Let’s Talk About Oil Pastels

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Do you want a new medium that’s not messy, is highly transportable, safe and doesn’t require a lot of paraphernalia?

One that’s different from all the rest?

If that simple fantasy will make your day, then it may be time to try out oil pastels.

A Little Bit Of Background

Oil pastels are relative newcomers to the art world. The first oil pastels were created in the early part of the 20th century as a drawing medium for students. Pablo Picasso approached his friend, paint manufacturer Henri Sennelier, to come up with a version of the product that would satisfy the needs and demands of the professional artist.

And so, on the whim of a well-known and somewhat controversial artists, the professional, high quality oil pastel was born.

What Are Oil Pastels?

Unlike French pastels, which are dry and dusty, oil pastels contain wax binder and oil to keep them from drying out. They don’t so much dry as harden. A fine coating of oil pastel will harden relatively quickly, but a thick application may take months to harden permanently.

This slow curing process makes it easy to dawdle over your work. You can leave a painting in progress and come back to complete or tweak your masterpiece.

What Support Is Used For Oil Pastels?

Oil pastels are great to use on a variety of surfaces. They’re sort of like acrylics in that regard. Not only can you use them on paper and canvas, you can paint with them on wood, metal, sanded paper, stone or glass.

A great support to use as a beginning pastel artist is a toned or colored paper. Use a heavy weight paper, as a thin support will bleed oil through and can’t stand up to heavy applications of color and the associated blending that’s required.

The more tooth the support has, the easier it is to build up thick layers of pigment. Cold press watercolor paper is fine, or you can purchase pastel drawing paper.

How Do I Apply And Blend The Pigment?

Pastel sticks don’t lend themselves to fine detail work, so think of your work in terms of strong, impressionistic designs. As you become adept with your medium, you may develop the ability to create more realistic work, but don’t set yourself up for disappointment by trying to replicate a composition down to the last detail.

You can build up layers of color and blend new colors directly on the support to give a rich, velvety appearance to your painting. Use a tortillion, your fingertips, a bit of cloth or a paper towel to gently blend your colors together and blur or define edges.

You can also use a solvent like turpenoid to blend your pigments. Either dip your crayon into the turpenoid and then apply the color to the support, or apply the turpenoid to your paper before painting with the pastel.

Scraping and scoring the pigments with an old credit card, a palette knife or assorted other pointed instruments is yet another way to manipulate your work.

How Do I Preserve My Oil Pastel Painting?

Although the pigment hardens and forms a crust over time, it is rather delicate. You may apply a fixative to the surface of your painting, and when it is completely cured, you can add an additional layer of protection by coating it with a spray varnish.

If you’re planning on framing your work, frame it under glass like a watercolor. And, just like a watercolor, you should never allow the painting to touch the glass. It should be matted, or if you don’t want a mat, you should insert spacers between the glass and the surface of your painting.

Oil pastel is a great, portable medium that doesn’t require a lot of supplies or tools. It’s perfect for plein air painting, and you can start and stop as often as you like. If you’re looking for a new way to express yourself, pick up a set of oil pastels and give them a try – you’ll enjoy this simple and satisfying medium and may discover a new, favorite way to make art.

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