How to Use Oil Pastels: 14 Great Oil Pastel Techniques for Beginners or Experts

Oil pastels are a drawing and painting medium that consists of finely ground pigment mixed with a binder made of non-drying oils and wax formed into sticks. This composition gives them a soft and creamy texture and their shape makes them very easy to apply and use. They work amazingly on pretty much any surface, are easy to blend and have super vibrant colors which make them perfect to create different types of artwork like portraits, landscapes, still life paintings and abstract art.

Oil pastels are suitable for artists of all levels, they’re very easy to use and work with and since they don’t require any setup or drying times they’re great for beginners, additionally given their capacity of building texture and depth in a piece as well as the multiple techniques you can use with oil pastels, they’re also great for intermediate and advanced artists. They are also extremely versatile and can be used for several different techniques including scumbling, sgraffito and impasto.

1. Heavy Pressure Blending

Heavy Pressure Blending Technique Oil Pastels

 

Heavy Pressure Blending consists of applying a strong, firm pressure to blend colors directly on the drawing surface. By forcefully (but not so much that you break the pastel bar) pressing the pastel against the paper to mix and smoothe the colors together, you get a nice color blend with a smooth but interesting texture.

This technique creates vibrant color transitions with a painterly effect, is useful as well to fill solid blocks of colors, create smooth background areas and is also used to build dark value areas in certain areas of your composition. You can also use it to soften edges and give your painting a cohesive appearance.

This technique is good for beginners as it doesn’t require any precise control, but it does require practice in order to achieve the more advanced effects of the technique for portrait painting and working in detail.

2. Light Pressure Blending

Light Pressure Blending Technique Oil Pastels

Light pressure blending is a technique where we use a light, delicate pressure to barely apply the pastel on top of our paper or painting surface, and then apply a second color, softly dragging it across to show the texture and color beneath, allowing the colors to lightly mix without fully merging. This technique keeps the paper visible and relies more on an optical mixing side of the color blending techniques than “blending” per-se.

This technique is ideal for creating subtle transitions in areas where a subtle color change is needed, it’s also great for enhancing the texture of the paper and to create ethereal effects on the painting.

This technique is recommended for intermediate and advanced artists, since it requires more control and practice to maintain the consistency of light pressure without over blending.

3. Color Mixing

Color Mixing Technique Oil Pastels

Color mixing consists of mixing the colors directly on the surface of the paper by applying them on top of each other or pre-mixing them on a separate palette beforehand with a palette knife to achieve different colors and effects.

This technique is great to get colors that were not available in the premade sticks, to create smooth color transitions and to use the same mix in different areas without having to do it all over again.

This technique is great for artists of all levels as it helps beginners develop their color mixing abilities while intermediate and advanced artists can use this technique to achieve specific artistic effects and explore more sophisticated blends.

4. Stippling

Stippling Technique Oil Pastels

Stippling consists of applying oil pastels in small dots on the surface of the canvas, they can be regular and have a pattern or be completely irregular and random. This method involves lightly or strongly pressing the pastel on top of the paper and creating small marks on it rather than lines and blends. this with the intention of building colors and texture through the accumulation of these dots.

These are great for depicting surfaces like sand, gravel, foliage, or other textured materials in a drawing, as well as to create optical color mixing effects without actually doing any blending or mixing on the paper.

This technique is great for beginners to experiment with texture and basic optical mixing, and for intermediate and advanced artists since it requires patience and a good understanding of how colors interact visually from a distance.

5. Scumbling

Scumbling Technique Oil Pastels

Scrolling is a technique that consists of lightly applying layers of color by loosely “scribbling” with a broken, uneven motion over an already established layer of color.

This technique is great for adding visual interest to a work, allowing the base layer to peek through. Can also be used to mute or soften colors and to create atmospheric effects like mist, fog or to paint clouds.

Scrolling is great for beginners since it’s relatively easy to pick up, though more advanced artists will be able to use the technique for more advanced uses since it requires an understanding of how oil pastels behave, how different colors and textures interact in a composition.

6. Sgraffito

Sgraffito Technique Oil Pastels

Sgraffito is a painting technique that involves layering one or more colors thickly and then scratching through the top layers to reveal the colors underneath, this scratching is often done with a pointed tool like a palette knife, a stylus, a toothpick or even the back of a brush.

