Artists & Illustrators

Advice for working in oil pastel



Oil pastel is made from similar ingredient­s to oil paint and good quality pastels can be thinned with the same solvents and mediums. Rather than smudging in the way that you might with soft pastels, you can use solvents like Sansodor, turps or Zest-It to liquify the pastel on a primed surface or add drying oils to make it behave in a more painterly way. It can even be combined with oil paint in a mixed media piece.


The natural stickiness of oil pastel will help it adhere to most surfaces, making it ideal to use on unconventi­onal supports like cardboard, metal, wood or stone. On paper it will pick up the texture of the surface and is best applied to a heavier paper so that the pressure required to make a mark doesn’t tear the support. If you plan to scrape the surface back, the paper texture will appear more pronounced. Additional­ly, if you intend to use a solvent or painting medium with the pastels, you’ll rst need to prime the surface with gesso.

Oil pastel remains pliable after being applied and it is best to store drawings separately or within mounts that stop them touching and sticking to one another. I wouldn’t advise using oil pastels in a sketchbook, but if you do, slip a piece of greaseproo­f paper between the pages to protect them. Oil pastel doesn’t harden as much as oil paint, and while the surface may become rmer with time, it will not have the resilience of a painted surface; some art material suppliers sell specialist oil pastel xative which will help protect your drawing, but it isn’t a critical necessity.


Used on its own, oil pastel has a waxy texture and you’ll nd that repeated marks will drag the medium into bobbles on the surface of the support. While the pastel can’t easily be erased, it can be scraped back and you can use a palette knife or razor blade to carefully take o the top layer of pastel, leaving a thin layer behind as a ground for further mark-making. On a su ciently durable support you can even use a sharp implement to scratch back into the drawing to reveal the ground below.


While oil pastel is a painterly medium, it is still predominan­tly a drawing tool. Embrace the duality of the medium, using it to build up painterly layers in some places and to make more draftsmanl­y marks in others. Explore how varying your pressure will create a variety of line weights and how rolling your pastel onto its broad edge can push that variety even further.


As they leave so much of themselves behind with every mark, oil pastels wear down quickly and it is a good idea to keep a stock of your favourite colours to hand to avoid running out at a critical moment. The pastels become softer in warm weather, with the warmth of your hand weakening the sticks over the course of a drawing. To keep them rm, put the pastels in the fridge between drawings and support the paper sheath by wrapping it around with masking tape. While they can’t be sharpened, you’ll want to keep some scrap paper nearby so that you can rub the pastel tip on it, shaping and cleaning it at the same time.

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Oil pastel on smooth, unprimed paper and on textured oil painting paper
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