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How to Use Oil Pastel Sticks – Best Tips and Techniques

Containing intensely colored pigments in a stick form with a wax binder and an oil base, oil pastels are a very versatile medium with which both experienced and novice artists can make beautiful drawings. Although they are applied like a crayon to the drawing surface, oil pastels have excellent coverage and can make your drawings look more like an oil painting. However, since the pigment is in the form of a stick, you won’t make the mess that an oil painting or a traditional, dusty soft pastel creates. Sounds great right? If you want to keep learning how to use oil pastel sticks then keep reading..

how to use oil pastel sticks
CrayPas by Sakura – How to use Oil Pastel Sticks

Origins of Oil Pastels

Oil pastel sticks are a fairly new innovation in the art world, since they did not even exist before the 1920s. Due to new ideas in the educational system in Japan, these oil based, crayon like drawing sticks were created to help children learn to express themselves artistically.

In the 1930s, other art manufacturers began creating their own oil pastels, but at this time, the medium was largely developed as a product for children to produce artwork.

Serious artists didn’t bother with oil pastels until the late 1940s when better quality oil pastels were created and sold. Professional grade oil pastels were not largely produced until the 1980s. 

Types of Oil Pastels

Although there are many brands and manufacturers of oil pastels, these products can be divided into three basic categories. Scholastic grade oil pastels are the least expensive and the lowest quality oil pastel. These are intended for the use of children and those who have zero artistic experience.

These pastels are usually less vibrant than the higher grades, and they are fairly inexpensive.

Student grade oil pastels are softer and have much more intense colors than the scholastic grade products. They are also more expensive than the scholastic grade materials, but the end product is better. 

These are intended for use for art students and those who are beginning to get a bit more serious about their oil pastel drawings.

Professional grade oil pastels are the highest form of these drawing sticks. They have bold, vibrant colors, and they are the softest, going onto the drawing surface in a rich buttery form.

This grade of oil pastels are the most expensive ones, but they yield the best results. 

There is no shame in buying a scholastic grade oil pastel if you are a complete beginner. You can buy a multi-pack of one or two dozen beginner oil pastels in basic colors for very little money.

If you find that you love the medium, you can slowly invest more money in a higher quality product. 

Another more unusual kind of oil pastel is a water-soluble version of these art sticks. These pastels behave like oil pastels on the paper, but you can brush them with water for blending.

You should use watercolor paper for these pastels to keep your drawing surface from buckling with the application of the water.

Surfaces on Which You Can Use Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are a very versatile medium, and you can use them on many kinds of surfaces. You can sketch with oil pastels on paper, canvas, wood, or cardboard.

In fact, many innovative artists use oil pastel sticks on other more unconventional surfaces. They may use this medium to draw upon stone, plastic, or glass. 

How Do You Draw With Oil Pastels?

You can draw with oil pastel sticks in the same way that you use hard or soft pastels. Typically, you will draw a rough sketch of your drawing on the surface with a pencil or colored pencil.

Of course, if you’re feeling confident, you can sketch out this outline with the sharp edge of your oil pastels. Then, you can fill in the outline with broad strokes of color from the oil pastel sticks.

Shades and textures are often created in oil pastels by layering. Simply add colors over other colors and then blend them with your finger. Go slowly when you are layering in oil pastel.

Over blending will cause your colors to be muddy and indistinct. You should also have a damp towel handy with which you can wipe your hands frequently as you work. This will help keep your colors crisp and your drawing exactly as you have it planned. 

The layering should go from dark colors to lighter colors. If you try to fill in colors in the opposite order, your lighter colors will be overpowered by the darker ones.

Oil pastels stay “wet” or sticky for quite some time, so it isn’t unusual for artists to take a few drawings to develop the skill to handle this medium.  

Do not get discouraged if things don’t turn out exactly as you had in mind the very first time. Keep practicing, and you will quickly adapt to the medium of oil pastels.  

How Do You Blend Oil Pastels?

There are several methods of blending oil pastels. Most commonly, people use their fingers to blend the layers and edges of the colors together.

Alternately, you can use a tortillion, or a blending stump to blend the colors. Be sure that you peel away the paper of the blending stump when you use it to keep your colors sharp and pure. 

Another interesting way of blending with oil pastel sticks is to use turpentine or another solvent to blend the oil pastels. Using a brush dipped in turpentine or mineral spirits can cause your oil pastel drawing to resemble and oil painting when you are done with it.

You may want to use oil sketching papers or canvases if you plan on using turpentine or mineral spirits to blend your oil pastel drawings. These papers are especially created to stand up to the harshness of the solvent. 

Do You Use Water with Oil Pastels?

For traditional oil pastels, you would never use water. We have all heard the saying “oil and water don’t mix,” and that is true for this medium.

However, if you are using water-soluble oil pastels, you can brush them with water to achieve blending and softening of your drawing. 

Caring for the Final Oil Pastel Drawing

Oil pastels behave like oil paints, staying sticky for quite some time. This is good when you are working with them since you can make changes for a long time.

However, for long term storage, oil pastel drawings can smudge and smear if they are not handled correctly. 

To avoid damaging the drawing, you can spray an art fixative on the surface of the drawing to seal the oil pastels in an unchangeable state.

If you frame an oil pastel drawing, you should use a mat to keep the drawing from coming into contact with the glass because the pastels will stick to the glass, damaging the drawing. 

How to use oil pastel sticks – supporting video

I have found a great video that visualizes many of the points just discussed in How to use oil pastel sticks.

Wrap Up

I hope you found the tips and techniques highlighted in How to Use Oil Pastel Sticks useful. Let me know if you have any further questions via the Contact Us or via Instagram and I will look at updating the post for you.

If you would like to see my other pastel related posts have a look at the following:

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