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  • Writer's pictureMichael Skalka

The Pastel Standard

Summary: So many activities with so little time. However, I am pleased to announce that the article I wrote for the Pastel Journal – Summer 2022, on the creation of ASTM D8330, the standard for pastels has been published.

Lately the limits on my time have become apparent. Devote time to one task and several others go by the wayside. In the past few weeks, I have been focused on standing up the new membership website for the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association. As both the current President and Web Coordinator, I have been configuring a new website to host our membership services.

I have been able to squeeze in some painting time and I finished and hung a 5-foot by 2-foot painting of a beach we visited on O’hau in Hawaii. I get a great feeling every time I look at the picture. Soon I will create a page on this website to this painting along with other artwork.

Regarding the pastel standard article: Publication of this falls nicely in line with a talk I have prepared and am scheduled to deliver as a virtual presentation to the President’s Forum during the International Society of Pastel Societies meeting in late June 2022.

While the description of the mechanics of the standard is focused on testing for lightfastness to be performed by manufacturers, the significance of the existence of the standard cannot be understated. Pastel manufacturers have had an easy time staying under the “radar” of scrutiny by pastel artists. The problem is a simple matter of the choice of colorants manufacturers select to make their pastels.

The heart of the problem involves both artists and pastel makers. Artists want bright, high chroma colors and manufacturers cannot provide these vibrant hues unless they select dyes as potential coloring agents. Hot pinks, purples and violet-reds cannot be achieved by using synthetic organic pigments. While synthetics they are great, they fall short of the chroma pastel artist want. Dyes achieve high chroma but some fade when they are exposed to light. It is the nature of many dye colorants. Fabric dyes behave the same and long exposure to light will fade cloth.

ASTM is not in the business of telling manufacturers what to do. We only create tests that provide accurate exposure and measurement to determine if a pigment is lightfast. It is up to the manufacturer to select the colors they want to produce and what colorant they will purchase to make their products.

The point I have emphasized for the last decade, or more is that both manufacturers and artists should be aware of which colors have the potential to fade. Let the artist decide if they wish to use fugitive colors, but they should know they are fugitive and not be oblivious to what a color will do over time when it is incorporated into a pastel painting.

The artist can take the necessary precautions and use UV inhibiting glazing on their pastel painting. They can warn buyers to keep their paintings out of direct sunlight. Finally, they can let go of the urban myth that pastels are the only permanent medium because they are composed of pure pigments with no additives. Sorry, that is not true, and, in some cases, a pastel tint has so little pigment in the pigment to white pigment/chalk ratio that fading is a guarantee. Pastels also have no binder, that in the case of oil paint, can provide some level of protection. The beauty of pastels also in tied to their vulnerability.

I hope that awareness of D8830, the pastel standard, will start a dialogue between artists and manufacturers. I hope manufacturers can be convinced to test and label their pastels with ASTM lightfastness ratings. Let an educated consumer with the full knowledge of the durability of a color decide what they wish to use.

In the oil painting world, some manufacturers didn’t give up making alizarin crimson using natural anthraquinone dye as well as synthetic anthraquinone. Both have a fugitive nature, but oil painters are keenly aware of this issue. It would be nice to see the pastel world have the same level of understanding about the products that are manufactured for their use.

Stay tuned for more essays. Time away from writing has allowed me to think about a variety of topics to explore.

The Syntax of Color

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Terrilynn Dubreuil
Terrilynn Dubreuil
Jul 14, 2022

Thank you for this study and the article. It seems it's up to the consumers here, especially the Master Pastellists, (hopefully), to push the manufacturers to a higher standard in lightfastness. Your presentation to the Presidents' Forum at IAPS was inspiring, informative, and long-awaited! Thank you Michael. Keep up the great work (and do take some time for your personal painting) ~ Terrilynn Dubreuil


Michael Chesley Johnson
Michael Chesley Johnson
May 26, 2022

Good thoughts, Michael. As a pastel painter, oil painter and a writer who's concerned with the technical aspects of painting, I've been aware of the issues around fugitive pigments in pastels. Reds and violets seem especially prone to fading. Hopefully, the chemists who formulate pastels will be able to find a way either to enhance the lightfastness or new pigments that will be both high-chroma and lightfast. Thanks for your Syntax of Color site and all the work you do behind the scenes, and best wishes for your own artistic endeavours! - Michael

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