Readers Digest on Pastel Painting, courtesy of Victoria Udovikina

Updated: Feb 6, 2019



There are a lot of books about pastel painting on the market. I have collected a few which I like and study from time to time.

All of my pastel books can be divided into two parts:

The first half is the books with paintings by old masters, and they are amazing for inspiration, visual experience, accumulation, or just aesthetic delight. The second part of my book collection are the books of modern-day artists working with pastel medium. It is not only useful to read and examine paintings, but you can usually find step-by-step demonstrations, practical advice, some specific approaches and medium "secrets". Many of them are actual study guides and partially substitute a workshop of a pastel master.

In Russian, my pastel books are all from St.Petersburg. I have two catalogs of old masters from the Hermitage and Russian Museum. I also have a wonderful book by Sergei Oussik. They are all highly recommended if you can get them.



The variety of books in English is much wider, but if you want to get just the most comprehensive one, then I can recommend "The Art of the Pastel" by Thea Burns and Phillippe Saunier. This book is rather heavy, being 384 pages and six pounds! The authors did their best to show the evolution of pastel painting and drawing from 15th to 20th centuries. The book contains 330 pastels by famous masters such as Rosalba Carriera, Georges de La Tour, Jean-Etienne Liotard, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Odilon Redon, Eugène Delacroix, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Pablo Picasso, and many others. Thea Burns has one more book about the emergence of pastel sticks in the later 17th century, the development and evolution of pastel painting in the following centuries. This book is scientific research and is more of a textbook than a visual collection of art pieces.



"James Abbott McNeill Whistler Pastels" is a collection of urban sketches and study landscapes with a limited palette; all pieces are delicate, fine and elegant.

“Degas' Pastels” (by Alfred Werner) consists of 32 works by Edgar Degas plus the author's research about the artist's experiments; in this book you will find out how Degas thought out his fixatives, the way he did layering, what technologies invented for mixing pastels with other media (he mixed pastels with oils, tempera, gouache, watercolors, and solvents, etc.)

As for "Edgar Degas Drawings and Pastels", it is smaller in size, but it is rather heavy. Christopher Lloyd put 230 works in chronological order, starting from drawings made by Degas still in youth. You will find very interesting copies of the old masters, then works of the mature years when Degas was extremely popular (famous ballet dancers, horse races and nude drawings), as well as rare landscapes.



"Pastel Portraits. Images of 18-Century Europe" is a catalog made up from the exhibition which took place in Metropolitan, the largest US museum. The exhibition was small but very captivating. You could see the works by Rosalba Carriera, Benedetto Luti, John Russel and others. From this book you can learn some fun facts: most of the portraits of the 18th century were based on pastel blending; laces and airy fabrics were rendered by means of lines made with the stick put in the water first. Even the sets of 18th-century pastelists contained hundreds of sticks, though some artists (John Russel, for instance) enjoyed making them by themselves.



The last photo shows 4 books of the contemporary pastel artists, two of which are President and Ex-President of IAPS ( Richard McKinley and Liz Haywood-Sullivan). Dawn Emerson’s book is famous for her innovative painting techniques. Alan Flattmann is the President of Degas Pastel Society and Advisor of IAPS.


Article is a courtesy of Victoria Udovikina