Is painting or sketching medium favored by many artists who are constantly on the go. Pastel does not darken, fade, yellow, crack or blister with time because it does not contain any liquid binder, as found in oil paint.

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About this Medium

A particle of pastel, seen under a microscope looks like a diamond with many facets. Therefore paintings done in pastel reflect light in the same way as a prism, in multiple directions. Beautiful, long lasting high quality works of art can be produced in a short amount of time because no drying time needed as with wet mediums.

Pastel uses a combination of drawing as well as painting skills and allows for a spontaneous approach to the subject. It has a velvety texture and no other medium has the same color intensity.

Pastels comes in the form of a stick and they are available in various sizes, shapes and degrees of softness.

Pastel artwork is created by stroking the stick across an abrasive surface embedding the color within the "tooth" of the paper or board which is also called "the ground".

Pastel can be blended or used with visible strokes and techniques may vary with each individual artists.

Pastels may be applied to a multitude of surfaces, including various types of paper, cloth, and canvas. Two popular surfaces are sanded paper and rough-surface rag paper, which may come in a variety of colors to augment or contrast with the painted image.

Some surfaces are undercoated with a mixture of gesso, marble dust or pumice. The artist may create an "under-painting" with acrylic, oil, or watercolor then use "broken color" which can be achieved by layering or hatching pastels over one another.

Pastel Studio Box

How Are They Made?

The current process for manufacturing pastels today has remained almost the same ever since the sixteenth century, except most manufacturers keep their individual recipes secret to stay competitive with other brands.


Pastels are made up of three components: a pure, powdered pigment (which is also used in traditional oil paints and watercolor paints), a filler and a binder. Unlike oil or watercolor, premixed dry pastel colors are not always composed of a single pigment but are often a combination of two or more pigments bound together.

Pastels are made with dry pigments and fillers that are ground into a fine powder. The filler is a white base used to tint the pigment. It also gives the pastel substance and creates consistency. Gum tragacanth is added to bind the mixture together.

The softest of pastels only have enough binder to hold the pigment together, while harder pastels or pastel pencils have more binder. Harder pastels, such as the Faber-Castell brand can be sharpened and will release the pigment with more pressure.

When added, the binder creates a paste which is then rolled up into a stick. After the binder is dry the stick is ready for use. Pastels do not oxidize with the passage of time. They are one of the most permanent mediums of all when they are applied to acid free archival paper or board and framed correctly.

Pigment Powders

Pastels from the 16th century exist today, as fresh as the day they were created, although in many cases, it is the paper that has begun to deteriorate, not the pastel.

History of Pastel

Chardin. pastel. 1771.
Pastels have been in use since the Renaissance. They were first mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495, documenting his recipe for pastel using the word "pastello", which means “paste” in Italian.

During the 18th century the medium became very popular in Europe, especially in France. It was very fashionable for the aristocracy to have their portrait painted in "pastiche", the French word for pastel up until the French Revolution.

The medium reached the American shores during the 18th century and initially only had an occasional use in portraiture however in the late nineteenth century, pastel became accepted in modern and contemporary art because of the medium's broad range of bright colors.

In recent years, products available to pastel artists have increased dramatically in quality. Today, pastel paintings have the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned living artists have distinguished themselves in pastel and have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium.

Oil Pastels

Or oil sticks are considered a different medium than soft pastels because they use a non-drying oil or wax binder instead of the gum binder used in soft pastels. For this reason, artwork done in oil pastels are generally excluded from "pastel" art competitions and exhibitions.

Oil Pastels


Is a family of pigments created naturally by the earth. It usually appears in red earth shades or several other tones such as orange, tan, brown, beige. Sanguine or sometimes referred to as "red chalk", specifically is a reddish-brown color.


The name sanguine was derived from the Italian word "sanguigna" via the French language, which means "blood" because it resembles the color of dried blood. Sanguine has been used to sketch for centuries because it is ideal for creating volume, rendering, modeling or to represent human flesh. It is now sold in the form of wood-cased pencils or manufactured sticks, which are used with the same techniques to apply charcoal or pastel.

How To Links

Videos on Specific Brands




Holbein Artists' Soft PastelsHolbein Artists' Soft Pastels, 12 Basic Color Set
Holbein has developed an exceptional range of artist-quality soft pastels that offer great covering and blending power because of their soft powder richness.

Holbein Artists' Soft Pastels, 48 Associated Color Set 
Holbein has developed an exceptional range of artist-quality soft pastels that offer great covering and blending power because of their soft powder richness.

Links to Pastel Paper Manufacturers 

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