By Julie Cook for Island Eye News
When many people hear the word “pastel”, pale, soft colors come to mind. However, in the art world, pastel refers to a brilliantly colored art medium used to create bright works of art with a velvety, buttery surface.
Often, visitors to the gallery are pleasantly surprised at the vibrancy and rich depth of color that can be achieved by using pastels. A number of great masters, including Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Whistler produced brilliant works in pastel. Edward Degas was a prolific user of pastels, and his protégé, Mary Cassatt, introduced the Impressionists to the use of pastels.
Today, many renowned living artists are distinguished by pastels, and many galleries in the Charleston area represent artists who create exciting works in this medium. Tammy Papa and Susan Mayfield are two highly collected local artists who excel in this medium. Each of them has their own style, but both use pastels with a painterly approach; with quick strokes and wide blends creating rich layers of color. As artist Tammy Papa explained in one of her recent workshops, “Pastel sticks contain crystals with light-diffusing properties, which is one of the reasons this medium is so bright. . Some artists only use specially designed “stumps” to blend the pastel into the surface of the work to prevent the oils from their fingers dulling these crystals. A pastel stick consists of a pure powder pigment and a binder.
The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colorful artistic media, including oil paints. There are four main types of pastels: soft, hard, pencil, and oil. Soft pastels, hard pastels, and pastel pencils are all bonded with a gum or resin based binder and oil pastels are bonded with oil and wax. Pastels can be used on almost any surface as long as there are enough teeth for the pastels to adhere. Textured paper is a common surface for pastels, but artist-grade boards, canvas, and sandpaper can be used. The work is considered a pastel painting when the surface is completely covered with pastel; otherwise, it is considered a pastel sketch. Pastels should be framed under glass (not plexiglass), with adequate spacing between the paint surface and the glass, and like most works of art, they should not hang down where they are exposed to heat. excessive humidity or direct sunlight.
Some of the most common questions we hear in galleries are, “I want to buy something that has longevity and value; aren’t pastels really fragile pieces that will fade over time? Or, “Isn’t that just chalk?” “
Despite the fragility of its surface, a work of pastel art has extreme longevity when created on a conservation substrate and is properly framed. Ralph Mayer, author of The Artist’s Handbook wrote: “Framed under glass and with the care that any work of art normally receives, the portraits (pastels) of the 1750 period have come down to us as bright and fresh as the day when they were painted. “
Many famous artists throughout the centuries have created pastel paintings (some as early as the 16th century). These works of art have retained their luster and have become highly regarded, with numerous hangings in national museums.
As for the “chalk” question, that’s an understandable misconception. Pastels can be very dusty and chalky when work is created. However, artist pastels are an entirely different medium than colored chalk.
Colored chalk is a temporary, diluted color, water soluble, non-shelf-grade material, while pastels are pure, shelf-grade pigments in the form of a stick. These sticks may look a lot like a stick of chalk, but they are worlds apart.
To experience this brilliant medium in person, stop by the Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island or the Edward Dare Gallery in Charleston. With their individual interpretations of living landscapes, still lifes and figurative subjects, artists Tammy Papa and Susan Mayfield have created unforgettable paintings that will give you a new appreciation for pastels.
For more information, stop by one of the galleries or contact us at www.sandpipergallery.net or 843.883.0200. Julie Cooke is the owner of the Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivans Island, now in its 16th year, and the Edward Dare Gallery in Charleston, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Cooke is a graduate of Clemson University and Auburn University and worked as a project engineer and product designer for 15 years before entering the art world professionally. Cook says: “Every day I walk through these galleries, I am always amazed that I can work in such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place. environment and support the work of fine artists and artisans from across North America. Art is a crucial and delightful part of the human experience and I am so grateful for the opportunity to bring it into the lives of so many people.