This technique is great to add visual interest to artworks by contrasting the smooth, blended areas with rough, etched lines or shapes, it’s excellent for adding details or patterns to catch the viewer’s eye, and to produce dramatic effects, especially when bright colors are used beneath dark layers or when working with toned paper.

Sgraffito is great for beginners, as they can experiments the physical properties and limitations of oil pastels while “playing” with elements like texture and color, while for advanced artists is a great way to add details to their art, add complex textures and work with artist grade oil pastels to their full potential.

7. Oil Mixing

Oil Mixing Technique Oil Pastels

Oil mixing is a technique that reminds us a lot of oil painting, consisting of incorporating additional oil, typically in the form of mineral oil, linseed oil, or baby oil to alter the pastels consistency and improve their blendability, and sometimes even make them workable with brushes.

This technique is great for achieving smooth blending effects, as it breaks the wax binder in the pastels making them creamier and easier to spread. This technique also increases the transparency of the pastels, just like with oil paintings, allowing you to work with glaze-like effects.

The use of oil also intensifies the pigments in oil pastels, which become more saturated and deep, increasing the visual depth of the composition

While this technique can be tried out by beginners, we recommend it for intermediate and advanced artists who know to control the oil amounts to be used, the fluidity of the medium and who have experience with oil painting and have worked with similar mediums before.

8. Watercolor effects

Watercolor Effect Oil Pastels

Achieving watercolor effects with oil pastels involves using a technique where you thin down the pastels with a solvent then apply them onto your surface with a brush. This method is quite different from traditional watercolor painting but can produce similar visual qualities like transparency and fluidity.

How to Obtain Watercolor Effects with Oil Pastels:

You will need oil pastels, a solvent (such as baby oil, mineral spirits, or turpentine), and a painting surface suitable for oil pastels and wet media. Draw with the oil pastels on your surface. You don’t need to fill every area completely; just lay down the colors where you want them.

Using a brush, apply your chosen solvent over the oil pastels, the solvent will dissolve the pastel’s binder and allow the pigment to spread and seep into the surface, similar to watercolor. Use the brush to blend and spread the colors. You can adjust the amount of solvent to control the transparency and fluidity of the effect. Once the first layer dries, you can add more layers on top to build depth or detail, just like with traditional watercolors.

This technique is great for creating soft backgrounds, light washes of color and mist effects. We recommend this technique to intermediate and advanced artists who have worked with oil paints before and know how to handle, clean and control the amount of solvent/oil used to thin down the pastels, as well as all the safety measures needed before using solvents and oils.

9. Glazing

Glazing Technique Oil Pastels

Glazing is a technique where thin layers of color are applied over other layers to adjust the hue, value or saturation without completely covering the painting beneath. The technique consists of scraping some of the oil pastel bar onto a palette and mixing it with a solvent to create a thinner, lighter version of the pastel which is then carefully applied with a soft brush to avoid disrupting the other layers.

This technique is recommended for intermediate and advanced artists who can control the solvent amount, the brush pressure to avoid disrupting the layers underneath and who know their way around color theory and color manipulation with glazes.

10. Mixed Media

Mixed Media Oil Pastels

Mixed media is a technique that involves combining various materials and methods within a single art piece. This can include mediums like watercolors, soft pastels, acrylics, gouache, ink, pencils, and oil pastels, along with fabric, wood, etc. There’s no limits to what you can make with this technique and given that oil pastels work on pretty much any surface, you can create physical and visual texture that adds depth and interest to your art.

By combining mediums with different inherent qualities (e.g., matte charcoal versus glossy acrylics) you can achieve various effects and add contrast to your work, plus oil pastels work great for adding texture and color to any surface and medium.

This technique is great for beginner, intermediate and advanced artists as it allows for a wide range of expression and creativity where beginner artists can incorporate personal symbols, text, and imagery that resonate with them personally or thematically, while more advanced artists can use mixed media to challenge their technical skills and conceptual ideas.

11. Masking

Masking is a technique used across various mediums and forms of art that consits of covering or protecting specific areas in a piece , by using a masking liquid or a low/tack tape so that artists can work freely on other parts of the piece without worrying over edges or overlapping colors. It’s great for negative space painting, to preserve edges and borders, and to work on pieces that have complex layers.

