A collection of general information about using pastels, featuring tips, techniques and articles
Contributions by IAPS member societies and artist members of member societies are invited.
A Tribute to Peter Hopper
Submitted by Urania Christy Tarbet, IAPS Founder & President Emeritus
Peter Hopper passed away on October 31, 2010. Peter was a giant in the Art Materials world. He began the active distribution of Holbein Art Supplies in North America in Burlingame, Vermont in 1978. He was a great supporter of the arts and artists. Everyone that ever met Peter admired him both in the business and the private world.
From Doug and Tim Hopper:
Peter was born in Ottawa, Ontario on November 23, 1930, the second son of Wilbert and Eva Hopper. He spent his formative years in Ottawa and was a graduate of Lisgar Collegiate. He later attended McGill University and received his licensure in Chartered Accountancy and was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal in recognition of his academic excellence. He worked with Stephenson, Blakely, Blunt upon graduation and then took his young family to a posting with the United Nations in Beirut, Lebanon as the Chief Accountant with UNWRA. One year later, he returned with his family to Montreal and he began his meteoric rise to the Presidency of Hughes Owens, a major Canadian distributor of Fine Art Materials. Peter had finally found his niche as a businessman and aspiring artist.
Peter left Hughes Owens and moved to Burlington, Vermont in 1978 and began the active distribution of Holbein Art Materials in North America with his wife Frances and colleague Barbara MacKay. Peter has many friends in Japan, most notably, the Yoshimura family. They will miss him. Peter left his day-to-day involvement in HK Holbein when he and Frances moved to Ormond Beach, Florida in 1996. Peter loved to travel and he spent much time in Australia, Lebanon, Europe and Japan. His beloved Cadillac took him across the US and Canada innumerable times over the years – he figured that he had probably driven over one million miles in his lifetime.
As a human being, he was a consistent believer in all things good. He was a great confidant, extraordinary leader and, above all, an inspiration to all who met him. Peter lived a wonderful life – one filled with adventure, energy and compassion. We will miss seeing him enjoy a gin & tonic with Frannie at the Bay or piloting his Grady White on the lake. And the smile— that ever present smile!
Peter leaves behind his beloved wife of 57 years, Frances and five children: Douglas (Darlene), Peter (Linda), Michael (Serge), Timothy (Heidi) and Pamela (Mario). He was also the very proud grandfather of eight : Matthew, Chelsea, Emma, Max, Christina, Alex, Harry and Teddy. Hold him in your hearts – he was a great man. He goes to join his brother, Bill and his great friends Ian, Tom, Jack and Bill.
Honoring his wishes, there will be no service. Final arrangements are entrusted to the Lohman Funeral Home, 733 West Granada Blvd., Ormond Beach, Florida 32174. Donations in Peter’s memory may be made to the National Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) Foundation, 20200 Zion Avenue, Cornelius, NC, USA 28031-8546.
Suggestions for presentation of pastel paintings for shows
Connecticut Pastel Society
a) FRAMES: The frame must be sturdy, intact, and in good condition. Simple frames enhance your painting. Frames with lots of curlicues detract from your picture. Framing can get very expensive but in the long run, the better looking your frame, the more it will compliment your painting. Hopefully that will come back to the artist in sales.
b) MATS: A neutral mat no lighter than your lightest light will show off your work best. Cream or off-white are ideal and are the norm for most juried exhibitions. Avoid choosing a saturated color as it will distract from your pastel. Make sure the mat is perfectly clean, i.e. NO pastel dust whatsoever on the mat. If dust is on the mat, open up the back of the frame housing and use a kneaded eraser to remove any pastel or dirt, then reassemble the frame unit and replace the backing paper and tape This ensures a professional appearance.
