This is a question that gets asked frequently of pastel artists. Pastel is a dry medium, just like charcoal or pencil (more commonly referred to as 'graphite' in the art world!), so one might think of pastel as drawing. Yet many pastel artists, including me, work with their chosen medium in a very painterly way. In an exhibit that features only pastels, this question is irrelevant. But what about all-media art shows where the work must be grouped into categories for judging and awards?
In one show in which I exhibited, pastels were grouped with graphite drawings and photography. That just didn’t feel right! These 3 mediums had nothing in common either visually or technically, yet were being judged as one category. In most all-media shows in which I have participated, pastels have been categorized with oil paintings. Although oils are wet, and pastel are typically not, they have far more in common than a graphite drawing or a photograph. Color. Layering. Blending.
I have also seen the distinction that a pastel is a drawing if the surface of the paper is still clearly visible, yet a painting if the pastel completely covers the surface. Some pastels really do LOOK more like drawings, whereas others LOOK more like paintings.
I have my work on the online gallery of Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. When loading my images, I had to select a category for each piece. There was that question again. Were my pieces drawings or paintings? So I contacted the gallery for guidance. The response was, “How do you see your work?” If I saw my work as painterly, then it belonged in the painting category. If I saw my work as more drawing, then it belonged in the drawing category. That was easy. My work demonstrates a handling of color and application in a way that is very much like a painting. I just don’t have to wait for it to dry. So for me, painting it is!