This technique is great for beginners since it’s a very forgiving technique and will allow them to experiment with shapes and layers, and for advanced users who can utilize masking for complex, multi-layered pieces, it offers a precise level of control over the details and can be crucial for some pieces that have intricate designs or complex shapes.

12. Wax Resist

Wax resist is a technique used primarily in watercolors that allows you to use oil pastels and other wax-based materials, like crayon, candles, etc to repel water or a water-based medium. The waxed areas repel the water, allowing the original surface or the wax color to show through.

This technique is great for creating contrasting effects between the areas painted with watercolors and the sections protected by the wax, it can be a good method to add highlights or light details and can be useful to create patterns when layered with different colors.

Wax resists is great for beginners to experiment with negative painting and to add details and sections of light without requiring precise control. This technique is also used by experienced artists with a bit more control and in mixed media artworks.

13. Flat Edge

Flat Edge Oil Pastels

Flat edge in oil pastels involves using the broad, flat side of the oil pastel stick instead of the small tip, this allows the artist to cover a broader area with a more uniform application and creates a different visual effect, rougher, and even more pronounced when using textured paper.

This technique is great for covering large areas or backgrounds where a solid color field is needed, especially if oils are going to be used to uniformize the texture. it can also create smooth transitions between colors and be a more uniform way to apply color and texture to your work.

This technique is very beginner friendly, although it requires a level of pressure control so that the colors are applied uniformly and the pastel bar doesn’t break while applying the color.

14. Directional Lines

Directional lines in art refer to when the artist draws lines to guide the viewer’s eye around the composition, to suggest movement, or to enhance the structural elements of the artwork. These lines can be literal lines or implied lines.

These lines are great for creating motion effects, making images appear dynamic, adding depth to a piece and making a flat image appear three-dimensional.

This technique is key for beginners as it helps them understand and apply the foundations of composition and helps them learn how to guide the viewer’s eye in their works, and for more advanced artists, these lines can be used to create different, more sophisticate effects, manipulating perspective, creating illusions or adding texture to their art.

Best Oil Pastel Techniques for Beginners

The best oil pastel techniques for beginner artists are heavy pressure blending, scumbling and stippling.  These techniques are really easy to pick up, easy to control, and offer instant results that are useful in the early stages and late stages of the painting process. Experimenting with these techniques can provide a strong foundation in oil pastels making it easier to explore more challenging techniques as you progress.

Best Oil Pastel Brand for Beginners

The best oil pastel brand for beginners is the Harbor Art Supplies Studio Starter Oil Pastels.  It is a high quality, inexpensive, and very blendable oil pastel that works well for beginners that are just starting out.

To read more about our product recommendations, see our full guide on the Best Oil Pastels.

Best Oil Pastel Techniques for Intermediate Artists

The best oil pastel techniques for intermediate artists are color mixing, oil Mixing and layering. These techniques are more complex and require a higher level of control and experience. They allow intermediate artists to push the boundaries of oil pastels while also exploring them in order to create more sophisticated works. These techniques will also be useful to help understand oil pastels’ full potential and how it can influence their personal style.

Best Oil Pastel Brand for Intermediate Artists

The best Oil Pastel Brand for Intermediate artist is the Harbor Art Supplies Elite Artisan Collection.  This brand provide a combination of quality and value that we believe is the best option for most artists.

To read more about our product recommendations, see our full guide on the Best Oil Pastels.

Best Oil Pastel Techniques for Experts

The best oil pastel techniques for expert artists are advanced layering and glazing, precision masking, and mixed media.  These techniques are where artists can push the medium to its limits that require a deep understanding of color, texture, and composition.

How to Use Oil Pastels on Paper

Using Oil Pastels on paper involves careful selection of the specific type of paper to use, and what painting techniques to use.  See section below for more information:

What Paper to Use for Oil Pastels

You can definitely use oil pastels on paper, and even though you can use them in any kind of paper, your experience with them and the techniques you can use will change quite a lot depending on what type of paper you use. If possible, always opt for pastel paper or paper that is at least 160 gsm (grams per square meter). Heavier papers are recommended for techniques where you use multiple layers, oils or solvents since they’ll resist buckling when you apply them.

The texture of the paper is also important, as the tooth will allow the pastels to adhere better to the paper, plus it’ll show through when working lightly giving your work a nice effect. The color is also important, beginners will benefit from working with toned papers, as having an established value can help overcome the white canvas fear, and improve the light and dark perception.