The opening for the painting in the mat should be straight, crisp, and clean. Beveled edges look good and should be done with a mat cutter to give a professional appearance. Double or triple mats work best for pastels, as there needs to be a sufficient gap between glass and artwork. Many pastelists use a "spacer" between the pastel painting and the mat closest to the work, this is a thin 1/4" deep piece of plastic strip or card. This allows loose pastel dust to fall down behind the mats, and the mats remain clean and free from pastel staining. Alternatively, use a filet, a thin wooden or plastic mini frame that sits between the painting and the glass and acts as a spacer to keep the glass away form the art work, your framer can explain how this works. A "spacer" can also be used and the mat eliminated altogether if you choose a wide frame. Here the spacer maybe either a thin plastic strip about 1/4" wide X 1/4"depth X the length of each side of your frame or a filet that separates the glass from painting. If you are concerned about the longevity of your work use Acid free museum mounting, matting, and backing.
c) GLASS: Pastels are best mounted under glass. Plexiglass is a good alternative, provided it is at least three mats away from the pastel. The disadvantage of Plexiglass is that it is statically charged and may cause the pastel to adhere to it over a period of time. This can cause a "bloom" or shadow of the pastel on the Plexiglass, and necessitates the opening of the frame in order to clean the inside of the Plexiglass. Regardless of whether glass or Plexiglass is used, make sure that it is clean and free of fingerprints, grease, or dirt. Museum /non-reflective glass, while expensive, eliminates virtually all glare and lets the viewer see the pastel clearer.
d) HANGING: Make sure the picture is ready to hang with two screw eyes and picture wire. If the painting is not ready to hang, or if the frame and/or mats are damaged or dirty, the piece will be disqualified.
e) LABELS: Bring the labels with you when you deliver your paintings or affix them to the back of the painting if so directed.
Flora B. Giffuni, 1919-2009
by Duane Wakeham, PSA
At the 2004 opening of the Giffuni Gallery of American Pastels at the Butler Institute of American Art, Dr. Louis A. Zona, Director said, “If the world of art had such designations Flora Giffuni would be deemed the ‘Patron Saint of Pastels.’ I say that, not just because of her founding of the Pastel Society of America and other good works on behalf of the medium and practitioners of the medium, but also because of her other mission which is to give the art of pastel the kind of recognition and honor that it deserves. She has been tireless in her efforts to promote and to educate, demonstrating a missionary-like zeal as she works to raise the art of the American pastel to greater levels of recognition.”
In her interview with Mrs. Giffuni for the Spring 2004 issue of Pastelagram, Diane Rosen observed that Flora had been “successfully making art, teaching art and promoting art . . . since she first fell under its spell as a girl of twelve. Although she knew her chosen path at an early age, a very different future had been planned for her by her father, Dr. Baldini [who] expected her to follow him into the medical profession. Wanting to please him, the talented and extremely bright young lady studied pre-med for one year. It didn’t work. ‘I adored that man and I tried, but I hated it – hated it.” Flora, born in Naples and brought to this country as a child, “was the only surviving child of four children; her parents had lost three sons.”
Rosen described Flora as being “…single-mindedly determined not to let any obstacles get in the way of her goals. There was sadness but also passion in her voice as she related the conflict behind [the] early, watershed decision to pursue art. It is the same indomitable spirit that drives her to meet challenges head-on . . .”
After leaving pre-med, Flora earned a degree in art from New York University and an MFA from Columbia University. She traveled extensively in Europe, including her birthplace in Italy, got married, and by getting up and painting in the middle of the night, managed to work at being a fine artist while raising three children.
In the late 1960s, Flora met and began studying with renowned artist and teacher Robert Brackman at the Art Students League. “Brackman was a champion of beauty in its classic forms, as well as an advocate of the brilliant use of color and, significantly, of the pastel medium. He influenced yet another turning point in Flora’s career. She gave up using oils and dedicated herself to pastel.”
As Flora explained, “I realized how few people knew about or respected pastel, so it became my life’s mission to do something about correcting that.” Her concern became even greater when, in the early 70s, the American Watercolor Society, which had been including pastels in its annual exhibition, banned them from future shows “because they were winning too many awards.” It was then that Flora was encouraged to start her own organization and stage pastel exhibitions at the National Art Club. Winners from the first two shows formed a Board of Directors and the Pastel Society of America was officially established in 1972. Inspired by PSA’s success during the past 37 years, there are now more than 60 pastel societies worldwide.
