Self Portrait by Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917
Dancer adjusting her shoe. Pastel by Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917
Intense, immediate, expressive
Soft pastels, by far the most popular type of pastel, are the closest artists get to using pure pigment.
Pastels were used as early as the Renaissance - Leonardo da Vinci was a fan – and popularised in the 1700s. However, it was Degas who famously exploited their colour and layering potential.
To this day artists value the intense colour and immediacy of pastels - no tubes need be opened, no pencils sharpened, no palettes dirtied. Inspiration is almost immediately translated into action. They layer and mix in exactly the same way as paint, so are perfect for colour experiments and early sketches.
Spray fixative prevents artwork from smudging, though framing behind glass is the best protection.
When buying pastels consider how you plan to use them. Harder pastels are great for early layers while soft ones skate across the surface for final accents. While using them, be aware of excessive dust - take care not to ingest or inhale pigments.
The Tub - Pastel by Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas, Seated Nude Woman Brushing Her Hair, 1885/1908.
Landscape with Hills by Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917
Sky Study by Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917
Edgar Degas seems never to have reconciled himself to the label of “
,” preferring to call himself a “
” or “Independent.” Nevertheless, he was one of the group’s founders, an organizer of its exhibitions, and one of its most important core members. Like the Impressionists, he sought to capture fleeting moments in the flow of modern life, yet he showed little interest in painting
, favouring scenes in theatres and cafés illuminated by artificial light, which he used to clarify the contours of his figures, adhering to his academic training
Degas was born in 1834. His father encouraged his efforts at drawing by taking him frequently to Paris museums. Degas began by copying Italian Renaissance paintings at the Louvre and trained in the studio of Louis Lamothe, who taught in the traditional academic style, with its emphasis on line and its insistence on the crucial importance of draftsmanship. Degas was also strongly influenced by the paintings and frescoes he saw during several long trips to Italy in the late 1850s; he made many sketches and drawings of them in his notebooks.
After 1865, when the Salon accepted his history painting The Misfortunes of the City of Orléans(Musée d’Orsay, Paris), Degas did not paint academic subjects again, focusing his attention on scenes of modern life. He began to paint scenes of such urban leisure activities as horse racing and, after about 1870, of café-concert singers and ballet dancers.
Later, Degas presented an outdoor scene with no figures, which shows an imaginative and expressive use of colour and freedom of line that may have arisen, at least in part, as a result of his struggle to adapt to his deteriorating vision.
Degas continued working as late as 1912, when he was forced to leave the studio in Montmartre in which he had labored for more than twenty years. He died five years later in 1917, at the age of eighty-three.
Painting Portraits in Pastels from Photos
A commissioned pastel portrait by Ryn Shell.
As your skill in mastering the tonal values of light and shade develops, you will be eager to work with colour. Initially, keep to a simplified colour harmony, as I have done in the portrait above.
Gradually increase the colour range in your artwork after you have learned to paint with colour while not losing the mastery you have gained in tonal value. You may change the colours to suit the preference of the clients, as I have done here. The commission request for the work above was to paint the portrait from the party photo but without the party hat and the tartan dress.
The commission was to put the family together in the painting.
A commissioned portrait came to Ryn Shell to paint a gift for a husband who had missed out on spending Christmas with his wife and children.
Work circumstances caused them each to spend Christmas with the children but not together as a family, as they would have wished.
It was a treat to be able to paint the portrait of them together, as they wished to be, as a family on Christmas Day.
Australian Aboriginal Man from Materanka