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How To Use Oil Pastels

Updated on October 22, 2011

Oil pastels are mostly associated with cheap wax crayons and that’s the main reason of non-popularity of oil pastels. But oil pastels create a unique artwork. Pastels contain more oil than an ordinary wax crayon.

The wax crayons are less durable and dull than the oil pastels. Some people consider oil pastels as crayon but they are much smoother and brighter than crayons. They are very easy to blend too. Many of the artists love to use crayons for their paintings for it’s easy to use.

If you don’t want to put oil into your painting, oil pastels are the best choice. Because of being less messy and convenient, oil pastels are good enough for beginners. Oil pastels are also best for the people who like to draw and sketch outdoors because they can be easily carried to any place in just a small box. 

Oil pastels can be mixed with other media too, to bring a unique form of artwork. Some artists use them as the final layer after using water colors, gauche and acrylics.

Choosing Oil Pastels

As a first step towards, using oil pastels for your art work, you must choose oil pastels from the market. There is a vast variety and a range of brands of oil pastels present in the market, but that’s nothing to worry about.

Any brand rather than a student grade one will be fine to get started with. Choose a set of 24 colors to start your work. As you will move further, and gain more experience, you will identify the brand which fulfils your requirements.

Choosing A Canvas

After choosing oil pastels you must now think of the canvas.

As the variety of pastels, paper also has a variety.

Some artists prefer to choose heavy grade pastel paper which comes with a tooth and grips the tint of the pastels.

Some people also use the simple paper.

Sketch the subject of your picture with a light and soft lead pencil.

Make it sure not to notch the surface, as pigments will not get into the notched surface as well as it could get into the rest of the canvas.

Using Pastels To Enrich Your Picture

You have already drawn your picture on the canvas. Now use the main color, for the respective area, to go over the pencil lines or to highlight that area. Square sticks are more likely used to draw finer lines.

Layering is the technique of using pastels. The first layer should be very light and transparent. Now put a very thin layer of the dark color as you have planned to figure. Create layer upon layers. Now keep adding different colors, it will build up the layers and enrich the colors.

Don’t add to many layers as it will make the surface of the paper muddy because the tooth of the paper will not be able to grasp that much pastel.

You can cover up from a mistake like this by wiping out the extra color with the cloth wrapped around your index finger or with a sandpaper. Scrapping the extra color can also be done with the blending stick as it has pointed tip.

As you add layers it will become easier to blend. Heat of your hand will blend the color more finely and make the picture more similar to a painting. Brushes with a small amount of turpentine also make the pastels melt and blend. A cotton bud can also be used for blending the colors.

Draw in small details, for that you can use a blending stick. As oil pastels are a fat tool and are unable to draw sharp points so the blending sticks would be helpful in this stance, for they can be used easily to draw small and sharp details.

Finishing Up With Your Painting

To finish up with your painting you have to wait for the painting to harden and settle well on the canvas. The time for hardening of painting varies with to the number of layers used. You can also add fixative to increase the life of your painting.


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    • profile image

      Elianna Sokoloff age eight 

      21 months ago

      I love the oil pastel how to, it really helped

    • profile image

      Tecktonik Man 

      8 years ago

      Great explanation. excellent and thanks.

    • profile image


      8 years ago from CT, USA

      good explanation on the use of oil pastels for beginners. thanks for sharing.


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