Art History Lab

Unleash Your Creativity with Vibrant Oil Pastels

Oil Pastels: A Versatile Painting Medium

Have you ever heard of oil pastels? If you’re an art enthusiast or a professional artist, you might be familiar with oil pastels, the colorful crayon-like sticks that are a popular medium for painting.

Oil pastels are made of a mixture of pigments, binders, waxes, and mineral oils, making them soft and greasy. In this article, we will explore oil pastels in-depth, their advantages, and various techniques of using them.

What are oil pastels? Oil pastels are different from traditional pastels.

They come in crayon form, unlike traditional pastel sticks. The pigments used in oil pastel are the same as traditional pastels, but the binder used is different.

In traditional pastels, the binder is gum arabic, whereas oil pastels use waxes and mineral oils as binders. Oil pastels do not dry like other painting mediums, making them an ideal choice for learners and beginners.

You can blend different colors with your fingers or a soft cloth, and the results will be different every time. The technique of blending colors in oil pastels is different from traditional pastels too.

Comparison with other drawing mediums

Artists have used various mediums for drawing and painting since ancient times. Each medium has its own unique characteristics, texture, and color intensity.

When it comes to drawing and painting, artists have a wide range of options to choose from. Soft pastels are different from oil pastels because of their texture and composition.

Soft pastels are made of pure pigments mixed with a small amount of binder. They are powdery and create a rich tonal range.

Hard pastels, on the other hand, are firmer and have less pigment than soft pastels. Pencil pastels are a mix of colored pencils and soft pastels.

They offer the convenience of pencils and the tonal range of soft pastels. Pan pastels come in a pan or compact and are similar to soft pastels.

The main advantage of using pan pastels is that they are less messy. The main difference between oil pastels and other painting mediums is that oil pastels can be blended with fingers or a cloth for a smooth finish.

Other mediums like soft pastels and pencils have a slight grainy texture. Oil pastels can also be used on various surfaces like paper, canvas, and even wood.

Advantages of oil pastel painting

One of the biggest advantages of using oil pastels is that they are easy to use. They are fun for both young and old, beginner and professional artists.

The vibrant colors and smooth texture of oil pastels make them an ideal choice for creating artworks of all genres. Oil pastels are also affordable and portable, which makes them an excellent choice for artists on the go.

You can carry a set of oil pastels with you and create artwork anywhere and anytime.

Versatility of oil pastels and variety of techniques

Oil pastels can be used on various surfaces, including paper, canvas, and wood. When using oil pastels on canvas, it’s essential to prime the surface with gesso before painting.

This will create a better adhesion of the oil pastels to the surface. One of the unique techniques of using oil pastels is scratching.

You can use a pointed stick or a blade to scratch the surface of the paper or canvas to create intricate designs. This technique is ideal for creating texture and depth in your artwork.

Building up layers of color is another technique used in oil pastel painting. You can apply a thin layer of oil pastel and blend it with a soft cloth or your fingers before applying the next layer.

This technique is ideal for creating a smooth finish. Another technique used in oil pastel painting is blending.

You can blend different colors to create a smooth transition from one color to another. You can also create a wet paint effect by blending colors with a paintbrush dipped in turpentine.

Dry effect is another technique used in oil pastel painting. You can apply the oil pastel dry to create a rough and textured finish.

This is an ideal technique for creating abstract art.


Oil pastels are a versatile and fun painting medium that offers various techniques for creating artworks. They are easy to use and affordable, making them an ideal choice for beginners and professional artists alike.

With their vibrant colors and smooth texture, oil pastels can create artworks of all genres on various surfaces. Try experimenting with oil pastels in your next artwork, and you won’t be disappointed.

Guidelines for Purchasing Oil Pastels

As a beginner or professional artist, choosing the right painting medium can be a daunting task. When it comes to oil pastels, there are numerous options available on the market.

Let’s look at some guidelines for purchasing oil pastels. Student-grade vs.

Artist-grade oil pastels

Student-grade oil pastels are suitable for beginners and hobbyists. They are affordable and have lower levels of pigmentation than artist-grade oil pastels.

Student-grade oil pastels also have a lower binder quality, which means that they do not adhere to the surface as well as artist-grade oil pastels. Artist-grade oil pastels are more expensive than student-grade oil pastels, but they have higher levels of pigmentation, and their colors are more vibrant.

Artist-grade oil pastels have a better binder quality and adhere to the surface better than student-grade oil pastels. Individual colors vs.

Oil pastel sets

When it comes to purchasing oil pastels, you can buy individual colors or sets. Individual colors allow you to pick and choose the colors you need for your artwork, but they can be more expensive than buying a set.

Buying a set can be a more affordable option, and it gives you a variety of colors to work with. Another advantage of purchasing a set is that you can get a variety of colors from a single brand, which may be more convenient for some artists.

However, sets may not always have the specific colors you need for your artwork. Considerations for Oil Pastel Texture, Cost, and Surface Compatibility

Texture and hardness are essential considerations when purchasing oil pastels.

