Art Revolution | Celebrating the Independent Spirit of the Pastel Artist

The Fourth of July marks the United States of America’s celebration of independence from foreign rule. The desire for self-governance seems to be deeply ingrained in the DNA of humankind. No one relishes being told what to do or think. We all want to be in control of our individual destiny. To avoid chaos and allow societies to flourish, regulations are instituted. If the regulations become too rigid and oppressive in nature, however, they can lead to revolt. This phenomenon is manifested in artists as well. The more rigid the rules of painting become, the more iconoclastic the artists become!


Happy Red, White and Ultramarine!

Art Revolution: One rebellious art movement that challenged traditional norms was the French Impressionist Movement. In direct response to the rigidity of the high academies of the time, painters such as Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas, became outliers, meaning they chose to stand apart from others by their actions or beliefs. Often described as nonconformist, maverick, eccentric, original, and heretic, these painters—when confronted with a “must,” instead asked “Why?” Thus, opening the doors of creative possibility.

Edgar Degas—The Founding Father of Pastel Innovation: For pastelists, Edgar Degas could be considered a founding father. His creative vision and pastel experimentation influenced his contemporaries, such as Mary Cassatt and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. An accomplished artist in a variety of media, Degas’ complex layering and textural use of the dry medium created a revolutionary advance for pastel. Known for his “whatever it takes” approach to the artistic process, Degas would frequently join pieces of paper together to achieve a desired compositional format, as well as combine a variety of media for the purpose of underpainting in advance of pastel application. His experimentation with the effects of various solvents and resins layered with pastel has lead to the imaginative techniques still being experimented with today.

Bill Creevy—Continuing the Revolutionary Tradition: While Edgar Degas may have been a General in the pastel revolution of his generation, the mantle for creative independence has been passed to subsequent pastel leaders. One is the 2011 Pastel Society of America Hall of Fame inductee, Bill Creevy. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana (where, incidentally, Edgar Degas had family ties), Creevy currently resides in New York City. His book on pastel techniques, The Pastel Book, published by Watson & Guptill, has been in print since its release in 1991. The book thoroughly defines pastel in the context of a drawing and painting medium, and demonstrates innovative techniques combining the use of pastel with water, watercolor, acrylic, alkyd gels, oil paint, and a variety of solvents. This book has provided “permission” to many an aspiring pastelist to follow in the footsteps of Degas and do “whatever it takes” to produce a desired outcome.

Among the traditional pastelists, Edgar Degas and Bill Creevy would be considered revolutionaries, pushing against dogma to advance the cause of creativity. I strive to follow in their footsteps. Happy Fourth of July!


Look for Bill Creevy’s article about new pastel surface options in the new August 2013 issue of Pastel Journal!

Check out our new special Liz Haywood-Sullivan collection that includes 3 great pastel resources for one great price!

The Maggie Price Essential Pastel Painting Set is now available at North Light Shop with a collection of resources for learning pastel techniques!

Watch pastel art workshops on demand at ArtistsNetwork.TV

Get unlimited access to over 100 art instruction ebooks

Online seminars for fine artists

You may also like these articles: