How To Use Oil Pastels and Watercolors: Techniques & Tips

When you’re creating art, you can use both oil pastels and watercolors together in one piece. This combo is pretty good because of how the materials interact with each other.

Oil pastels have an oily base, this means they’ll repel water based mediums like watercolors really well, creating a wax resist type of artwork.

Below I will go through the types of pastels that work with watercolors, the pros and cons of each and some techniques and tips you’ll find useful.

Mixing Oil Pastels and Watercolors

When you apply watercolor paint over or around them, the paint won’t stick to the areas covered in oil pastel. Instead, the watercolor will soak into the parts of the paper that are free from the oil pastel, leaving the oil pastel lines or shapes untouched.

This unique effect is all thanks to the basic principle that oil and water don’t like to mix.

Since oil pastels are full of oil and watercolors are, well, water-based, they naturally resist each other. This resistance is what allows artists to play with textures, layers, and colors in exciting ways. 

The watercolor can flow and blend into the paper, creating soft backgrounds and washes, while the oil pastels can be used to draw sharp lines, add highlights, or create barriers that the watercolor will skip right over.

You can even do this with wax candles and watercolors.

oil pastels and watercolor paints being used together

Types of Pastels to Mix with Watercolors

There a different types of pastels that can be used and most are fine with watercolors.

Soft Pastels: 

Imagine soft pastels as the butter in art – they spread smoothly on watercolor paper and are awesome for adding bright colors or making dreamy backgrounds. However, they can be a bit messy.

Pros: Great for adding color and creating backgrounds.

Cons: Messy and chalky.

soft pastels stacked on top of each other

Hard Pastels: 

These are like the pencils of pastels, giving you more control and less mess, good for adding sharp lines or textures.

Pros: Less messy, good for detail.

Cons: Not as soft or vibrant as soft pastels.

hard pastels

Pastel Pencils: 

They look like regular pencils but are filled with pastel. Perfect for adding fine details or highlights.

Pros: Great for details and easy to control.

Cons: Might not provide as bold a color as other pastels.

pastel pencils

Oil Pastels: 

These are water-resistant, letting you paint over them with watercolors without blending into mud, great for textures or preserving white spaces.

Pros: Water-resistant, ideal for textures.

Cons: Can be hard to blend with other pastel types.

oil pastels

Pan Pastels: 

New and cool, like eyeshadows for art, applied with brushes or sponges for blending colors or creating smooth transitions.

Pros: Less messy, versatile.

Cons: Might require additional tools for application.

Pan Pastels for use with watercolors

Watercolor Pencils:

A creative duo that brings the best of both worlds to your artwork. Watercolor pencils work like regular pencils but transform into watercolor paint with a touch of water, offering precision and the ability to blend colors seamlessly. 

Pros:

  • Precision and Flexibility: Watercolor pencils allow for detailed work that can be easily blended with water, offering control over the artwork. This precision pairs well with the boldness of oil pastels.
  • Vibrant Textures: Oil pastels add a vibrant texture that stands out, giving your artwork a unique look. When used with watercolor pencils, they provide a contrast in texture that can make your piece more interesting.
  • Water Resistance: Oil pastels can act as a resist, creating barriers that watercolor from pencils cannot penetrate. This technique can be used to preserve white spaces or create interesting patterns.
  • Layering Abilities: You can layer watercolor pencils and oil pastels to add depth to your artwork. Starting with watercolor pencils for the base and adding oil pastel details can bring a dynamic dimension to your creations.

Cons:

  • Compatibility Challenges: Mixing water-based and oil-based mediums requires careful planning. Oil pastels may resist not only water but also the pigment from watercolor pencils, which can limit blending options.
  • Learning Curve: Understanding how watercolor pencils react when mixed with water and how they interact with oil pastels can take practice. Achieving the desired effect might require experimentation.
  • Potential for Muddiness: If not careful, combining watercolor pencils and oil pastels without a clear plan can lead to muddiness, especially if the watercolor pencils are applied too heavily over oil pastels.
watercolor pencils

Techniques and Tips

Combining Oil Pastels and Watercolors: 

Start by adding oil pastel scribbles, then go over with watercolors for a dynamic look. This mix allows for exploring colors and textures uniquely.

Water Resistance: 

Use oil pastels’ water resistance to your advantage to protect parts of your artwork or to create white highlights.

Underpainting and Layering: 

Begin with a watercolor base, then add oil pastel details for depth.

Resist Techniques: 

Draw first with oil pastels, then paint over with watercolors for cool effects.

Benefits of Mixing Oil Pastels and Watercolors

Color Combinations

Get the best of both worlds with bold oil pastel colors and gentle watercolors for diverse effects.

Unique Textural Effects

Introduce a mix of textures by combining the creamy thickness of oil pastels with the flowing nature of watercolors.

Tips for Beginners

  • Use sturdy watercolor paper.
  • Start with a white oil pastel for highlights.
  • Let layers dry before adding new ones.
  • Play with the resist technique for magical effects.

Techniques for Using Oil Pastels and Watercolors

Combination Techniques

Mixing oil pastels and watercolors might sound like mixing peanut butter with pickles at first, but trust us, it’s a lot more harmonious than that. 

This media combination is a great way to explore different colors and textures in your art project. 

Start by scribbling some oil pastels on your watercolor paper. Don’t be shy; lay down those colors like you mean it. 

Then, brush some liquid watercolors over it. Watch as the watercolor wash dances around the oil pastel marks. 

It’s like they’re at a party, and the oil pastels are saying, “Watercolors, you shall not pass!” This technique creates a dynamic look that can add depth to your painting technique.

Water Resistance

Remember that old saying, “oil and water don’t mix”? That’s your ticket in this art experience.

Oil pastels are great at resisting water, which means they can protect certain areas of your art from watercolor paints. 

Want white highlights or maybe to preserve some of the bright white of the paper? Use a white oil pastel to draw or fill in those areas before you bring in the watercolors.

It’s like magic when the paint just slides off those areas, leaving your designs bold and untouched.

Underpainting and Layering

Underpainting might sound like a fancy word, but it’s just your base layer. With oil pastels and watercolors, you can start with a light layer of watercolor painting on the paper.

Let it dry, patience is key here. After the under paint is dry, go over it with oil pastels for some vivid details and textures.

It’s a bit like dressing in layers for winter. Each layer serves a purpose. Your watercolor base adds mood and atmosphere, while the oil pastel layers bring in the drama.

Resist Techniques

This is where things get fun. Draw patterns, swirls, or whatever floats your boat with a light-colored or white pastel on your paper first.

This part is like a secret mission because you’ll barely see it. Then, sweep your brush loaded with watercolor paints over it.

It’s like revealing hidden messages, except it’s art. Watching the paint avoid the oil pastel areas feels like watching water skip over rocks in a stream. Simple yet so satisfying.

Remember, art isn’t about following a rigid set of rules. It’s about breaking them and finding out what happens.

art drawing using oil pastels and watercolors

Tips for Beginners Using Oil Pastels and Watercolors

Beginners can easily feel overwhelmed using two types of mediums that aren’t meant to work together but that is the beauty of making art, rules are meant to be broken.

But because we can break the rules, that doesn’t mean we should take some precautions and follow some tips that will increase our chances of success.

Precautions and Compatibility

Starting out, you’re like a chef in the kitchen. You’ve got ingredients: oil pastels, watercolor paints, and paper.

Yet, not just any paper, go for watercolor paper. It’s sturdy and can handle water without turning into a sad, soggy mess.

Oil pastels are the rebels of the art world. They don’t play by the rules, refusing to mix with water.

This is good news for you. It means you can lay down oil pastels on your paper and not worry about them running away when you introduce watercolor paints.

