Artist and art critic Estelle Lovatt FRSA shares her thoughts on pastels, and the peculiar exercise of appreciating art.


My second day as Mall Galleries ‘Art Expert in Residence’ was at the Pastel Society Annual Exhibition 2019.  It was a great privilege to be there, talking to gallery visitors about all things art, and looking at the superb pastels, which were of a very high standard.

Visitors asked me questions, some in whispers, others boldly requesting art world information at decibels that enabled those nearby to listen in. Whatever questions popped into people's heads, they asked. Titbits of advice were required in answer to questions like how can I sell my work? How much should I sell it for? What framing is best? Are there rules about mounts? Should pastels be behind glass? What type of glass?

Someone asked me simply to talk about a pastel they admired from the exhibition, and we discussed how art doesn't demand to be understood to be appreciated. You don't need expertise to understand art, to do it, or to experience it. When I listen to birdsong I don't know its meaning, but I enjoy it very much.

Just as important as knowing what you like is knowing what you dislike. We talked about the subjective versus the objective in art. We talked about rejection, and how the Impressionists, Fauvists and Cubists were initially rejected and considered madmen, before becoming much-loved favourites.

The love of art and ideas, emotions, feelings and imagination is what it’s all about. It was inspiring to hear pastel enthusiasts talk about their love for the medium and their struggles with their art: 'how can we make whites whiter and at the same time have more colour?' 'Can our greens be as wide-ranging as Constable?'

We nattered about what sort of paper to use, whether to use fixative, and how fixative might darken as it seals the pigment (so use a good quality fixative). This led on to talks about becoming friends with staff at a good art shop. The famous pastel artist Edgar Degas made an appearance; we discussed how he might apply a layer of paint to his card, for the pastel to grip it another way, or apply pastel to tracing paper. I directed one visitor to the National Gallery across the road to examine the Degas there.

I talked about good mixing techniques, like hatching and crosshatching, to ensure colours stay light and unified. I also encouraged visitors not to worry too much about technique. My motto is 'if you can dust you can draw!' Drawing is all about moving your hand, wrist and arm, up and down and side to side.  And, hey, you’re making marks, and marks equal drawing.

So until we meet again, I’d like to thank everyone for their ideas and questions. Happy drawing! My next event in the gallery will be on 10 and 11 April from 12 noon to 1.30pm. This is during the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours 207th Exhibition.

Estelle Lovatt FRSA