Pastels vs Oil


My latest body of work is in soft dry pastels. I used to work in pastels many years ago for which I let them by for a rather long spell of oils doing plein air work. Pastels are not in their forte for outdoor location work.


In most people’s minds oil on canvas is the undisputed king medium of the art world. While oil has a long list of enviable characteristics, it has its short comings. More especially so when individual artist techniques come to play.


Pastels come in sticks and are composed of nearly pure pigment with traces of binder. In oils, the binder (linseed oil) is present in generous percentages and has prominent features (eg it hardens and yellows over time). There is no such thing in pastels – once a colour is deposited it stays unaltered for many lifetimes.


Oil has another crux – it has to be applied either by a brush or a pallet knife. Both of these application methods are technique-heavy. Depending on the artist, application techniques can on occasions become the show-stealers.


Enough with laments on oils... Throughout my art carrier I was always something of a pointillist. I would need to deposit a precise colour at specific points – a bit like what inkjet printers do. Some artists build up layers on layers to get to the final product. Not me, and pastels have fortified my ways. My arm reaches out to my pastel rack where over 200 pastel sticks in a rainbow of hues lay waiting. I select the colour, I move over the paper and draw the pastel across the paper in well calibrated areas. As the pastel stick moves across the paper it creates a ripple of micro triangular bits of minuscule pastels stuck into the paper at a microscopic level. These micro triangles of pure pigments, millions of them, have the ability to capture light waves and reflect them back to the viewer with resonance. The viewer experiences tremendous vivacity of colour in front of a pastel painting exactly for these physical reasons.


Back to my painting, I keep picking up colours and slowly filling up the paper until the work is finished – there is little blending and even less adjustments to the overall setup of colours. My work is big on planning. Planning itself involves many stages and includes selecting specific colour and use and others to omit. Some paintings can take days from concept to finish, others may take weeks.


I hope you enjoy what I love doing.