The texture of oil pastels determines its blending capabilities. Soft oil pastels blend easily, while hard oil pastels do not blend as well.

When purchasing oil pastels, consider the level of hardness or softness you would prefer. Cost is also an important consideration when purchasing oil pastels.

Artist-grade oil pastels are more expensive than student-grade oil pastels, but they offer higher levels of pigments and adherence to surfaces. If you are a beginner or a hobbyist, you may want to opt for student-grade oil pastels, which are more affordable.

Oil pastels are compatible with different surfaces, including paper, canvas, and wood. Before purchasing oil pastels, consider the compatibility of the surface you want to work on.

Some oil pastels may not be compatible with certain surfaces, and this can affect the quality of your artwork.

Best Oil Pastels for Different Needs

If you are a professional artist, using artist-grade oil pastels is ideal. Artist-grade oil pastels offer high levels of pigments and better adherence to surfaces.

SAVOIR-FAIRE Sennelier Oil Pastels are a popular choice among professional artists. They offer a wide range of colors, multi-media effects, and are highly pigmented.

If you are a beginner or a hobbyist, using student-grade oil pastels is recommended. PENTEL ARTS is an affordable brand that offers student-grade oil pastels.

They offer a variety of colors, are highly pigmented, and have a soft texture for easy blending.


Choosing the right oil pastels can have a significant impact on the outcome of your artwork. When purchasing oil pastels, consider the texture, hardness, cost, surface compatibility, and grade.

Whether you are a beginner or a professional artist, there are numerous options available on the market to suit your needs.

Techniques for Using Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are a versatile medium that can be used to create various artworks. Here are some techniques for using oil pastels:


Overlaying is a technique where you apply one layer of color over another. This technique is ideal for creating a depth of color and contrast in your artwork.

To achieve this technique, take a dark color pastel and apply it first. Then, take a lighter color pastel and apply it over the dark color.

Be sure to apply the lighter color lightly, so the dark color shows through.


Scumbling is a technique where you create a veil of color on your artwork. To achieve this effect, use your pastel stick in small circular motions, applying layers of color.

Gradually add more layers of color to create a soft veil of color.

Blending with Oil

Blending with oil is a technique where you add a small amount of oil to your pastel to create a wet effect. This technique is ideal for creating a smooth, fluid transition between colors.

Take a small amount of oil and apply it over a layer of pastel. Gently blend the pastel with your fingers or a cloth for a smooth finish.


Sgraffito is a technique where you scrape off layers of pastel to create contrast and texture in your artwork. Take a sharp tool and gently scrape off a layer of pastel.

This will reveal the layer of pastel underneath, creating texture and contrast in your artwork.


Masking is a technique where you use a masking tape to create precise designs and lines. Apply a piece of masking tape to the surface you are working on and apply pastel over it.

Once you have applied the pastel, remove the masking tape, revealing a clean, precise line.

Tips and Tricks for Using Oil Pastels

Apart from techniques, here are some tips and tricks to enhance your oil pastel artwork:

Softness and temperature effects

The hardness of oil pastels can affect the outcome of your artwork. Using softer oil pastels will create smoother, more blended artwork, while using harder oil pastels will create texture and create a grainier finish.

The temperature of your hands can also affect the artwork. Using warm hands will melt the pastel slightly, creating a smoother effect.

Experimentation and creativity

Oil Pastels are incredibly versatile which makes it an ideal art medium for experimentation and creativity. Experimenting with different techniques, layering colors, and textures can help you achieve original and unique artwork that stands out.


Pre-blending your oil pastels before applying them to the surface can help you achieve a smoother finish. Take two or more pastels that you want to blend and rub them together on a piece of paper.

Once they blend, use the resulting color to apply to your artwork.


Using stencils can help you create precise designs and shapes on your artwork. Place the stencil on the surface you are working on and apply the pastel over it.

Once you remove the stencil, you will have a precise design on your artwork.

Hand placement

Hand placement is another key element to creating great oil pastel artwork. The placement of your hands can affect the pressure applied to the pastel stick, creating different effects.

Experiment with different hand placements to achieve a variety of textures and effects.

Cleaning tips

Cleaning your oil pastels is important as it ensures that your colors remain vibrant and clean. One cleaning tip is to use a kneaded eraser to erase unwanted pastel marks.

Another tip is to clean your pastels gently with a soft cloth and rubbing alcohol.


Oil pastels are a versatile and fun painting medium that offers endless possibilities for artistic expression. Using techniques like overlaying, scumbling, blending with oil, sgraffito, and masking can help you achieve different effects and textures.

Tips and tricks for using oil pastels like softness and temperature effects, experimentation, creativity, pre-blending, stencils, hand placement, and cleaning can enhance your artwork and help you create unique, original pieces.

Finishing off and

Cleaning up Oil Pastel Artwork

Once you have completed your oil pastel artwork, there are a few important steps to consider to ensure its preservation and longevity. In this section, we will discuss how to finish off your oil pastel artwork and provide tips for cleaning up.

