John Russell's extraordinary facility as a pastel painter brought him a fashionable clientele eager to have him execute their portraits. Russell was renowned for his ability to achieve masterful tonal effects by smudging broad, soft areas of crayon. He then accented the paper by applying linear flourishes made with a hard, pointed crayon. Russell had apprenticed with Francis Cotes, the founder of pastel painting in England, then established an independent studio in 1767. Most of the hundreds of works he produced were portraits, although he sometimes depicted genre subjects such as children with animals. Russell was also an astronomer who produced oil and watercolor studies of the moon. Russell's achievements in the art of pastel were the result of his thorough understanding of its technique and materials. In 1780 he published The Elements of Painting in Crayon, one of a handful of known treatises on pastel written in the 1700s. At the time of its publication, it was considered a cornerstone for understanding this difficult medium. Russell also experimented with pastel manufacturing, producing a recipe book for crayon making. In 1788 he was elected as a member of the Royal Academy and further distinguished by being appointed the Crayon Painter to George III.