You can make a work of art with any medium!
It’s the way in which the artist communicates with the medium, like a writer with words, that actually creates the work!
The simpler the medium is or appears inappropriate or contraindicated, the greater the potential for creating an inventive work faced with such a challenge! An over-refined medium might, in the worst case scenario, inhibit the artist, for example an excellent quality oil paint!
The technical limits of using pastel crayons are: flat texture, weak contrasts and dull colours. And so in this respect, these crayons evoke a rather muted discourse, calm, discretion and enough to create a whole world and more!
Just like any other pencil, pastel crayons are more efficient for graphics and drawing lines rather than flat areas of colour. Superimposing flat areas of colour quickly creates a cloudy effect as the opacity of the medium and its immiscible colours, reduce the tonalities. On the other hand, two light superimpositions harmonise perfectly with soft and warm tonalities. Pinks and greys subtly superimposed one over the other, for example, can result in a grainy tweed-like effect due to the porous nature of the pastel crayon which brings out the brightness of the support through the layers of colour.
When working in monochrome or duotone, pastel crayons reveal the extent of their versatility; lines, superimposition of lines or areas of flat colour or shading, resulting in a soft and fleecy texture.
When working with large formats, pastel crayon requires a meticulous hand to cover the surface in little dots, so to speak! A task that may reveal the determination of the artist and make them realise the full potential of their temperament, perhaps more thoughtful than spontaneous, more interested in drawing than painting, colour or tonal values …
Works done in pastel crayon also benefit from being mixed with other media.
Using mixed techniques enriches pastel crayon in terms of contrasts. Conté charcoal, sepia and sanguine crayons produce warm resonances, Conté “pierre noire” crayons (made from schist and carbon) vary and deepen the shades. Don’t forget either, the “carrés Conté” range of square-shaped sticks whose colours are more intense and have a thicker texture than the crayons. They allow greater precision and the flat edges can be used, as the sticks are not sheathed in paper.
Don’t forget just how much a graphite pencil can contribute to a work. Laid over pastel crayon, it structures, with a silvery stroke going from light grey to very dark grey, the sometimes dull aspect of pastel crayon whilst at the same time adhering well to its surface. Graphite is a very stable medium due to its somewhat waxy texture.
What about the quality of the pigments?
Pastel crayons are basically made up of the same pigments as soft pastels. But the quality of the pigments depends on how dense they are and the amount of additives (clay, chalk, gum arabic) used so that the lead of the crayon remains stiff and doesn’t give off too much powder. “Conté” pastel crayons contain clay.
Outlining in pastel crayon leaves a dry and slightly sandy powder in its wake but which adheres well to the support. It is slightly rough to the touch.
A light outline leads to inconsistent colour which participates then to the colour of the support. For example a line of grey pastel crayon n° 33 drawn on white paper, will be speckled with white thus giving a light grey aspect. The greater the pressure on the crayon, the darker the grey will be. The pressure exerted upon the crayon is what allows the artist to create a range of tonal values from the lightest to the darkest.
The texture of the line, flattened and slightly lacklustre, does not have of course the airy grain which usually breathes life and luminosity into soft pastels.
I work uniquely with coloured pencils and I tend to look for the same result with pastels…
The extremely meticulous technique of applying coloured pencil to pastel can only be an advantage! Here, we move closer to the graphic tradition of the “twig-like” pastels used by artists such as Millet, Degas, or Sérusier.
The choreography of lines, the unctuousness, the shading, the vast potential of soft pastels, its luminosity, opens up whole new dimensions.
And you never know, trying out pastels might lead to a glorified return to crayons. Pastel, as a raw material, is a basic technique, and because of this it can act as a springboard for artistic curiosity!