Characteristics of Pastels

A pastel consists of pure powdered pigment and binder in a stick. It's basically the same pigment that is used in all art mediums. In appearance, it's sort of a cross between a stick of chalk and a crayon. They are held in the same way that you would hold a pencil, crayon or paint brush.

Pastels come in four forms: hard pastels, soft pastels, pastel pencils, and oil pastels. The hardness or softness of a pastel is determined by the amount of binder in the stick. Soft pastels have less binder and more pigment.

They normally have a rounded shape. Hard pastels are usually rectangular and have more binder to keep the stick together. Each has different qualities and creates different effects. For example, soft pastels are easy to smudge and blend, whereas hard pastels are good for creating tight, precise details.

Pastel pencils are pastels that are encased in wood, allowing for less mess and more control over details. They can be easily blended with regular hard or soft pastels. Oil pastels are great for creating painterly effects, but their wax binder means they're incompatible with other pastel types.

To make a pastel painting or drawing, the stick is dragged across a rough or toothy surface. It's essential that the surface have some degree of abrasion, so that the pastel particles can rest on the paper.

Smooth surfaces are too slick to accept pastel. Pastels are easily blendable, and can be blended with fingers, a blending stump, or a cloth. Unlike the process of painting, the colors are mixed directly on the paper, rather than on the palette.

This is why blending is so important!
When handled correctly, pastels are permanent and can last just as long as any other medium. Pastels never crack, yellow or darken over time. When properly framed and securely hung, the particles will stay fixed in place for centuries.

Pastel paintings refer to completed works in which the entire surface area is covered in pastel. Because of pastel's exquisite blendability, combined with their luscious texture, finished artworks often emanate the same depth and richness as paintings.

Pastel drawings describe works in which the entire surface area is not covered in pastel. Instead, there is a noticeable amount of paper or underlying surface showing through. These works have much more in common with drawings or sketches.