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All About Pastels!

[BLOG POST 2/20/24] Another lead I got from the very cool podcast "The Great Women Artists" by Katy Hessel is information on San Francisco's Legion on Honor Fine Art Museum's exhibit "Color into Line: Pastels from the Renaissance to the Present".

It was live from October 9 2021-Feb 13 2022 but sadly I only heard about it in 2024. 😔

Thankfully there is still great information about it, photos of paintings in the exhibit, and general information about pastels on their website. Specifically:

In this article I learned about different papers used including a brown paper from the late 1800s that was made from diverse sources like repurposed cotton, linen fibers from rags like sailcloth, and hemp fibers from materials like rope. And I learned how early pastel artists specialized in portraits because there wasn't a stable source of green pigment needed to paint landscapes until the late 18th century.

Plus I learned about different techniques like wet pastel, stumping, sidestroke (often seen in landscapes today), and feathering (this is how my mentor Nancy Lucas-Williams uses pastels and it's how she taught me but now I do a LOT of blending).

Here I learned about several female artists I had never heard of before. I'll mention just two. First is Rosalba Carriera who was from Venice and lived from 1673 to 1757. Known as Rosalba she popularized pastel as a medium for high-end portraiture. I'm particularly fond of her painting "Portrait of a Lady as Diana", ca. 1720 below which is soft and gestural.

Pastel portrait by Rosabla
Rosalba Carriera, Portrait of a Lady as Diana, ca. 1720. Pastel On Blue Paper, Laid Down On Canvas, 13 3/16 x 10 13/16 in

I also learned about French Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun who lived from 1755 to 1842 and was one of the first if not the very first women admitted into the Académie royale which gave her the right to exhibit and sell work at the state-sponsored exhibition held in the prestigious Salon Carré at the Louvre, commonly known as the ‘Salon.’

In this article I learned all about what pastels are made from and how they are made. Perhaps surprisingly their formulation has remained nearly unchanged for five centuries–from the sixteenth century to the present day. By the end of the seventeenth century, approximately 65 different pigments were available to artists in Europe but today there are hundreds.

I also learned about the different papers that have been used with pastels through time. Fascinatingly until the introduction of woven paper in 1756 the papers used ranged from primed canvas to silk to sheets of parchment. But they all had problems. Including they didn't hold the pastel's pigments. This meant they required the application of fixatives for stabilization which dulled the colors’ brilliance. Fixatives still have that effect today and I don't use them for that very reason.

So in short I learned a lot! And now dear reader, I hope you have learned something about pastels too! 😊

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