When many people hear the word “pastel”, pale, soft colors come to mind. However, in the art world, pastel refers to a brilliant color artistic medium used to create luminous works of art with a velvety, buttery surface.

Adams Creek, 11×9 Pastel by Susan Mayfield

Often gallery visitors are pleasantly surprised at the vibrancy and rich depth of color that can be achieved using pastels. A number of great masters, including Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Whistler, produced brilliant works in pastel. Edward Degas was a prolific user of pastels and his protege, Mary Cassatt, introduced the Impressionists to the use of pastels.

Today, many renowned living artists excel in pastels, and many galleries in the Charleston area represent artists who create exciting work in this medium. Tammy Papa and Susan Mayfield are two highly sought after local artists who excel in this medium. Each of them has their own unique style but both use pastels with a painterly approach; with quick strokes and wide blends creating rich layers of color. As artist Tammy Papa explained in one of her recent workshops, “Pastel sticks contain crystals with light scattering properties, which is one of the reasons this medium is so luminous. Some artists only use specially designed “strains” to blend the pastel onto the surface of the work to prevent the oils from their fingers from dulling these crystals.A pastel stick consists of pure powdered pigment and a binder.

The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil paints. There are four main types of pastels: soft, hard, pencil and oil. Soft pastels, hard pastels and pastel crayons are all bound with a gum or resin binder and oil pastels are bound with oil and wax. The pastels can be used on almost any surface as long as there are enough teeth for the pastels to adhere. Textured paper is a common surface for pastels, but artist-grade boards, canvas, and sandpaper can be used. The work is considered a pastel painting when the surface is completely covered in pastel; otherwise it is considered a pastel sketch. Pastels should be framed under glass (not Plexiglas), with adequate spacing between the painting surface and the glass, and as with most works of art, they should not be hung where they are exposed to excessive heat, humidity or sunlight.

Some of the most common questions we hear in galleries are: “I want to buy something that has longevity and value; Aren’t pastels really fragile pieces that will fade over time? Or, “isn’t that just chalk?”

Despite the fragility of its surface, pastel artwork has extreme longevity when created on conservation media and properly framed. Ralph Mayer, author of the ‘Artist’s Handbook’ wrote: ‘Framed under glass and given the care that any work of art normally receives, the (pastel) portraits of the 1750 period have come down to us as bright and fresh than the day they were. painted.”

Many famous artists throughout the centuries have created pastel paintings (some as early as the 16th century). These works of art have retained their luster and become highly valued, and many of them hang in national museums.

As for the “chalk” issue, that’s an understandable misconception. Pastels can be very dusty and look like chalk when creating the artwork. However, artist’s pastels are an entirely different medium to colored chalk.

Colored chalk is a temporary, dilute color, water soluble, non-conservation grade material, while pastels are pure conservation grade pigments in stick form. These sticks may look a lot like a chalk stick, but they are worlds apart.

To experience this brilliant medium in person, stop by the Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island or the Edward Dare Gallery in Charleston. With their individual interpretations of living landscapes, still lifes and figurative subjects, artists Tammy Papa and Susan Mayfield have created unforgettable paintings that will give you a new appreciation for pastels.

For more information, stop by any of the galleries or contact us at www.sandpipergallery.net or 843.883.0200. Julie Cooke is the owner of the Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivans Island which is in its 16th year and the Edward Dare Gallery in Charleston which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Cooke graduated from Clemson University and Auburn University and worked as a project engineer and product designer for 15 years before entering the art world professionally. Cook says: “Every day I walk through these galleries, I am always amazed to be able to work in such a beautiful and impressive setting. the environment and support the work of artists and artisans from across North America. Art is a crucial and delightful part of the human experience and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to integrate it into so many people’s lives.


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