As a continuation of my last post, I would like to share some of my pastel head studies.

Pastel is a fascinating technique.  It combines the richness of painting with a directness of drawing. Unfortunately pastel has been much maligned recently in ‘serious art’ circles as a medium for dillettantes and garish artwork.  But is contemporary oil painting any less guilty of this sin?

Pastel developed from colored drawings studies that became popular studio practice in Italy during the late 16th/early 17th century.  Frederico Barocci was one of the first known practicioners.  Since many paintings were often completed from from drawings, a colored drawing provided the artist with more information.

The golden age of pastel was 18th century.  The French excelled at the craft after its introduction by the venetian artist Rosalba Carriera.

Maurice Quentin de la Tour is the ultimate master of pastel portraiture.  You can see an excellent site of his work here.

I have used pastel primarily in realizing head studies.  The medium enables you to move quickly.  Here a couple of examples:


These two are both life-size.  It took about 2-3 sittings to complete each portrait.

Girl in Red

In addition to creating pastel portraits for their own sake, I will often do a pastel color sketch for an eventual oil picture or Fresco.

The above is a quick sketch that I used to work up a larger half length oil portrait.  It took a little more that a single session.

The major drawback in pastel painting is its fragility.  Both the pastel sticks and the finished pictures are pretty delicate.  Commercial pastel sticks usually have an excess of binder to make them stronger.  The result is that they become too hard to work with comfortably.  I make my own.  It is cheaper and I can mix the exact range of colors I require for the project.  With a soft enough pastel, you can layer and manipulate the texture of the surface.

Pastel is also a great exercise in seeing the ‘value’ within the ‘color note.’  In that sense it is a nice intermediary step for students between drawing and painting.

The following pictures are examples of slightly larger projects:

Ana Maria

Another problem with pastels the surface.  I generally do not use fixative.  Part of the ‘soft’ charm of pastel is due to the disorganized pigment organization on the support.  Application of a fixative realigns the particles, usually rendering the colors more harsh.

Study of Adiz

My support of choice is a grey blue paper glued onto a stretched unprimed linen canvas.  It gives the surface a good bounce.  It is also easily mounted into a frame that way.


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