What are they?
Pastels are sticks of compressed pigment and a binder, which holds the pastels together during use. They are similar to chalk and come in a variety of vibrant colors. The medium comes in a variety of forms. There are five basic types of pastels: soft, hard, pencil, pan pastel, and oil pastel.
When and where did it start?
Northern Italy in the 16th century, it was produced from pure powdered pigments mixed with enough gum Arabic, fish or animal glue. Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1510) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) first began using a chalk-like medium which is what sparked the creation of pastels.
How was it made?
According to the Metropolitan Museum,"Pastel is fabricated from one or several finely ground pigments, a pulverized inert white filler such as ground calcium carbonate or kaolin, and a minuscule amount of binder such as gum tragacanth. The powdered ingredients are combined and rolled into sticks of colored powder, the consistency of which must be sufficiently cohesive to allow them to be grasped between the fingers, yet crumble when stroked across a support."
What colors were first made?
At the start of it's creation, pastels were only available in red, black and white. There are now more than 1600 different hues and shades available which have an unlimited shelf-life when stored in a dry place.