Often, after purchasing a set, a customer would return upset because some of the beautiful sticks were “not perfect.” We’re not talking crushed or in multiple pieces, just broken in half. The policy was to give an exchange or refund, and the customer always departed happy. Some time during this period, I began teaching pastel classes and many of the pastel customers would filter through these sessions. It was always a traumatic experience for them to arrive the first day, open their pastel boxes preparing for work, only to be told to remove the paper label and break the sticks into usable sections. The look of complete horror on their faces was quite comical and I admit being amused. Hard-earned monies had been spent on these beautiful sticks of pure pigment, and they wanted them perfect. Even I am guilty of selecting another stick from open stock when I discover it is broken. It is human nature, especially for us OCDs.
But the issue is not about whether a pastel stick is perfectly formed; our concern is whether it’s a usable tool. To draw is to use a stick and make marks consisting of lines. To paint is to make a variety of shapes consisting of value and color. This is a simplified definition but gets to the aesthetic differences between the two mindsets. The longer we hold on to those perfectly wrapped pastels, the longer we hinder their potential. Whether rectangle, round or disk shaped, the new pastel stick needs to be readied for use. Think of these pastel pieces like a brush. The wet artist obtains a variety of sized brushes for the strokes they employ. The pastel artist mirrors this by breaking their pastels into pieces that provide a diversity of edge. The exposed side of the pastel stick is capable of broad strokes; the tip a blunt mark; and the edges a variety of line and dashes. By applying more or less pressure on one edge, varying degrees of pigment will be deposited, replicating the loaded or lean paint application of the oil painter.
So peal the paper off and break those beautiful pastel sticks into usable sizes! Think of them as brushes. If you don’t do it now, some instructor will insist on it in the future. Save your shocked expressions for the awards your paintings will ultimately win.