Pastel is the most enduring medium, it does not contain the liquid binder that causes other media to crack, fade or darken with age. Pastel retains its vibrant radiance over centuries, providing it is properly framed and kept out of direct sunlight.
Pastel comes from the French word pastische, meaning paste. The powdered pigment and French chalk are ground into a paste with a small amount of binder and water. This is formed into sticks and left to dry slowly. As the water evaporates, the pastel dries and so you have a medium to work with.
The word pastel should not be associated with pale 'wishy-washy' pastel shades used by the fashion and furnishing industries. Artist pastels come in a full range of colours from the palest hues to bold and striking shades.
Pastels were first used in the 16th century and became really popular in the 18th century. When travelling through Europe, I saw some of the wonderful portraits by Rosalba Carriera (1675 – 1758) in the Accademia Galleries in Venice and was absolutely captivated.
Rosalba Carriera brought pastels into the limelight achieving European popularity with her beautiful portraits. Other artists followed the most famous being Degas, Delacroix, Millet, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec and Whistler.
Pastel is a versatile and exciting medium, particularly for the landscape artist. It lends itself very well to expressing the mood of a piece, and reacts quickly to the artist's thought process. The colours are vibrant and can changed through layering techniques. It can be applied using fingertips to blend and guide the colours and this application facilitates an involvement unlike any other.