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The Wonders of Pastel

The Wonders of Pastel
Suzi Zefting-Kuhn
Do you know what pastels are?  They are basically pigment combined with filler and a binder.  The amount of filler used controls the hue (the color and shade of that color). Pastels have been in existence since the 15century and the word ‘pastel’ was first used in 1662.  In the early 1700’s Parisian’s would commission portraits of themselves in pastel.  The invention of cast plate glass made it possible for larger pastels to be created and protected from the environment. Pastels were praised because of their lifelike quality and the way the medium reflects light due to the absence of varnish. 
The medium was held in high regard. The number of pastel makers, fewer sittings required by the subject, no drying time, less equipment and lower costs helped to give the medium notoriety.   Pastels lost their appeal later in the 1700’s and early to mid 1800’s and were typically used as studies at that time but then regained appeal in the late 1800’s. 
Contemporary pastelists are working hard to prove to collectors that the pastel medium is just as valuable and archival as oil paint. 
Personally I love to use pastel when painting animals. I find I can create the look of fur more effortlessly. I work on sanded paper called UArt. The UArt is manufactured with a number of different grits but my favorite is 400 grit. It is just coarse enough to hold many layers of pastel.  My pastels of choice are mostly Girault and Terry Ludwigs with Caran d’ache pastel pencils.  I work from photo reference of images I take myself when visiting zoos or other places like animal sanctuaries. 
Yes, pastels are messy. Latex or vinyl gloves help. If you don’t like wearing gloves while working you can use a barrier cream like Gloves in a Bottle, prior to working. Creating a tray made of aluminum foil under your support helps collect stray pastel dust that may fall while you are working. 
To spray fix your work is your decision. I personally do not spray fix mine as it tends to darken and dull the pastel. Instead I tap my work over a trashcan to get rid of any loose pastel particles sitting on the surface of the piece. Be sure your framer uses spacers to keep the glass away from the surface of your work. 
I know, framed properly and handled with care my pastel paintings will survive a very long time. I also know that they are just as valuable as oil paintings. 

Collection of the Artist

Did You Take My Ball?
30" wide x 20" high framed
Contact artist at

Little Miss Furia
14 3/8" wide x 20 1/4" high framed
Contact artist at

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Pastel indeed gives a life-like quality to paintings because it gives the subject a strong luminous color and rich velvety texture. Painting with pastels is gratifying in several ways, one of which is that you don't need a lot of tools to work with it, unlike with paints. However, you need to be aware of a few things when using pastel. The pastel particles is not fixed or easily set, so you need to be aware of the tiny dust particles floating in the air. To address this, you have to make sure that you are working in a well ventilated room to avoid inhaling the dust particles.
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