What is Pastel?

Summer Currents - 28x36 inches - D. Larue Mahlke

With the addition of D. LaRue Mahlke to the Summit Fine Art family, we’ve been able to feature the brilliant colors and visual depth of pastel painting.

What is pastel? pastel painting, D. LaRue Mahlke

Since pastel is somewhat less common than oil painting, we wanted to answer the number one question many people have: what is pastel, anyway? 

Let’s start with what pastel isn’t. Pastel isn’t chalk. While chalk is composed of crushed limestone and dye, pastel sticks are made of pure pigment and a gum binder. Soft pastels are the purest form of artist color.

Pastels are also the most stable medium an artist can use. The colors do not oxidize, and, since they have no liquid binder, they will never cause the surface to darken, fade, yellow, or crack over time. They don’t have to dry, so the artist doesn’t need to make allowances for color changes in the drying process. Pastels’ inherent stability means that they are the most archival medium, lasting virtually forever when properly applied and framed.

what is pastel? pastel painting, d larue mahlke

One of the most unique aspects of pastel is that the colors can be layered and blended to create almost infinite variations from the etherial fog of a seascape to the clear vibrance of Utah’s Vermillion Cliffs. Layering pastels can also add depth, making the viewer feel like they can reach into the painting and pluck one flower from a field or touch the water flowing in a stream. It’s pastels’ depth and precision that inspired Edgar Degas to use them to capture the dynamic movement of dancers. Mary Cassett layered pastels to bring out the delicate expressions on the faces of mothers and children. 

While we love pastel’s prominent history, we are looking forward to how pastel is used today by artists like D. LaRue Mahlke to explore the subtle beauty of the landscape. Below is an example of how she layers pastels to create an incredible work of art. 


"Steamed" - Step 1

"Steamed" - Step 2

"Steamed" - Step 3

"Steamed" - Step 4

"Steamed" - Step 5

"Steamed" - Step 6

"Steamed" - Step 7

"Steamed" - Step 8