Avoiding Varnish

Unlike other painting mediums, it is generally recommended to avoid applying varnish to oil pastel artwork. The texture and composition of oil pastels make it difficult for varnish to adhere properly.

Additionally, varnishing can alter the appearance and texture of the artwork, potentially diminishing the vibrancy and unique qualities of oil pastels. Instead, it is best to protect your oil pastel artwork by other means.

Framing behind Glass

One common and effective way to protect oil pastel artwork is by framing it behind glass. Framing behind glass not only safeguards the artwork from dust, moisture, and environmental damage but also helps prevent any unwanted smudges or smearing.

When framing, it is recommended to use a frame with a mat or spacer between the art and the glass to prevent direct contact that can cause smudging or sticking.

Using Fixatives

To further protect your oil pastel artwork, you can use fixatives. Fixatives are sprays specifically designed for preserving and sealing various art mediums, including oil pastels.

They create a protective layer over the artwork, preventing smudging and helping to preserve the colors and texture. When using fixatives, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Apply the fixative in thin, even coats, allowing each layer to dry completely before applying the next. Use caution not to overspray, as excessive fixative can darken the colors and affect the texture of the artwork.

Protecting from Smudging

Oil pastel artworks are prone to smudging due to their soft and blendable nature. To minimize smudging while working or displaying your artwork, consider using a professional-grade glassine or tracing paper to cover the surface when not in use.

This provides a protective barrier and prevents accidental smudging when transporting or storing your artwork.

Cleaning up Oil Pastel Artwork

Cleaning up oil pastels requires a gentle touch to avoid any damage to the artwork. Here are some tips for cleaning up oil pastel artwork:


Use a soft brush or cloth: Gently dust off any loose pastel particles from the surface of your artwork using a soft brush or cloth. Be careful not to press too hard, as this may rub the pastel into the surface and cause smudging.

2. Avoid excessive cleaning: Over-cleaning your oil pastel artwork can lead to color loss and deterioration.

Only clean the artwork when necessary or if there are visible smudges or dirt. 3.

Spot clean with erasers: If there are specific areas that need cleaning, you can use kneaded erasers or vinyl erasers to gently lift off any unwanted marks or smudges. Roll the eraser into a clean point and lightly dab or lift the marks without rubbing.

4. Protect the artwork during storage: When storing your oil pastel artwork, place a sheet of glassine or acid-free tissue paper between each piece to prevent smudging and direct contact.

Frequently Asked Questions about Oil Pastel Painting

1. Do I need to use a sealant or varnish on my oil pastel artwork?

It is generally recommended to avoid using sealants or varnishes on oil pastel artwork due to the difficulty of proper adhesion and potential alteration of the artwork. Instead, opt for framing behind glass or using fixatives for protection.

2. What surfaces are suitable for oil pastel painting?

Oil pastels can be used on a variety of surfaces, including paper, canvas, cardboard, wood, and even glass. However, it is important to prime or prepare the surface accordingly to ensure proper adhesion and preservation.

3. How do I blend colors with oil pastels?

There are several techniques for color blending with oil pastels. You can blend colors directly on the surface using your fingers, a blending stump, or a soft cloth.

Layering different colors and gently blending them together can create smooth transitions and gradients. 4.

Can I use oil with oil pastels? Using oil with oil pastels is not necessary but can be employed for certain effects.

When blending colors or creating a glossier finish, you can apply a small amount of mineral oil or baby oil to the surface. However, it is important to use a minimal amount to avoid causing the artwork to become too saturated or greasy.

5. How many colors should I use for blending in oil pastel painting?

The number of colors used for blending will depend on the desired effect and the complexity of the artwork. Start with a few colors that complement each other and gradually add more as needed.

Experimentation is key to discover your preferred color combinations and techniques.


Finishing off and cleaning up oil pastel artwork involves taking necessary precautions to protect and preserve the artwork. Avoiding varnish, framing behind glass, using fixatives, and protecting from smudging are effective ways to ensure the longevity and presentation of oil pastel artworks.

When cleaning, employ gentle techniques such as dusting off loose particles, spot cleaning with erasers, and using protective materials during storage. Understanding frequently asked questions about sealants, suitable surfaces, color blending, the use of oil, and the number of colors for blending will help you navigate the world of oil pastel painting with confidence.

In conclusion, this article has provided an in-depth exploration of oil pastels, their advantages, techniques for using them, guidelines for purchasing, and finishing off and cleaning up oil pastel artwork. We have learned that oil pastels are a versatile and fun medium, offering vibrant colors and a unique texture.

From overlaying to sgraffito, there are various techniques to experiment with, allowing artists to create stunning artworks. When purchasing oil pastels, considering the grade, individual colors versus sets, texture, cost, and surface compatibility is essential.

Finishing off oil pastel artwork involves framing behind glass, using fixatives, and avoiding varnish, while cleaning requires a gentle approach to avoid smudging. The main takeaway is that oil pastels offer endless possibilities for creativity and expression, making them a fantastic choice for both beginners and professional artists alike.

Let your imagination run wild with oil pastels and explore the endless beauty they can bring to your artistic journey.

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