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  • Writer's pictureKOH-I-NOOR HARDTMUTH

Explore the magic of colorful pastels




The pastel technique is mainly connected with the art period of till these days admired Impressionism. However, it was created many years earlier and was not only used by Degas or Renoir. Today, we can see this technique in the field of art as well as in art classes at schools.







Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo used natural charcoal for their drawings, from which pastels developed over the time. No wonder then that the pastel, as an art medium, was invented in the 16th century in Italy, the same country in which these two masters lived and created.


They were made of pure powder pigments mixed with chalk and a sufficient

amount of gum arabic or other binder, same as today.


However, the pastel was only available in black, white and red. Today, there are about 1600 different colors and shades.





Among the first great artists who used this technique was Hans Holbein Jr., a German Renaissance painter and graphic artist who worked at the court of King Henry VIII of England. So it is quite strange that the pastel did not reach popularity in England until two centuries later. With all the glory, however! To own the pictures created by pastel became a trend of socially highly positioned people and the price of finished works was comparable to the price of oil painting, which was unimaginable until that time.


Enthusiasm soon cooled down a bit and pastel became a technique of amateurs. But not for long. In the 19th century, it was made famous again by already mentioned Edgar Degas, who turned this technique used only for sketching into a full-fledged artistic medium.



Edgar Degas



Before long, the pastel also attracted other great artists, including Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Even Pablo Picasso, who himself contributed to the improvement and elevation of oil pastels to professional art technique, fell under its spell.



Claude Monet




As already mentioned, the pastel is made of powder pigments which are mixed with chalk or clay, then the binder is added to the mixture, which can be, for example, gum arabic or gum tragacanth. This mixture is then sliced, formed into sticks and let to cure.


The ratio of binder to pigment plays an important role in pastels’ categorisation. According to this criterion, they are divided into soft, hard, oil and pastels in pencil, each of which is suitable for a different type of drawing or painting.



Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec



Soft pastels, also known as dry or dusty, contain a high amount of pigment and a small amount of binder. Thanks to this, soft pastels can be smudged, layered and their colors can be mixed well. However, we must not forget to seal them using a fixative, which you will find in the KOH-I-NOOR e-shop in the form of a solution and a spray. Another advantage is the wide range of colors. In addition to smaller sets, you can also buy large sets of pastels suitable for professionals.







Another type are hard pastels, which contain more binder and less pigment than the soft ones. Thanks to this, they break less and you can cut them to make them sharp, which you will use mainly when creating thin lines and details. Their spreadability and ability to mix shades of colors are similar to the soft pastels, so it is possible to combine these two types together.








However, it is not good to combine soft or hard pastels with oil pastels, as they leave a waxy mark because the binder is wax or oil. The pigment is present in large quantities in oil pastels, so the colors are very rich. Compared to the previous types, these pastels cannot be mixed that well, but can be spread by fingers or a brush. Thanks to these characteristics, it is not necessary to seal the artwork created by oil pastels.







Some artists could use pastels in pencil for fine details, outlines or lines. However, same as with soft and hard pastels, they should not forget to seal the finished drawing.








Natalia Leonova


To start to create with pastels you can get inspired by a Russian artist Natalia Leonova or if you prefer an abstract style, we recommend exploring the work of the young Czech artist Matyáš Maláč.

Don't forget to share your work with us on social networks. We look forward to seeing it!




Matyáš Maláč

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