How to draw and paint with oil pastels – FAQ

June 28, 2008 § 6 Comments

There are quite a few reasons why I like oil pastels (OPs). Here are a few of them:

  • bold colors (see the little sketch above, left: colored pencil, middle: oil pastel, right: pastel crayon)
  • they are easy to apply and easy to use (no cleaning of brushes, no dangerous solvents, etc.)
  • they don’t dry too fast, there is no need to hurry (vs. acrylic paint)
  • you can paint dark over light and light over dark
  • you can carry them anywhere

Although OPs are no new medium, they aren’t as common and wide spread as other drawing and painting mediums, so that’s why I’m doing this little FAQ consisting of questions I have been asked often.

Q: I’ve recently bought myself a little set of oil pastels and would like to paint with them, however, I have a very hard time trying to blend them. Why?

A: Most probably you got yourself the wrong kind of oil pastels. There are basically two kinds of OPs: artist grade (which can be blended) and student grade (which cannot really be blended well). There are only a few artist grade brands that are really recommendable if you want to paint with oil pastels:

  • Sennelier oil pastels
  • Hohlbein artist grade oil pastels
  • Caran d’Ache “neopastel”
  • Cray-Pas “specialists” (be careful, don’t confound them with the “expressionists” – the latter being student grade!)
  • Erengi (a new brand, haven’t tried them yet, just mention them here to have this list complete)

All the other oil pastels are to be considered student grade, even if they claim to be “artists oil pastels”.

Q: What is the difference between artist grade and student grade oil pastels?

A: Actually I could give you a lot of answers on this one, but let me give you this comparison instead: if you are drawing with an artist grade OP it feels as if you were drawing with a lipstick whereas a student grade oil pastels feels more like a wax crayon.

Q: Unfortunately, it seems I’ve bought a student grade oil pastel set, is there no way to make them work? I’ve read somewhere that OPs can be solved with turps?

A: Yes, you can solve them with turps – to a certain degree. However, I doubt that the results will look smooth or nice, more likely you’ll end up ruining your painting surface. The best advice I can give you is save yourself an unnecessary expense and frustrating painting results by getting proper pastels from the very beginning. It’s true that artist grade oil pastels are so much more expensive, but you don’t need to buy a whole set at once. It’s a good idea to try to buy some colors from each brand so that you can try all of them out and see which brand you like best :).

Q: What tools do I need besides the oil pastels?

A: It’s alwayd advisable to get yourself a  tool for spreading and blending the oil pastels. You might either get some Colour Shaper ™ or Clay Shaper ™ or you might as well take a firm eraser and shape him into the kind of form you prefer.

Q: What kind of support is advisable for oil pastels?

A: You can take almost any support you like. Most artists I know prefer Colorfix ™ papers or supports that have been primed with pastel primers. I for example like to paint on small pieces of framing mattes that I have primed before with pastel-ground. You could also take canvas or any kind of sturdy paper/board. Look for a surface that has a little bit of tooth.

Q: Do I need to seal my finished paintings with something? They feel so wet/sticky even days after, when are they going to be dry?

A: It is said that oil pastels never dry, however, those artist who work with this medium have found out, that the surface of an oil pastel painting will feel dry after a few months (which means it will be touch dry on the surface). You do not need to seal or fix your painting with anything, however, you might consider framing it behind glass for an optimal protection.

For more information on oil pastels, please visit: wetcanvas – getting started in oil pastels

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§ 6 Responses to How to draw and paint with oil pastels – FAQ

  • Gillian says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve often used normal pastels but never oil pastels – I can feel a need coming on! x

  • Artist Anika says:

    Wonderful selection of questions and answers and great tips. I have used both oil and chalk pastels and i have to say that oil pastels are definitely my favorite. They cover the paper better then chalk pastels and don’t leave as many little white spaces when using texturized paper.

    One note: You can also use a Final Fixative spray on the image after drawing it to keep the oil pastels from smearing. Be careful though, the spray tends to darken and flatten the image. If you plan to use a fixative, it is best to exaggerate colors and depth in the image while creating it. Then, when you spray it, it will end up with the depth and color you would have wanted.

  • Reblogged this on Daniella Jefferies and commented:
    These pages are pretty useful, I wish I found them before attempting my oil pastel drawing in Fine Art! But I am definitely going to take these tips into consideration for the next time I think of drawing with oil pastel!

  • Carol Coleman says:

    Thank you so much for the information. I fortunately requested Sennelier pastels for my birthday but didn’t get a clay shaper. My first attempt on canvas was fun and I loved the pastels. However I thought I would use my finger to spread. Needless to say , I had more color on myself than the canvas. On to find a clay shaper – thank you.

    • Silvia says:

      Carol, if you really enjoy working with your fingers and cannot find any clayshapers you might want to give those thin disposable medical gloves a chance. It feels almost as if working without them and nothing gets on your fingers.
      Enjoy your oilpastels :)!

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