The Long Life of Pastels

Q. About 20 years ago I was given a set of Grumbacher “Renoir” pastels. At that time I figured it was already 35-40 years old, so I’m wondering if the set is still usable. Do pastels dry out over time, or can they be used indefinitely?
Hedy Kniesel
Westchester, IL

A. Fortunately for pastel artists, pastels don’t change much with age. In theory, the gum typically used as a binder for pastels (essentially a natural secretion of certain trees and plants) might become brittle over time, but there’s so little binder in pastel sticks that I doubt this would have much impact on their character. The only risk in using old pastels is that their color may have faded if they’ve been stored in the open light, but if they’ve been kept in a box or in the dark this shouldn’t be a problem. I suggest you give your pastels a try, and I suspect you’ll find them perfectly usable.

Tera Leigh is a writer and artist living near San Francisco. She writes columns for several magazines, including Decorative Artist’s Workbook and Artist’s Sketchbook (from the editors of The Artist’s Magazine). Her Web site is

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