What is Soft Pastel
Soft Pastel is an art medium in the form of a stick, consisting of pure powdered pigment and a binder. The pigments used in pastels are the same as those used to produce all colored art media, including oil paints; the binder is of a neutral hue and low saturation. The color effect of pastels is closer to the natural dry pigments than that of any other process.
Gustave Sennelier opened this art supply store in 1887, near the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Initially, Sennelier sold paints made by various manufacturers; later he chose to produce his own paints using local pigments and binders procured from his travels across Europe.
Anecdotally, it is believed that Sennelier's gained prominence at this time. Art-supply shops were ubiquitous, and Cézanne, Gauguin, and many other artists would shop around in the neighborhood, in search of particular shades of paint. If Gustave Sennelier didn't stock the color, he would create it for his painters.
In 1949, the Sennelier shop created a product specially for Pablo Picasso. He wanted colors he could use on any surface, without first having to do special preparation or coating. Henri Sennelier, Gustave's son, created the first oil pastel, a stick of colored pigment that is waxy rather than powdery. It goes on thickly and won't smudge.
In addition to the aforementioned Cézanne, Gaugin, and Picasso, van Gogh was also known to have used Sennelier oil paint.
Sennelier is one of just a few companies which still provides dry pigments for sale. Most artists today simply buy ready-mixed paints. The range of dry pure pigments offered by the company is quite large, exceeding eighty colors. The artist can then mix the colors into the preferred medium, creating a range of possibilities. Sennelier has a website that explains more about these techniques. It is in French, but allows the user to choose an English translation.