The tiny Paris pastel shop that changed art history
December 18, 2022 6:47 AM   Subscribe

"The Maison du Pastel shop, off rue Rambuteau, opens only on Thursday afternoons. In this small window of time, Isabelle and Margaret serve their customers like they are selling elixirs for the soul. They spend the rest of the week at their atelier in a village 60km outside Paris, where they live in a dilapidated house previously owned by Isabelle’s ancestors. There they make 1,800 shades by hand, using a method passed down from Henri Roché Sr, which has changed little since the 18th century." 'The tiny Paris pastel shop that changed art history,' ( here). (Stolen from today's Chartbook, I should confess!)
posted by mittens (17 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you, mittens, I loved this. And like some of the people mentioned near the end of the article, I now want to buy a bunch of these beautiful pastels just to look at. What an inspiration.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 7:41 AM on December 18, 2022

A lovely article, with which I have one small quibble:
Unlike paints, pastels cannot be mixed together on a palette or on the surface of the artwork. Too much blending creates muddied, compacted colours, therefore artists need to buy each individual colour they want to use.
This is too simple a statement. All colour mixing from different pigments costs you at least a bit of saturation in the final hue, no matter the medium; this is one way artists control saturation. Anyone seriously interested in getting the exact colour they want knows the mixing complement for each pigment: the second pigment as directly across the colour circle as possible (such as perylene maroon and pthalo green), which one uses in small or large amounts to directly move the colour towards an achromatic grey.

It's not really practical to pre-mix pastels, which would involve returning them to a powder in a container and then mashing it around, but one can definitely do so on paper, just as one would with oil paint. Not mixing the colours leads to either an exceedingly bright image full of pigments at full strength; or to an impractically large collection of pastels where the pigments are still in stepped values. Some blending is always done on the paper, and one can use this. A trick I learned in a workshop on figure painting with pastels is to blend two colours together at the border with a slightly darker grey, which produces a visually smooth transition that works well on the curved surface of a person.
posted by fatbird at 8:48 AM on December 18, 2022 [8 favorites]

I popped into a local art store (which almost went out of business during the pandemic) to pick up a few more blue Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils.* The shop owner reminded me of a rumour I had heard, and that it was time to stock up: Prismacolor had been bought out by Rubbermaid, and would stop selling each colour individually—they would only be available in multi-colour packs.**

Considering the scale and nature of the players involved, I spent all evening worrying. I dared not hope for a happy ending like in the FPP. I doubt Rubbermaid sees much of a soul in the little coloured pencils.

* I’ve built my current drawing practice around the use of these Col-Erase pencils. If they become unavailable or unaffordable, I just got to figure out a different way, which is not the end of the world, but makes me sad, and it’s frightening to see a practice I’ve been building for most of my life (and which I appreciate because it is tactile) tremble under the weight of these changes.
** this was just the way she told it. I’ve also heard that Prismacolor will still sell certain colours (including my precious blue) individually, but the full range will not be individually available. Sure enough, on the Prismacolor site, they still offer red and blue for sale individually.
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

This is a lovely article. My grandmother bought me a box of brand name-forgotten pastels when I was young; I was not then, nor have I ever been, artistic in a way where they would be useful, but I remember the colors, and my grandmother, fondly.
posted by lhauser at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2022

DROOLING!! pastels are one of my favorite mediums for arting. I have a decent collection but omg I would just go nuts in this place. all of those beautiful colors arrayed for my delectation.
posted by supermedusa at 9:03 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

That was lovely, thank you so much! I wonder how they can work with powdered pigments for years like that without getting poisoned. So many pigments are actively dangerous, and the description of the old Maison sounds like there wasn’t exactly a state-of-the-art air filtration system going. And now I am going to go see if I can hunt down some of these pastels.
posted by terridrawsstuff at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2022

I have found out a little more about these pastels! They are much purer pigments than standard soft pastels, much more vivid, and additionally they contain pumice, which rips up the paper a little bit. This is a good thing, because adding a little texture to the paper allows the artist to deposit more pigment than usual.

Linked at the bottom of this blog post is an excellent review of Roche pastels on various substrates, because they are so expensive that I would want to go into using them well-armed with knowledge ahead of time:
posted by terridrawsstuff at 10:30 AM on December 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Prismacolor had been bought out by Rubbermaid

It’s actually been a part of Newell Brands for a long time, the recent cutbacks in the open-stock SKUs is just a recent decision. Rubbermaid is another of the (many) brands that is part of Newell. Others include Yankee Candle, Calphalon, and Mr. Coffee.

It has been a very long time since anyone involved with the Prismacolor brand has had any noticeable interest in the products as anything other than numbers in a spreadsheet. It’s why the quality and selection has consistently declined over the years. The line of pastels they make, NuPastel, has similarly been reduced to just a few sets and no open stock.

I think Maison du Pastel and Prismacolor represent almost polar opposites of the types of manufacturers you see in the art supply industry.

Funny to read about Szafran, the artist who started with Sennelier pastels before upgrading, comparing it to going from a horse and buggy to Ferrari, considering Sennelier is actually considered a premium brand (but known more for their oil pastels). The way the article reads, you’d think he started with Arteza pastels at first.
posted by jimw at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Slightly misread the title - thought that maybe Paris also had little pastry shops like the local one that is only open one day a week and is sold out by midday
posted by mbo at 3:19 PM on December 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh thank you for sharing this! This was an unexpected treat.
posted by Kitteh at 4:33 PM on December 18, 2022

Yes, lovely. thank you.
posted by stray at 6:15 PM on December 18, 2022

What a wonderful article, thank you so much.
posted by jokeefe at 7:36 PM on December 18, 2022

Quel article sympa! Merci mittens.
posted by peacay at 10:24 PM on December 18, 2022

Finally got a chance to sit down to read this. What a fantastic article and what lovely photos! Thank you for posting.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 3:00 PM on December 19, 2022

Loved the article. I could almost smell the powdery dust smell of pastels while reading it.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:44 PM on December 19, 2022

Well. The Complete Set available shipped directly from the altier in France. 1,688 colors, 4 wooden chests each weighing 44lbs. Will set you back only $26,485! Not including $600 in shipping and customs fee!

This is now on my "If I win the lottery", daydream list.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 7:18 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

there's also a NYTimes article (that has a lot of nice pictures).

This is beautiful (and something that breaks my heart about NYC: there was a time when the history of Manhattan/NYC was there for anyone who wanted to look deep enough - shops selling odds and ends, bars that had not changed in 90 years , in a nutshell - a Joseph Mitchell New York that just kept going along, evolving, gathering history around itself. And then some time in the past ten-plus years, money charged in and has churned damn near every square inch into a paste to be re-formed in some kind of immediately financially remunerative entity (a CVS or bank branch.) The smell is gone. Paris still has so many nooks and crannies that are as yet un-changed. This shop is a perfect example. There's untold value in ventures like this. The value of history, which is deeper than any passing moment might ever suggest.)
posted by From Bklyn at 4:53 AM on December 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

« Older Satire from Australian group The Shovel   |   Fighting Fantasy. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments