In an earlier post titled, “Paint Prices” I discuss artist paint costs. I won’t repeat the overlapping reasons in this post.
In this post, I’ll explore more closely artist soft pastel prices.
The beloved sticks of "pure pigment” share some of those costs, but not all.
Soft pastel artists have probably noticed or taken for granted that 99% of artist soft pastels from the same manufacturer, despite pigment, cost the same. Obviously, this is not the rule for
most artist paints.
I can think of only one soft pastel maker from France whose unit prices vary by pigment. Their reason(s) is/are only known by them. C'est la vie.
The pigment load is greater in artist oil paints than in artist soft pastels.
The disparity between paint and pastel pigment load is unavoidable, and not necessarily a by-product of manufacturer sleight-of-hand (greed).
Variety is a factor. Have you noticed that paint and pastel manufacturers offer many times more pastel stick colours than oil paint colours?
The vehicle (oil) in oil paints allows for pigment blending to create unlimited colours, hues, etc. Soft pastels don’t give artists the same flexibility; so artists require more individual pastel sticks to achieve the same colour range as oil paint.
So, some pastel sticks will have more or less pigment depending on the desired colour. For example, a pale ultramarine blue pastel has much less pure pigment than an ultramarine blue pastel. The former pastel will contain more “extenders” like kaolin clay or Troyes blanc to create the wanted colour.
Usability is another factor. Some pigments used in oil paint can be used in soft pastels in the same high concentrations but some can’t. Some pigments must be mixed with “extenders” to be useful as pastels. In their pure form as soft pastels, these pigments will not mark the paper as pastel artists expect. Thermodynamic friction is to blame (more about this in another post).
So what does all this mean?
It explains why most pastels contain far less pure pigment than they contain “extenders”.
Like oil paints, some pastels cost more to make than others, but the higher manufacturer costs of pastels made with more pure pigment is offset by those more pale pastels that contain much less pure pigment.
So the standard price equilibrium amongst pastel sticks is set to ensure manufacturer and consumer costs remain relatively low and sustainable.
But, if the big pastel makers started to set their prices by pigment cost, most manufacturers would follow. A $3 chromium oxide green would go up to $8 and a $3 pale chromium oxide green would remain $3. Ah, the free market’s invisible hand.