A Valentine to Pastel

On the 14th of February, many people will be celebrating Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love. I found that the origins of one of the day’s most cliché poems can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes, Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784):

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
and Fortune said it shou’d be you.


A Valentine for Pastel


While the poem and holiday are referencing romantic love, the way many artists feel toward their medium of choice is no less passionate. When asked, artists are willing to share their individual feelings about different artistic media. Some are loved, some hated, and some just tolerated. A few years ago, the editorial team of Pastel Journal magazine asked me what it was that I loved about pastel. Without hesitation, I commented that it was its tactile nature. No other painting medium has the ability of pastel to allow for the direct application of pure pigment to a surface. It’s as if I hold the earth in my hand. As I glanced at those present, I was greeted by smiles. “All pastelists say the same thing,” editor Anne Hevener said, “Watercolorists always mention the medium’s transparency, the oil painters, its buttery impasto, and for pastelists, its tactile nature.” Having worked with all three of these painting media for well over 40 years, I agreed.

Pastel, A Love Affair
This interchange got me curious as to what other pastel artists have stated about their attraction to the medium. 1999 Pastel Society of America Hall of Fame Honoree, Sidney Hermel stated, “One of the great advantages of working in pastel is that the medium allows the artist to address both value and color simultaneously, depending on the degree of pressure used in its applications. Gwenneth Barth-White, an American-born Swiss international artist said, “As I rarely find the actual colors that I need in the pastel sticks, I build up the hues by using overlapping strokes of different colors. My colors are in fact made up of several others, like a tapestry. Canadian artist, Kathryn Mullaney offered, “As soon as I began blending those beautiful sticks of pure pigment with my fingers, I was hooked – a medium with no drying time and such a tremendous variety of hues.”

For those of us who have fallen under the spell of pastel, the medium’s virtues most commonly proclaimed are the immediacy, spontaneity and tactile qualities. But the ode to pastel that touched me the deepest came from Australian artist, Janine Parsons, “Like an alchemist… transmute dusty, dry, opaque pastel into fluid, shiny transparent effects. The solid becomes transient.”

Whether pastel chose us, or we chose it, it is a love affair at first swipe:

Roses are reddish,
violets are bluish,
of all the media,
to pastel I’m truest






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