Do Oil Pastels Dry Out? Pro Artist Explains

I have been using oil pastels for over 40 years so I think I have some pretty good experience on this topic. Oil Pastels every fully dry out.

Oil pastels never completely dry out as long as you store them properly and look after them.

This characteristic of oil pastels gives any artist using them unique opportunities for achieving new effects in their finished work.

But, it also means that art created with oil pastels is easier to damage than if you use other materials that dry completely.

Many artists have used oil pastels to experiment with by themselves or in combination with other art materials.

Brittle Student Grade Oil Pastels drying out
Brittle Student Grade Oil Pastels

Different Grades of Oil Pastels

It’s important to understand that like paints, oil pastels come in both a student version and an artist-grade version.

This gives artists the option to experiment with the lower-priced student-grade oil pastels. These factors can determine the rate of drying out and how quickly or slowly the quality of oil pastels will deteriorate.

Cheaper student grade oil pastels have more oil in them which oxidizes over time making them brittle, whereas artist grade oil pastels last longer as they are made with less and better quality oil.

Let’s explore this further.

Why Don’t Oil Pastels Dry Out?

Artist-grade oil pastels are made from ground color pigments mixed with mineral oil and wax.

These ingredients behave differently than the combination of materials used to make artist-grade paints, like linseed oil.

Both mineral oil and wax can harden or form a hardened skin as they set, but neither ever dry out completely.

Oil pastels are mixed with different materials than soft pastels.

Soft pastels are often mixed with dry ingredients like white chalk, giving them a softer application in feel and how the finished product looks on paper or canvas.

Storing oil pastels in an airtight container, away from direct sunlight and in hot rooms will ensure a longer life for your oil pastels.

You will not only make them last longer but you will ensure the quality of your oil pastels will also be extended.

Can I Use a Fixative to Dry Oil Pastels?

There are fixatives that you can use to protect your oil pastel artwork.

However, you will find that artist-grade oil pastels will still smudge after applying the fixative.

Applying several layers of fixative doesn’t completely fix oil pastels, and can change the color and texture of the applied oil pastels on paper, and sometimes create changes to the paper itself.

Therefore, the best solution for protecting a finished oil pastel piece is to frame it under plexiglass or glass with mats keeping the piece away from the glass once framed.

Are Oil Pastels the Same as Dry Pastels?

No. Oil pastels are made from pigment mixed with mineral oil giving them the texture of lipstick. They adhere to the surface of the paper well.

Dry pastels are made by mixing pigment with dry ingredients like white chalk, so they result in chalk-like behavior.

When applied to paper, they don’t adhere like oil pastels at all. Dry pastels look quite different than oil pastels on paper with a softer, lighter coloration.

What is the Difference Between Artist-Grade and Student-Grade Oil Pastels?

Student-grade oil pastels are made to be a cheaper version of oil pastels suitable for students to use when learning how to create artwork with oil pastels.

Manufacturers use inexpensive, dyed filler material to create the colors which does save a student money.

Student-grade oil pastels act in a similar fashion as artist-grade oil pastels when applied to paper, sinking into the paper and being absorbed.

This leaves a “stain” on the paper when the oil pastel is applied.

If you want to learn more about the makeup of artist-grade oil pastels, you can find detailed spec sheets regarding the mixture of materials and pigment composition from the manufacturer.

If those aren’t available, then you are looking at student-grade.

Do Oil Pastels Wash Out?

Dry pastels or soft pastels will clean up with water or a blend of water and soft cleaning agent with a sponge or in a washing machine.

However, when thinking about the question, “Do oil pastels dry out? ” you will also find out that they don’t wash out of paper or fabric.

Due to the way oil pastels are absorbed by fabric or paper, they can’t be washed out from any absorbent materials.

Do Oil Pastels Go Bad?

Since oil pastels never completely dry out, they generally last for decades and can still be used.

They do dry out somewhat sometimes forming a dry “skin” on the outside. If you store your art supplies in a cupboard or closet that stays cool and dry, then oil pastels won’t go bad and can still be used.

The only reason oil pastels would deteriorate would be if they are stored in an area that gets hot or stays damp. Heat can melt the oil pastels, and dampness can result in mold.

This is also true of artwork made from oil pastels. Keeping finished pieces properly protected against moisture and heat is another reason why they need to be framed under glass.

Are There Alternatives to Oil Pastels?

If you want an alternative to oil pastels that will dry, you can try pigment sticks or oil bars.

These are made using linseed oil, like oil paint, and will dry accordingly. Whichever materials you decide to use, create some tests to see how they behave before you get started using them for your artwork.

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