A Guide to Oil Pastels
How to Draw and Paint with Oil Pastels
- What are Oil Pastels?
Oil pastels are made of pigments bound in a non drying oil and wax binder. They are thought to have been originally developed by Sennelier who were acted on the requests of Pablo Picasso, who wanted to find a painting and drawing medium that could be applied to ‘wood, paper, canvas or metal, without having to prepare or prime the surface". Oil Pastels are often favoured by artists who find conventional soft pastels too dusty or chalk for their liking. Oil pastels are creamier in their consistency, and the texture is noticeably more moist (a result of the presence of wax in their make-up). They are incredibly versatile and can be used to draw into oil or acrylic colour. Many artists enjoy working with them in mixed media projects.
2. What is the difference between wax crayons and Oil Pastels?
Artist’s oil pastels differ from children’s wax crayons as they have a far superior lightfastness classification (although this varies between brands). They tend to be softer than wax crayons and less pressure is required to apply colour to the surface you are drawing or painting on to.
3. Drawing and Painting with Oil Pastels – Hints and Tips
The consistency of oil pastels can be manipulated with heat; a cold oil pastel will feel harder and marks will appear sharper; more pressure is needed to deposit the colour on to your support. When an oil pastel is cold it is a better drawing material as fine and broad lines can easily be drawn; some artists keep their oil pastels out of doors or in a fridge in order to keep them hard in this way. An oil pastel that has been warmed up, either on a radiator or in your hands, will become more malleable, and the colour will glide on to your surface with less pressure. When oil pastels are warm their properties start to resemble those of oil paint, and as a result more painterly effects can be achieved. Oil pastel colour can be thinned with solvents, and extended with linseed oil, in exactly the same way that can be done with oil paint. Oil pastels are used by some oil painters to draw into wet oil paint, perhaps to re-establish a composition in a painting or to add texture or detail.
Mixed Media and Oil Pastel
Oil pastels can be used with media of any kind, the only thing to bear in mind is that it never properly sets or dries and so is a relatively unstable material on which to overlay other drawing and painting media – one would have to protect the work well by framing it under glass or by fixing it with a special oil pastel fixative so that the work did not deteriorate over time. Oil pastels are popular among mixed media artists as vibrant colour is easily applied, and blended into other material including soft pastel, watercolour, coloured pencils and graphite, without any adverse effects. Sgraffito is often used in oil pastel technique as its surface can very easily be scratched into at any point during the picture making surface – when the oil pastel is applied thickly, very little effort is required to scratch into the colour, which means that paper and other supports are not at any risk of being ripped or damaged inadvertently.
Professional Oil Pastels – Sennelier and Cretacolor Aqua Stic Oil Pastels
Oil Pastels are a useful art supply to keep in stock as they are so versatile. Oil pastels are wonderful for creating finished oil pastel paintings, but not only that; they can also be very useful in creating quick preparatory sketches and colour studies. The best oil pastels will be those with the highest pigment concentration. Because the pigment to binder ratio is greater, the properties of the pigment within the pastel will influence the behaviour and characteristic of each individual pastel, i.e. a French ultramarine oil pastel will appear more transparent than a Cerulean Blue oil pastel in the same way that a French Ultramarine oil paint would appear more transparent than a Cerulean Blue oil paint, and this is why the characteristics of each pastel in the range of Sennelier oil pastels more greatly vary than the characteristics to be found among the range of Inscribe oil pastels, for example. As well as pigment saturation, a professional grade oil pastel will have an even consistency that does not show any lumps or particles of wax binder when the colour is thinned over an area.
Sennelier Oil Pastels are very soft in their consistency and the colour glides on with the least amount of pressure out of all the ranges available at Jackson’s Art Supplies. However, because the colour is so saturated, the sticks last a long time as very little of the pastel is required to achieve bold marks, and even less required when applying the pastel colour thinly. They layer over each other and other media very well, and the opaque colours have unbeatable coverage. When heated up siginificantly, the Sennelier oil pastels can be used in an almost sculptural way; one can use a palette knife to apply and sculpt the colour on to one’s support. Sennelier oil pastels are available individually as open stock, as well as in sets of assorted and themed sets such as landscape, still life and portrait sets.
Cretacolor’s Aqua Stics are often compared to Caran d’Aches’s Neocolor II watersoluble wax pastel range, however the Aqua Stics do have oil content (unlike the Neocolor II’s). Another important difference is that when the Aqua Stics are thinned or spread with water, they retain much of the vibrancy of the dry colour in a way that the Neocolor II’s do not (these colours significantly lose their colour strength when diluted in water). Cretacolor market the Aqua Stic by stating that they can be used with watercolour and encaustic in mixed media projects, and will adhere to a variety of supports including cardboard, canvas, wood, leather, glass and mirrors. As with other oil pastels, sgraffito techniques (the scratching into colour) is very effective. Aqua Stics have been known to be a little crumbly and hard when cold; in my opinion they perform best when heated up in one’s hand prior to use. Aqua Stics are available in sets of 10, 20, 40 and 80. Cretacolor Aqua Stic watersoluble oil pastels possess excellent levels of light fastness.
Oil Pastels for Beginners and Students
The other ranges of oil pastels available at Jackson’s Art Supplies have lower pigment saturation levels, and are less lightfast. Their qualities vary between the ranges; here is a guide to the oil pastels available.
Derwent Academy Oil Pastels
Academy oil pastels are suited to children ages 9 and up as well as those looking for a cheap but well made oil pastel range for experimenting in; for learning oil pastel painting techniques. There are 36 colour in the range and the colours blend with one another perfectly well. The pastels are individually wrapped in paper so that you do not have to get dirty hands when working and are available in sets of 12, 24 and 36 (all under a tenner!).
Daler Rowney Oil Pastels
Daler Rowney oil pastels are a good value range for quick oil pastel sketches and experimental mixed media work. In comparison to Sennelier oil pastels they are of a lesser quality in my opinion; this is because they sometimes have an uneven consistency within the stick. When the pastel is thinned there are sometimes noticeable lumps in the pastel colour – which are formed by the binder which has not been properly blended with the pigment. There are 37 colours in the range which perfectly match colour in the soft pastel range. This is convenient if you intend to try a mixed media work which incorporates both materials.
Pentel Oil Pastels
Pentel oil pastels have a large diameter and good 48 colour range, and many schools favour them for art lessons. They have good blendability and have good resistance to breaking even when used with larger amount of pressure. Pentel oil pastels are a cheap option for professional artists who need a basic set of pastels in the studio, but are equally well suited to children from ages 9 and upwards through to GCSE art students looking to explore colour and form in their art projects. They have relatively good lightfastness levels which enable finished work to be put on display on a classroom wall with most of the colours retaining their luminosity (some of the reds and pinks are known to suffer the effects of strong sunlight over longer periods of time).
Inscribe Oil Pastels
Inscribe are my favourite low cost range of oil pastel as they are reliable and have a lovely colour range. They have a slightly harder consistency than some of the other oil pastels and as a result are particularly effective in drawing lines. I like to use mine to draw into wet oil paint on canvas (the solvents I used to thin my paints break down the colour of the oil pastel and allow interesting textures to emerge in the quality of the lines drawn). They are only available in sets of 12, 24, 36 and 48, and all under £12! Highly recommended for a good combination of quality and price.