school involves bolder applications. The procedure and materials sometimes make it difficult for the artist to fix mistakes, but the medium can be a forgiving one under most circumstances.

Pastel color is a general term for any color that is softly muted as it would be if drawn with pastels, but used most commonly for lighter-tinted colors (such as a muted pink, but not necessarily a muted red or muted navy blue).


Pastel crayons or sticks, which resemble chalk, consist of pure pigment combined with an inert binder, such as gum arabic, gum tragacanth, or methyl cellulose. They are available in varying degrees of hardness, the softer varieties being wrapped in paper. The colors are simply drawn onto the artwork surface, usually paper.

The available pastel media can be subdivided as follows:

  • Hard pastels — These have a higher portion of binder and less pigment, producing a sharp drawing material that is useful for fine details. These can be used with other pastels for drawing outlines and adding accents. However the colors are less brilliant than with, say, soft pastels.
  • Oil pastels — These have a soft, buttery consistency and intense colors. They are slightly more difficult to blend than soft pastels, but do not require a fixative.
  • Pastel pencils — These are pencils with a pastel lead. They are useful for adding fine details.
  • Soft pastels — This is the most widely used form of pastel. The sticks have a higher portion of pigment and less binder, resulting in brighter colors. The drawing can be readily smudged and blended, but it results in a higher proportion of dust. Drawings made with soft pastels require a fixitive to prevent smudging.
  • Water-soluble pastels — These are similar to soft pastels, but contain a water-soluble component. This allows the colors to be thinned out using a water wash.

Some artists protect their finished pieces by spraying them with a fixative. In all cases, the pastel drawing or painting must be framed under glass to further protect it from smudging, environmental hazards, humidity, and so on. Drawings in a book of art paper can be protected by separating the pages using laid paper.


The 18th-century painters Maurice Quentin de La Tour (illustration, right) and Rosalba Carriera were especially known for their pastel technique.

The 19th-Century French painter Edgar Degas was well known for his works in pastel, among other media.

Contemporary American artists who use the medium of pastel include Larry Blovits, Wende Caporale, Ernie Centofanti, Tim Gaydos, Daniel Greene, Wolf Kahn, and Madlyn-Ann C. Woolwich. In 1972 the Pastel Society of America was founded to further promote the medium and those artists who make use of it.

See also

de:Pastellmalerei ja:パステル


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