How to Paint Using Oil Pastels
A different pastel medium
You might have heard of artists using oil pastels. Evoking oil paints,
they’re the younger, cooler kid brother to regular soft pastels. They differ from soft pastels in that they
use an oil and wax binder instead of a gum one. The pigments they contain are the same though, so naturally
enough, using oil pastels isn’t a world apart from using soft pastels. However, there are some key
So how to get the best out of oil pastels?
Follow these steps.
1) Choose the right
Great art requires an appropriate ‘canvas’
(in the general sense of the word). Of course for pastels it’s not canvas you’ll likely be using, but
Soft pastels require a paper with ‘tooth’
(i.e. one that is textured or abrasive). However, the waxy binder in oil
pastels mean that unlike sort pastels, they work well even on smooth papers. This is beneficial if you want to
create an artwork with a smooth texture, for example a portrait with fine skin tones, as you can use a smooth
paper: this will help you get the finished effect you want.
Also, note that if you use a toothy paper
designed for use with soft pastels, you’ll find it’s much more time- and pastel-consuming to lay down color on it
with oil pastels. The solution to this is again to use a less toothy paper.
As with soft pastels, oil pastels are very
easy to use – you just pick up a stick and go for it – and sometimes this works to your detriment, as you either
won’t think a decision through properly, or you’ll overwork something rather than quitting while you’re
To get around this, start by doing some
planning. Before touching your oil pastels, sketch out your design with a hard pastel or artists’ charcoal. When
you’re happy with your sketch, lightly shade the areas that are going to be the darkest in your composition (you
can use the charcoal or a dark oil pastel), and also mark the highlight areas with a white (oil)
When you finish this prep work you’ll have
your composition figured out, as well as an idea of where the lightest and darkest areas of your artwork will be,
and you can safely proceed with a free hand.
3) Use effective
When using oil pastels, there are a few
technique tricks to remember. First, oil pastels layer better than soft pastels, so don’t be afraid to use this
technique. Two or three layers can give some beautiful effects.
Second, oil pastels require a firmer hand
than soft pastels, as it’s the pressure doing the work, not the tooth of the surface. Ensure you are pressing
Third, you can use an impasto technique with
oil pastels (this is where the paint/pigment is laid on so thickly that you can see its texture). Warm your sticks
first – this will make them soft enough that you can use a palette knife to spread them around on your
Lastly, you can produce an attractive wash
or glaze effect with oil pastels. Just lay down some pigment on your paper, then take a brush dipped in turpentine
and apply it to the pigment. You can get any level of translucency you desire with this