About Diane Townsend Pastels

tragacanth gum
Tragacanth Gum

I began making pastels in 1971. I had finished my MFA at Queens College and moved into a loft on Broome Street and Mulberry over the Café Roma. A conservationist named Piero Mannoni shared the studio and he suggested that I make my own pastels. He translated a 15th century formula for making pastels, and that is what I base my formula on today. I made them first for myself, and as word got around I made them for others. Between teaching part time and some sales of art work and the sale of pastels I could come up with a living. By 1993 I decided to quit teaching and concentrate on pastel making as my main source of income.

Today I am concentrating on my formulas to further develop and refine the colors. As new pigments are developed I try to work them into my color system. There are many ways to mix and combine pigments to create smoother textures and richer colors.I make three types of pastels. The Soft Form, my first pastel, is shaped to fit the hand for an average sized work, and is soft with a tiny amount of gritty material. The Terrages Pastel I’ve been making for about 15 years is grittier with a shape designed for a more vigorous stroke and application without breaking or crumbling. This is the pastel that I worked on with Wolf Kahn because he is particularly fond of the gritty formula. He likes to break open the surface of a paper like Lana paper and work the color directly into the fibers of the paper. My latest pastel is the thin line, which is a slim pastel that is for smaller works or detailed areas of a drawing. It too, is gritty in order to firmly draw in around edges or to make firmer marks. The thin line sets would be good to take traveling because they weigh less and are slimmer. There is one thing to consider if you use the exotic colors. They are fragile and require a different touch. You can not bear down on them hard! The reason is that in order to keep the pearl or metallic color I can’t add filler or chalk to support the mica pigment without dulling the pastel. So it is a trade off. Color for fragility!
I buy the highest quality of pigments I can find, and I don’t add anything to them except gum as a binder and pumice in very small quantities to create texture. Some pigments however are not possible to use as a pastel in the pure state and I must mix them with another pigment or binder to support the main pigment. My emphasis is on maintaining the depth and clarity of each color and on allowing the character of each pigment to be expressed. Therefore one can build up layers of color without a chalky build up graying out the color.
I do change colors as I make pastels for a variety of reasons. Old pigments run out and the new one is often different and I can never reproduce a color using different pigments.
Also, in the process of making pastels one discovers new combinations of pigments and a better pastel either in consistency of clarity of color is discovered and I introduce it into the system. I make pastels in very small batches and with the mixed colors there is always some fluctuation.
I just added 10 new colors to the soft form pastel in order to round out the color chart, most of the new colors are greens and pale earth tones and a vivid new red!

Terrages, approx. 1 and 1/2″ long and 1″ across , and 6/8″ thick
Soft Form approx. 1 and 3/4″ long and 3/4″thick
Thin Line approx. 2″long and 1/2″ thick