The Qualities Of Soft Pastel


Soft pastels are pure, lightfast, ground pigments mixed with a binder which is then compressed into sticks and allowed to dry.

An artwork is created by stroking the sticks of dry pigment across an abrasive ground which may be paper or board.If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; a work with most of the ground left exposed is termed a Pastel sketch or drawing.

Pastel pigments are permanent; and provided they have not been sprayed with fixative they contain no liquid binders like other media which would darken and yellow them and cause cracks and ageing as with oil paintings and the colours will not fade or discolour as watercolours and photographs do, making pastel the most permanent of all mediums in existence once it is framed behind glass. Pastels from the 16th Century exist today as fresh as the day they were painted.

My pastel work is created using Artist Quality permanent pastel pigments and acid free archival pastel papers. 

Full colour range of Soft Pastels used by Sally McLean Artist for Pet PortraitureClose up of Soft Pastels used for Pet Portraiture



The History of Pastel As A Fine Art Medium


The first pastels were created around the sixteenth century although cave paintings done in chalks and ochres have survived from much earlier times. Since then a range of artists have used pastel for finished work rather than just sketches.

 Italian artist Rosalba Carreira 1675-1757 was one of the most popular pastel portrait artists of her time.

 Jean Etienne Liotard 1702-1789 was a French painter known for his graceful and delicate pastel drawings. Galleries and museums in Europe and Britain own many of his works. 

 Maurice Quentin de La Tour 1704-1788 was a French portraitist who worked mostly in pastels his most famous subjects being Voltaire, Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. 

 Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin 1699-1779 was admired for his still life work and portraiture in pastels, which are now highly valued. Chardin painted everyday scenes and was a master of texture, shape and soft diffused light.

 Edgar Degas 1834–1917 was a French artist admired for his pastels of the human figure in motion. He preferred pastel above all other media. He experimented widely with different ways to use pastel by mixing it with other media and greatly advancing pastel’s tonal range of effects. 

 James McNeil Whistler 1834-1903 was an American artist who studied in Europe and found pastel an easier medium to use outdoors than oils or watercolour. He described them to his dealer as being “Totally new and of a brilliancy very different to the customary watercolour”. “Whistler’s Venice pastels mark an important moment in the history of the pastel as a medium for artistically serious work” says curator Kenneth Myers.

 Although pastels had been used by artists for hundreds of years, by the early 19th century they were looked upon as a minor “feminine” medium best left to lady artists and hobbyists.

 Jean Francois Millet 1814-1875 and his contemporaries began to revive pastel in the 1850’s. Whistler’s Venetian pastels stood out compared to those of other artists, being strikingly sketchy with large areas of paper left blank. He used colour to indicate the effects of light. 

 Mary Cassatt 1844-1926 was an American impressionist artist and an acquaintance of Degas. Degas had a big influence on her work. Her pastels are in galleries and art museums in the USA and Europe.

 Today, Pastel has the same stature of oil and watercolour as a major fine art medium. There are now many pastel artists world wide with national societies to promote them.  Many of our most renowned living artists have distinguished themselves in Pastel, enriching the art world with this beautiful medium.

Sally McLean is a member of The Pastel Society of Australia.




If you have any questions or queries please CONTACT ME and I will be more than happy to help you!