Stirring Up the Confusing Controversy
Many pastelists consider their pieces to be paintings. Many others think of the medium in terms of drawing. To further complicate the issue, I’ve heard dozens of artists speak about the medium both in painting terms as well as drawing ones — sometimes within the span of the same breath! There are no rules to this — just what feels right to the artist working with this incredibly mutable medium.
Pastel as Painting
There are interesting arguments from both sides of the issue. On one hand, for the painting argument, pastel is pure pigment. Vibrant color–not something you associate with drawings, colored pencil pieces notwithstanding. And a pastelist usually thinks in terms of planes instead of lines. Edges in drawing are lines, while the edges in pastels are simply the place where two colors meet. Additionally, glazing of sorts often occurs in a pastel work, in which one color shows through the light application of another color to suggest a third color, just as in oil painting.
Pastel Drawing — An Opposing View
On the other hand, paint is generally understood to be liquid–or at least to be in a liquid form when it is applied. Also, paint is usually applied with a brush. And some people’s definition of drawing centers on the very immediate and tactile scenario of putting marks on a surface with your hand. For them, a paintbrush puts too much distance between the surface and the artist’s hand.
I don’t really think it matters how pastel is categorized, and I don’t think that pastel is insulted either way, but exploring this topic is perhaps useful because it makes one consider the properties of the medium and how to use it whether you are sketching or making more formal works. Often, the more the nature of the medium is taken into account, the more successful the resulting piece is. Consider watercolor pieces that capitalize on that medium’s fluidity, or charcoal pieces that make good use of that material’s dark darks.
So, what do you think? Does the distinction matter? And if it does, is the badge of identity “pastel drawing” or “pastel painting”? See all different kinds of pastel drawing (or painting) examples below to help you come to your conclusion–or just confuse you further.
Note how the sky is drawn in with white marks that almost suggests hatching. The sprigs of grass and the branches of the bushes and trees are linear. So is this a drawing?
Do You Paint Gesture…Or Draw It?
Is this a gesture drawing made with color, or simply a painting quickly suggested with pastel pigment.
Degas Knows Best?!
Degas seemed to have drawn outlines and then added local color, with little modeling. Does that make it a pastel drawing or a painting?
Painterly and Yet So Much a Drawing
This work looks painterly, but it’s tightness could have been executed in colored pencil, and it’s nearly monochromatic feel suggests graphite. You could also convince me that it’s an oil painting based on this reproduction. Whammy!
Far From a Drawing
This, on the other hand, seems far from being a drawing with its swaths of color and the marks that seem so obviously tied to the visual look and feel of brushstrokes.
Whatever you want to call it, pastel is a bold, colorful and exciting form of artistic output and expression. Names aside, my real purpose behind writing on the subject is to tempt you into actually trying to work with pastel. Engage with the medium and let it take you somewhere new and exciting and fun in your art. With the Pastel Innovations Painting Guide, you will gain insights in how to use the medium in unique ways and how these innovative techniques can open up your creativity in ways you never expected. Enjoy!