MATERIALS AND METHODS
The Beauty of Pastels
B y J e s s i c a N o va k
Pastels are pure color with just enough binder to keep
them together for use. They have significant staying power,
and are one of the most pure and permanent forms of art
in existence. Leonardo da Vinci’s works in chalk still survive
500 years after their creation, and Edgar Degas’ vivid pastels
of ballet dancers still delight us 150 years later.
The word pastel comes from the medieval Latin word
pastellum, or paste, referring to the binder that’s a main
ingredient in the art medium. Pastels are made with a color
or pigment, plant sap or other binder, and water. They
are soft enough to adhere to a textured surface, but hard
enough so they don’t fall apart in the artist’s hand.
Pastels come in degrees of hardness and vary by the
amounts of binder and pigment. The more binder, the
harder the pastel.
Hard pastels are valuable for fine details, while soft and
oil pastels have less binder and are better for blending. Soft
pastels are the most commonly used form. If you make
a mistake, use a hard paint brush outside and dust off as
much as you can, then color over it.
In Deborah Quinn’s Art Methods and Materials class at
Cape Fear Community College, she guides students in mak-ing
their own pastels.
“This is economical, and a way to learn firsthand about
the medium and understanding your tools in making art,”
For soft or true pastels, Quinn provides the formula, one
part gum tragacanth (binder), 30 parts distilled water, refrig-erate
24 hours. The binder is the paste into which colors are
added. Add chalk and talc (baby powder) to soften the flow
of the pastel and add filler.
Any artist wishing to make his or her own pastels will need
a palette knife and dry pigments, among other materials.
WBM october 2019