Ever the educator, Flora guided PSA in establishing a “Pastels Only” school. Originally founded in 1989, the school was recently named the Flora B. Giffuni Atelier for Pastels. She continued to teach at the school until just a few years ago. She also created a highly informative lecture series on the history of pastels that she presented to art groups around the country. In 2005, concerned about the decrease in art education in the public schools, Flora initiated a program to offer instruction in pastel to inner city student in two New York city public high schools – Washington Irving High School and Marta Valle Secondary School – with the hope of inspiring a new generation of pastel artists and encouraging other concerned individuals and groups to follow her lead.
In 2004, Flora Giffuni realized one of her greatest goals. She said, “My dream and my search for a permanent home for pastels went on for years.” That dream became a reality with the opening of the Giffuni Gallery of American Pastels at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
As Diane Rosen noted, “Spanning the amazing trajectory of her involvement in the arts, [Flora Giffuni’s] most tireless efforts have not been spent in service of her own personal career, but in the advancement of schools, organizations, galleries and other opportunities for her fellow artists.”
Sincere thanks to Diane Rosen for permission to extract portions of Flora B. Giffuni: A Lifetime of New Beginnings, which appeared in Pastelagram (Spring 2004), for this tribute.
Provided by the Pastel Society of America
Pastel is pure pigment, the same pigment used in all art media. When properly framed, it is the most permanent of all when applied to archival ground. Pastel has no liquid binder that may cause the surface to darken, fade, yellow, crack or blister with time. No other medium has the power of color or stability of pastel. It does not oxidize with the passage of time.
A particle of pastel pigment seen under a microscope looks like a diamond with many facets; therefore, pastel paintings reflect light like a prism. Pastel does not refer to pale colors, as the word is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion terminology. The name “pastel” comes from the French word “pastiche,” because the pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste with a binder and then rolled into sticks.
An artwork is created by striking the sticks of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the “tooth” of the paper, sanded board, canvas, etc. If the round is completely covered with pastel, the work is considered a pastel painting; leaving much of the ground exposed produces a pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. Pastel can be blended or used with visible strokes. The medium is favored by many artists because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, and no allowances have to be made for a change in color due to drying.
The presence of pastel has been identified in works of art from about 1500 A.D. The practice of drawing became enormously popular in the 15th century. Leonardo, the most prominent proponent of this art form, is credited with the first known use of pastel in his portrait of Isabella D’Este (1499), a preparatory drawing in black and red chalk with traces of yellow pastel in the sitter’s hair and necklace. A century later it was recorded that Leonardo practiced “a pastello.”
Venetian artist Rosalba Carriera (1664–1754) transformed pastel painting into an autonomous independent art form. She created compelling portraits of the artistocracy, whose penchant for powdered accoutrement and make-up suited the dry friable nature of the medium. Quentin Maurice de la Tour and other pastelists perpetuated a highly blended technique in portraiture. However, Chardin, as well as artists later in the 18th and 19th centuries, used visible open strokes. Delacroix, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, Whistler, Hassam and Chase were among the many who employed combinations of techniques, broadening the pictorial subject matter in pastel.
Today, pastel paintings enjoy the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s acquisition, “Gustavus Ham, Hon. Viscount Boyne in Masquerade Costume” (1710–1746), a stunning portrait by Rosalba Carriera, hangs amidst the splendor of period furniture and decorative arts. One of Degas’ most fascinating pastels, “Au Musée Du Louvre (Miss Cassatt),” was sold at Sotheby’s for $16.5 million.
Note: Pastel has sometimes been referred to as chalk. In fact, the use of chalk predated the use of pastel as a medium. The range of colors (from soft and subtle to strong and brilliant) and the smoothness of application of manufactured pastels are vastly different from the dyes and binders characteristic of fabricated synthetic chalks.
Reprinted from the program of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Open Juried Exhibition, For Pastels Only, 2007, with permission of the Pastel Society of America.
A year or so ago, the Pastel Society of Australia awarded second place to a painting produced from a technique that was nothing like a traditional pastel painting. It was described as pastel on canvas, brushed in with water, then a layer of matte medium, more pastel, varnish, proceeding with multiple layers of all of the above and ending with a final coat of varnish.
When I asked their president about their definition of pastel and how they determined the qualification of that particular painting, it turned out they had accepted the painting because only pastel pigment was used, even though it had been significantly altered from its traditional use. In other words, they hadn’t been prepared for such an entry. They subsequently defined their requirements as anything goes as long as the final layer is 85% pastel.
