Published Chalk Art Nation, July 3rd 2023
Author: Janet Tombros & lots of internet research
Chalk pastel is one of the more forgiving mediums. By this I mean that it is fairly stable, there are no drying time issues, like with oil paints that dry very slowly, or acrylic paint that dries too quickly. With chalk pastels, it is pretty easy to fix mistakes - this property makes it a great medium to learn in. The fact that street paintings are usually done as temporary pieces encourages us to try new things, not to get too wrapped up in our mistakes, and if we allow it, to enjoy that moment of creativity without worrying about the long-term viability of the art we created.
A pastel is basically a stick that is formed out of a type of clay-like material and allowed to dry. That clay-like material is a combination of raw, dry pigments, a binder, and sometimes fillers. The binder is what glues everything together. There are many types of binders, from premade forms of chemicals to recipes for homemade binders that are a combination of several materials. Fillers do just that - they fill space in the pastel so the pigment is extended out, as pigments tend to be the most expensive part of the pastel.
For street painting purposes there are certain types of pastels that work better than others. There are a couple of considerations to keep in mind when choosing pastels - one would be cost effectiveness. Let's face it, if the work isn't going to last more than a few days, buying the really expensive pastels doesn't make much sense. Another important property is how much "tackiness" the pastel has. While oil pastels should not be used, regular soft pastels often have some degree of oil or wax in them. The very cheap grades of pastels have very little of this, and are well suited to temporary works as they don't cost much and they clean away very easily. The downside to using them is that the pigments are very much diluted with fillers, so they are not as rich in color, and these pastels generate a lot of dust since there is so very little tackiness. Higher quality pastels can be very nice to work with, less dusty and better colors, but they cost too much to make it a practical choice for most street painters. When looking for pastels to use on the street or sidewalk, keywords to search for are, “chalk pastel”, “soft pastel” or “chalk pastels for street art”.
Some artists go to the length of making their own pastels. There are several reasons for doing this. First off, one of the recipes that is popular among artists works excellently for street painting. It is very tacky, and when mixed with the right pigments, goes onto the pavement with an almost buttery texture, which makes it a pleasure to blend and work with. This pastel also generates very little dust. Another reason that these work well is that the artist has control over the amount of pigment put in the pastel. Because of the high amounts of pigments being used, these pastels will extend out over a large space of ground and the pigment will go a long way to coloring an area. Cost-wise, these pastels are well worth it. Chalk artists use a lot of pastels when making a painting, and stick for stick homemade pastels usually cost much less than the sticks you buy.
Before you rush out and buy pigment, there are some downsides to making pastels. One would be the time involved and the initial cost of buying various materials from binder to pigments. It can seem prohibitive, especially when you are not used to buying large amounts of pastels. Another consideration is that not all pigments work well with the binder and it really comes down to individual tests of materials to see how they work. There is no way to really know if you got it right until after the pastels have dried out (which takes a few days) - if the binder was off, that time is lost or you have wasted materials. Another consideration is the health factors of working with pigments in the raw form - they are a very fine dust and a dust mask of some sort should always be used. Some pigments have toxic qualities to them - if you choose to make them into pastels, remember you are taking risks both with yourself (especially with constant exposure) and to the people who live and work in the area where you are painting - pigments washed off streets and down drains are not healthy to be around. Some pigments are fairly safe - most of the earth pigments come into this category - and some pigments have *safer* (but not necessarily safe) options for them, such as the chemically pure versions of Cadmiums. Just try to be educated in your decisions and aware of the choices you are making. The last downside to making your own pastels is just the mess involved. This can be minimized somewhat by using disposable bowls and spoons for mixing, and keeping a box of surgical gloves handy. Pastels should *always* be made outside- not just for the mess factor, but also because you don't want the fine pigment dust floating around your house.
Chalk Artist | Central Florida
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