Materials & Techniques

Pastels—History and Technique

Pastels are artificial chalk made of ground white chalk and powdered pigments. They are usually compressed into stick form. Although naturally colored chalks have been used since prehistoric times, pastels were not used until the 15th and 16th centuries when they were employed to color portrait drawings. In the 18th century, pastel portraits became very popular, since their refined, delicate effects were the embodiment of the Rococo style. Edgar Degas and the Impressionists also found pastels well suited to their technique of representing light with dashes of color.

Pastels are usually applied to paper or prepared canvas. The artist commonly uses short rapid strokes to apply the color, although colors may also be blended with fingers or a brush. The finished work must be set with a fixative to prevent the color from rubbing off.