Sunday, 22 March 2015


One of my India pastel PAINTINGS

Someone I know, who paints beautiful pastels, sold one of her images to a customer, who informed her that he was looking for an opulent frame for it, because it would make it look more like a "real" painting.

In other words, more like an oil painting.  In his mind, only an oil is a "real" painting.

I am afraid that although pastels have become more accepted in recent years, there are still many people who know little about art, their understanding of what makes a "proper painting" is coloured by preconceptions about what makes good art.  Those preconceptions must somehow have been established in childhood and had been carried with them all their lives.   In their minds, the only "proper" paintings are oils.  Watercolours perhaps are considered almost as good...but still, they need to be cheaper because they are "easier" to paint.  

  I find this attitude quite amazing, given that most people today must have had SOME art education...even if it was only rudimentary.  I do know that when I was at school, we were expected to learn to draw, and we did a bit of painting.  That was the extent of my art education up to the age of 16.  But my young Aussie cousins learned far more than I did, having had art history on their curriculum even at age 12. 

Many people also place a value on the length of time it takes to produce a painting.  They admire difficulty of execution.  The more highly detailed a painting, often the more many of you have heard those dreaded words "so how long did it take you to paint that?"  Proof positive that the viewer places a value on the time and difficulty involved.  This is something the artist finds hard to avoid, unfortunately.
There should be art education in schools, not just how to paint, but how to appreciate paintings, art history, all sorts.  World history could be told through art!   People need to place value on elements other than time taken, difficulty of execution, medium used.  They need to learn to appreciate uniqueness of vision, originality, emotional content, pure many aspects could be taught and learned.    Art is such a valuable part of society...imagine a society without any art in it!!! 

People today have access to so much information via the internet, there are hundreds of galleries to visit in person, and there are books galore in libraries.  Yet, these extraordinary preconceptions do still exist.   I have lost count of the number of people I have come across who sniff at pastels as a medium.  

One of my favourite landscape painters today - a pastel by Richard McKinley

So, whenever I show my work,  I always put up a card which explains what pastels are, how they have been used by Masters of the past, how they are pure pigments, unadulterated by oils which help them to darken -  or by the gum tragacanth added to pigments to make watercolours, plus water...which means they fade.  Pastels are pure pigments mixed with small quantities of natural binders.  They are not made with chemicals or plastics. So in fact, they often have greater longevity and integrity than most other materials in use today.

A Master of the past....Mary Cassatt

Some years ago, I produced a series of ballet images.  The parents of a girl I painted standing at the barre, really loved my finished piece.  They wanted to buy it.  When they learned it was a pastel, however, they insisted it was not worth its money, because it was not a "proper painting" and they refused to buy it.   They were not prepared to listen to my explanation of pastel as a medium.  It was their loss - someone else snapped it up, and they were really upset.  So how foolish was that?  Their determination that pastels were not "proper" as a medium was unshakeable.

Sadly the world we live in is full of people with unshakeable beliefs, beliefs which are about as solid and permanent as "pie crusts".  Wouldn't the world be a better place if we were all more open to the idea of learning and expanding our horizons, using our intelligence, and the amazing resources we have today,  to educate ourselves, and shift away from entrenched ideas which may be inaccurate, and are based on nothing more than built-in prejudice and lack of information.


  1. You did mean to say twenty first century?

  2. Its always interesting (and sometimes concerning) to hear the non-artist's version of what a painting should look like isn't it? There seems to be a long standing belief that oils were the king, something that holds true still today, even in galleries. I wish people could see art for the image, the emotion, the composition of the subject instead of thinking intrinsic value whether real or perceived.

  3. It's seems like I am constantly explaining what pastels are and how they are used in a painting. Many non artists are uninformed as to what our medium is and more importantly how permanent it is. I guess we will just have to keep on keeping on educating. Pastel is a amazing medium and thank you for your work and for being a champion for this beautiful medium.

  4. I use oils and pastels and love both of them, I think there is a degree of snobbery about oils, though...people have somehow acquired the idea that oils are the ultimate painting medium and that everything else is inferior. People keep judging art by "how much is it worth?", maybe we should blame the antiques and "flog it" TV programmes for this? I've heard folk refer to pastel as "just a drawing medium" and "something you use for portraits". Maybe it's to do with the loads of oil paintings owned by ultra-wealthy families....people aspire to being ultra wealthy and the oil paintings are part of the "wealth aura". Sad, really; there's often more joy in a pencil sketch than a fullblown oily masterpiece.

  5. As soon as I began blending those beautiful sticks of pure pigment with my fingers, I was hooked! – a medium with no drying time and such a tremendous variety of hues... (Kathryn Mullaney)

  6. My Uncle was an established antique dealer on the Kings Road in London and a superb oil painter too. He use to restore old paintings and sell them for a fortune, however he always told me he never painted in watercolour as they were too hard!! He had the greatest respect for them and more so than his beloved oils. As for how long it takes to do something, sometimes I can produce a painting in 30 minutes but if I am ever asked I would always say 20 years and 30 minutes.... a skilled tradesman has done an apprenticeship to achieve his level of skill so those years of artists working towards their 10000 hours of practice cannot go unrecognised.....

  7. I have found the question about pastels... 'Is that a real painting?'... masks the other question in the viewer's mind... 'how can I justify the asking price?' And usually... by walking the viewer through a series of small obvious steps... such as... does this painting move you?, does the light or the theme appeal to something in you... the viewer begins ... to convince themselves... that the painting is worth the money.

    1. Elizabeth, that might work with some...but didn't work with the parents of the child I painted! Of course it moved them...they loved it....they were terribly upset when someone else bought it...but they refused to buy purely because it was a pastel. So frustrating, but not a lot one can do when people have such fixed views about "value".
      Judith, couldn't agree more and I do much the same, except I try never to say "..and thirty minutes" because the moment you say that, the buyer instantly devalues the work in their head. I tend to say something like "depends if I add in all the preparation time...the sketches beforehand...the time spent thinking and adjusting..often it can take me days to resolve a particular colour problem, for example, is a very difficult question to answer, but what I will say is that the painting is often on my easel for a week or perhaps even two." That tends to satisfy!


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