An unprecedented number of new products are on the market and more are coming every day. These products have the potential to blur the lines between pastels, watercolors, oils, etc., unless art organizations set clear boundaries to preserve the differences. Artists are experimenting as never before, and rightfully so, mixing their pastels with all kinds of untraditional mediums. Such creativity is admirable but raises questions concerning whether such paintings should be compared to traditional pastel paintings in juried competitions.
A good example of what can happen when organizations adopt an “anything goes” approach is what has happened to most watercolor societies. Almost without exception, they have become water media societies by allowing anything that is water soluble to be defined as watercolor. And now there are water-soluble oils. The very large Florida Watercolor Society is embroiled in a backlash from their membership caused by the fact that their latest exhibit could be judged only on composition and use of color. Paintings were done in watercolor, acrylic, casein, gouache, and egg tempera on all kinds of surfaces. There was no commonality.
Rather than wait for untraditional paintings to show up in our competitions, the SPS board has decided to re-state our organization’s objectives. The original purpose of SPS was to promote the use and recognition of pastel as a valid medium. We have decided to stick to the basics. For our competitions, a pastel painting is defined as a painting whose final layer is predominantly unaltered pastel. Call them dry, soft, or traditional; pastel paintings have a special beauty all their own. The preservation of this art form is what SPS has always been about and will continue to be about.
Sallie Atkins, President SPS
Reprinted from the March/April 2008 DustBuster, the newsletter of the Southeastern Pastel Society, with permission of the society and the author.
Dear IAPS sister societies,
We, at the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada (PSEC), are concerned with this criteria of eligibility published by IAPS for the upcoming competition :
IAPS -14th Exhibition - the 2009 Web Show
Mixed media must be predominantly dry pastel. Works done under supervision are not eligible.
PSEC is honoured to be a member of IAPS. We follow your guidelines and uphold the highest of standards for pastel works. That is why we are concerned about the above statement in your latest exhibition entry form: Mixed media must be predominantly dry pastel.
At our annual general assembly June 2009 we discussed this new development. The Pastel Society of Eastern Canada requires that all exhibited works be created with at least 90% of the visible surface with dry pastel. Our membership continues to support our goal to promote dry pastel as a respected professional medium.
We wish to firmly establish this magnificent art form as the recognized painting medium that it rightly deserves. We feel that “mixed media” would not be an advantage. There is already much confusion in the art world and the general public as to the status of pastel painting.
Please note that we are not against opening up new frontiers of creativity. Far from it. We only wish to preserve and promote dry pastel work as a worthy medium. We also wish to continue our fruitful relationship with all partners in the IAPS community... participating in all exhibits and sharing our knowledge.
We hope that you will consider our concern and we are eager to read the opinions of other member societies. We thank you for this opportunity to share our viewpoint with everyone.
The members of the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada
IAPS has chosen to follow the standard of the Pastel Society of America with the requirement of 80% soft pastel. At a recent meeting, we decided upon a change of wording and a policy to be reflected in all future show entry criteria, which will replace the paragraph quoted by PSEC, as follows:
ELIGIBLE WORK: Work must be original, completed in the last two years, not done under supervision, and not shown in any previous IAPS Exhibitions. No work copied from other artists' work or published materials is eligible. Work must be 80% soft (dry) pastel. NO OIL PASTELS. Nudes will be considered for acceptance. IAPS reserves the right to exclude from exhibitions any artwork that violates the laws of the United States, or of state or local governments. For example “hate speech” is not protected by the US Constitution as a form of free speech. Work accepted for exhibitions must be framed under glass or plexiglas.
ASTM is an organization that writes and publishes voluntary standards. With regard to the labeling of art materials, applicable standards may include "ASTM D4303, Standard Test Methods for Lightfastness of Colorants Used in Artists' Coloring Materias" and "ASTM D4236-94(2005) Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards."
The abstracts, or summary of the labeling standards can be read at:
For more information, please refer to the above site.
IAPS supports the appropriate labeling of art materials and the ASTM standards. A representative from IAPS serves on the subcommittee which discusses, but does not set, standards for pastels.