The Question That Every Pastel Artist Hears

Ask any pastel artist what are the most common questions they hear, and “is that a drawing or a painting” is bound to be on the list. Liz Haywood-Sullivan explains the answer, and gives a brief introduction to pastel art in the following excerpt from her book, Painting Brilliant Skies and Water in Pastel.

The Pastel Medium by Liz Haywood-Sullivan

When you pick up a stick of pastel, you’re holding light and color in your fingertips. The tactile nature of this medium gives you immediate feedback and a direct connection to both pigment and paper. Pastels offer an artist an unlimited palette with few constraints as to application and expression. Indeed, there seem to be more individual styles than any other medium, in part because pastel can act as both drawing and painting. Best of all is the ability it gives the artist to paint light. The ideal method for painting in pastel is to start with your darks and then layer by layer develop the light, wrapping, draping and illuminating your subject just as it happens in reality.

pastel landscape painting by Liz Haywood-Sullivan

Shimmer (pastel on UART 500 sanded pastel paper, 15×30) by Liz Haywood-Sullivan

In the past 20 years or so, there has been a renaissance in pastel. This new focus has been driven by advances in the actual medium and the substrates upon which pastels are painted, plus there are improved framing techniques to preserve the final art. Many new products were initially created by artists for themselves to fill a need for materials they were unable to find. At the same time, venerated lines of pastel used historically by artists such as Impressionists Degas and Monet were being reinvigorated with availability to new markets, increased demand by artists, and a new generation of artistic leadership.

Pastels are created using the same pigments found in every medium. However, they’re almost pure pigment with minimal binder and hence contain the highest concentration of pigment of any medium. Due to this renaissance, more artists and collectors than ever before are discovering pastel as a desirable painting medium. The resulting artworks rival other mediums in their competence, beauty, presence and permanence.

pastels for artists

Painting or Drawing (Share on Twitter)

There is a question as to whether pastels are paintings or drawings. Historically, pastel was considered a drawing medium since it was often used for preliminary sketches or field drawings for final paintings completed in oil. Although there are notable exceptions (such as in portraiture), not many artists created finished paintings in pastel, mostly due to the difficulty of preserving the artwork. Today, advances in the materials available have eliminated most of those concerns.

One way to consider whether a pastel is a painting has to do with how much paper is left visible. A painting has little paper showing through. Another way is how the pastel is applied. Drawings are often done with the artist holding the pastel like a pencil and drawing thinner lines with the tip of the pastel stick. A painting can be done with the artist breaking the stick to create different lengths, which are then applied by using the side of the pastel, creating visible stroke widths similar to those created by a paintbrush. Alternately, a pastel painting can be created with a finish so fine that specific marks are hard to discern and even the medium can be hard to determine. ~Liz Haywood-Sullivan

Painting Brilliant Skies and Water in Pastel is part of a unique kit of the month that North Light Shop is offering for a limited time. Scroll down to find out how to save on this title (and more), which is included in the Essentials of Pastel Landscapes value pack.

Warm regards,

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