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The word pastel comes from the French word “pastiche” meaning paste since pigments are mixed with water and binder, rolled into sticks and dried. Pastel sticks or pencils are made up of pure pigment – the same that is used in oil or other paints – held together with a binder, usually gum tragacanth. So when you apply pastel to a surface, you are in effect painting. Pastel paintings may begin with an under painting done in acrylics, oil or watercolor. But the highest percentage of a piece is usually done with layers of soft pastel.
Some people have the perception that pastels are somehow not as good, valuable, or permanent as oil. This is clearly not the case, since pastel can be just as colorfast and permanent as oils. You have only to look at the still vivid (and valuable) paintings of Degas or Mary Cassatt. Yet, many more recent oil paintings have deteriorated due to the artist’s choice of application or materials. To learn more, see my article on "Care for Pastels".
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