Try starting with a white oil pastel. It’s like a magic wand for creating white highlights that pop.

Colors

Next, let’s talk colors. Remember when you mixed all the playdough colors as a kid, hoping for rainbow but getting mud? To avoid the “mud” in your art, play with different colors but know when to call it a day.

great way to keep your colors fresh is by working in layers. Let each layer dry before adding a new layer. It’s like waiting for your nail polish to dry before adding another coat.

Let’s mix it up with watercolors. Think of them as the polite guests at the party.

They blend nicely, creating soft backgrounds or bold statements, depending on what you want. The trick is not to drown them. Use just enough water to get them moving.

Benefits of Using Oil Pastels and Watercolors Together

Diving into the world of art, you’ve likely heard about oil pastels and watercolors.

Maybe you’ve even used them separately. Now, consider this: mixing them in one art project.

Sounds like fun, right? It’s like having the best of both worlds. Let’s explore why pairing these two can be a game changer for your artwork.

Color Combinations

With oil pastels and watercolors, you get to play with colors in ways you never thought possible.

Oil pastels bring in boldness and clarity, while watercolors offer a gentle touch. When you layer oil pastels on watercolor paper and add a splash of watercolor paints, magic happens.

You can create soft backgrounds with watercolors, then add sharp details or white highlights with oil pastels.

This mix lets you dive into a sea of different colors, making your art pop. Think about painting a sunset.

Use watercolors for the smooth, blending sky and oil pastels to outline fluffy, crisp clouds. It’s a simple yet effective way to bring contrast and depth to your artwork.

Beginning with a white oil pastel can jazz up your project, too. Draw your design with the white pastel on your watercolor paper first.

When you brush over it with watercolors, the pastel lines will resist the paint and shine through. This trick is perfect for hidden messages or surprise elements in your art.

Unique Textural Effects

Let’s touch on the textures. Oil pastels are creamy and thick. They slide on the paper, leaving a tactile feeling under your fingers.

On the flip side, watercolors are all about flow. They merge and mingle, creating smooth transitions. By using both, you introduce a contrast in texture that can make your artwork intriguing.

For example, picture painting sand dunes. First, lay down some soft pastels or watercolor paints for the base.

Then, to mimic the gritty texture of sand, add layers with oil pastels. This technique breathes life into your dunes, making them feel almost real enough to touch.

Another fun texture trick is the resist technique, where oil pastels push away watercolors, letting you play with light and shadow without mixing into mud.

This is great for creating water droplets on leaves, shiny stars in the night sky, or reflections in water.

Other Considerations

Environmental Considerations

Many art supplies, including some pastels and paints, contain chemicals and materials that can be harmful to the environment.

Opting for eco-friendly alternatives, such as watercolors and pastels made from natural pigments and sustainable resources, can significantly reduce this impact. 

Artists should be mindful of the disposal of these materials. 

Washing oil pastel residue down the sink can introduce oils and potentially toxic pigments into water systems, while proper disposal methods can mitigate these effects.

By choosing environmentally friendly brands and being conscientious about how art materials are used and disposed of, artists can enjoy their craft while minimizing their ecological footprint. 

This not only benefits the planet but also supports the health and safety of the artist and the wider community, encouraging a more sustainable art practice.

Health and Safety Tips

When working with oil pastels and watercolors, pay attention to health and safety labels. Both oil pastels and watercolors are generally safe, but they can pose risks if not handled properly. 

Oil pastels are often made with a petroleum-based binder, ensure you work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling any fumes.

While watercolors are usually less toxic, some pigments can contain harmful chemicals. Always check the labels for non-toxic certification and think about wearing gloves if you have sensitive skin or if you’re using products with known irritants. 

Also, avoid eating or drinking near your work area to prevent accidental ingestion of materials as some might be floating around in dust form.

Keeping your workspace clean and organized can also help prevent accidents, such as spills or the accidental ingestion of small pieces. 

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