Oil Pastel Techniques for Paper

When using paper, you can always draw directly on it, use layering techinques, soft and high pressure blending, sgrafitto and oil mixing always considering the thickness of the paper and letting the paper dry in-between applications.

How to Use Oil Pastels on Canvas

Using Oil Pastels on Canvas paper involves careful preparation of the canvas use, and what painting techniques to use.  See section below for more information:

Preparing the Canvas

While stretched canvas can be used with oil pastels, the elasticity of the canvas will make certain techniques like heavy pressure blending and finger blending a bit of a nightmare, so we don’t recommend them despite being the go-to surface for fine art.

We recommend you try canvas boards instead, which will give you more support for your painting and will allow you to use pretty much any technique you want. Always remember to prep your canvas with a layer of gesso beforehand, this gives the canvas a slightly textured surface which is ideal for oil pastels.

Oil Pastel Techniques for Canvas

When painting on canvas you can use several techniques, including leayering, oil mixing, palette mixing, masking, sgrafitto, impasto, and even solvent blending with ease and without fear of the paper breaking or getting damaged.

How to Use Oil Pastels on Watercolor Paper

Using Oil Pastels on Watercolor paper involves careful selection of the specific type of paper to use, and what painting techniques to use.  See section below for more information:

What Watercolor Paper to Use for Oil Pastels

Watercolor paper is one of the best choices for oil pastels given their weight, different textures, sizing and absorbency. We reccomend you to opt for a heavier paper to ensure it can withstand the pressure of applying the pastels without tearing. A weight of 140 lbs (300 gsm) or more would be ideal.

Oil Pastel Techniques for Watercolor Paper

With watercolor paper you can use techniques like soft and high pressure blending, layering, oil mixing, maksing, sgrafitto, mixed media techniques, etc. The thicker the paper, the more tehcnique you’ll be able to use, and since watercolor paper’s textured surface is particularly good for holding the pigment from oil pastels, you’ll be able to paint withut worrying about the paper tearing or breaking.

How to Layer Oil Pastels?

To layer oil pastels, start with a light base layer, try to apply it uniformly and then progressively build additional layers of color, you can blend using your fingers, blending stumps, or solvents, and then add details and depth in darker tones for contrast.

The first thing that should be done while using oil pastels for layering is to spread a thin layer of color as a base. This establishes the mood and serves as a solid base on which other layers will follow. As you proceed to add each layer, you can decide, how high the pressure and the colour intensity is. This way, the artwork is enriched, and its depth, texture and color density can be effectively built up.

Mixing is one of the most important stages when layering oil pastels. It can be done by using your fingers, using blending stumps or using solvents such as mineral spirits or baby oil. With these techniques, the textures of different layers can be blended together, making them transition smoothly from one color to another, this helps the final result to look more uniform. As you approach the final stages of your work, adding details and deepening contrasts becomes crucial. Introduce darker shades and refine the edges for more definition and to increase the visual impact of your work.

Where to Learn more about Oil Pastels

You can learn more about Oil Pastels, including their history, composition, and artwork, in our comprehensive guide on Oil Pastels.

FAQs about Using Oil Pastels

Can You Paint Over Oil Pastels?

Technically speaking, yes you can, however we don’t reccomend it since oil pastels are a not-drying meidum, the adherence of other waterbased and oil-based mediums will not be good at all, plus oil pastels are also not the best base for oil paintings.

Can You Use Oil Pastels on Canvas?

Absolutely! Oil pastels can be used effectively on canvas, particularly canvases that are primed for oil paint. We do reccomedn using canvas boards instead of stretched canvas if you’re planning on using heavy blending techniques.

Can You Use Oil Pastels with Oil Paint?

Yes, oil pastels can be used with oil paint, you can apply them over dried oil paint for highlights, details, or to add texture to your work.

Can You Use Oil Pastels On Watercolor Paper

Yes, watercolor paper is an excellent choice for oil pastels. The texture of watercolor paper holds the pastel well and is sturdy enough to withstand the pressure from applying the pastels.

What Can You Use To Blend Oil Pastels

You can use your fingers, blending stumps, q-tips, paper tissue or paper towels, cotton pads or cloths, brushes with oil or mineral spirits, turpentine, etc.

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