A Pastel is a small coloured stick resembling a piece of chalk. With pastels, the pastelist obtains two effects. Either a drawing if he uses them as a coloured pencil or a painting if he imitates the effect of painting by covering the medium entirely. The pastel range of colours is very extensive from the more intensive shades down to the softest ones.
So, Pastel is an adaptable and rich technique. It is also a direct technique. When pastelling, you feel as if you are modeling clay because you express yourself on the medium with the small stick only, without the help of something else interfering like oil, water, a brush or a palette. However, nothing prevents you from using pastel in mixed media where it provides excellent results.
On the other hand, the small stick of pastel being composed only of pigments, some talc and gummed water, the coloured powders of a Pastel (the art work realized with that stick) keep fresh and resist the ravages of time.
Historically speaking, to paint in Pastel has existed, so to speak, ever since Man has been creative (e.g. cave paintings).
During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and other artists introduced the technique of pastel ("pasta" = paste) to enhance drawings (e.g. portrait of Isabelle d'Este).
In 1665, Pastel is qualified to enter the French Royal Academy of Painting and is officially promoted to the level of oil painting, sculpture and engraving.
The XVIIIth century is the Golden Age of Pastel in France above all for portraits with such pastelist masters as Quentin de La Tour and Jean-Baptiste Perronneau.
Eugène Delacroix introduces the themes of nude and landscape. Edgar Degas tests and tirelessly glorifies the material. The Symbolists, like Odilon Redon, suggest the mystery of interior life.
The Impressionists meticulously use it for notations of light as well as movement effects and the Abstract artists for graphic research.
Today Pastel has been rediscovered; and it would seem that it is destined to become a renaissance in our world of virtual images in which it perpetuates the necessary contact of man's hand in direct hold on the matter.