How to Use Oil Pastels

Oil pastel is a favorite material of many. But the most frequent disappointments are also associated with oil pastel. When newbies buy pastels for the first time, they confuse dry and oil pastels, so they are completely disappointed in this material. Before we tell you how to paint with oil pastels, let’s discuss the main distinguishing features of the materials.

How to Use Oil Pastels: Features

children draw family with oil pastels

Oil pastels are characterized by a soft texture and an intense oily palette. They are used in painting and graphics, where the medium has characteristics similar to pastels:

  • Unlike “soft” or “Japanese” pastel sticks made with methylcellulose, oil crayons are made up of pigment mixed with a non-drying oil and wax binder.
  • Pictures and drawings have a less mealy surface but are difficult to protect with fixatives.
  • Oil pastel provide a harder edge than “soft” or “French” crayons, are difficult to mix but are diluted with solvents, and do not require a fixer.
  • They use wax and inert oils as a binder – as a result, paintings and drawings do not turn yellow and have excellent adhesion to paper, cardboard, plywood, and other materials.
  • They are completely acid-free and never harden or crack.
  • Oil crayons are used on any paper, rigid support (wood, hardboard, metal, MDF, glass), or canvas – without technical restrictions, which gives the artist complete freedom of expression while maintaining storage stability.

What is the Difference between Oil Pastel and Dry Pastel?

These types of pastels have different binders. Oil pastels are crayons made up of pigment and an oil base. Dry pastel is a soft graphic material with a chalk base and is available in crayons or pencils.

An oil pastel drawing will always be bright; unlike a dry pastel, oil pastel painting does not require fixing. Oil pastel never dry completely, and at high temperatures or in the sun, they can even melt. Therefore, it is essential to store pastels in the shade.

In drawing with dry pastels, colors mix by rubbing the colors on paper. With oil pastels, you should act differently – apply several layers of strokes (oil pastels have a high level of layering), or gently mix one color into another with a warm fingertip. However, you still cannot achieve perfect shading.

Textured paper is suitable for work in both cases, and you can even paint on canvas with oil pastels. Of the auxiliary materials, you need to have alcohol with you, which cleans your hands well after working with pastels.

How to Draw with Oil Pastels

draw house with oil pastels

To work, you need the still life itself. Set it up so that there is good contrast lighting and a sufficient distance from your easel. Prepare a pencil, the paints themselves, paper. It is best to take colored rough cardboard or velvet paper. Someone prefers sandpaper. In any case, for a draft drawing, you will need ordinary white paper. Is everything ready? Let’s get started:

Draw a still life drawing with a pencil on a sheet of paper the same size as you will create on your canvas.

Circle with chalk all the lines of the resulting drawing on the back of the sheet. To do this, you can use window glass. Attach the sheet with a pattern to the window, and it will shine through from the other side. The drawing will disappear from view when you circle all the lines with chalk.

Now transfer the drawing to the selected surface of the future picture. To do this, we circle the pencil drawing again, attaching it to the surface with a chalk part. Here you can use a fountain pen or colored pencil not to forget to circle all the lines.

We begin to apply the main colors of all large surfaces of the still life. To see how a color will change or how it will look on a colored canvas, use a piece of the same material as a palette.

We apply additional shades and rub them on the surface. Someone does it with a finger, a palette knife, and someone with a piece of ordinary newspaper.

Detail Drawing:

The most time-consuming and exciting process. Here, various techniques used, including washing with a thinner.

When you finish drawing, do not forget to take care of its safety. Fasten and place under glass – this is simply a must if you want it to hang in the Hermitage in a few years.

By learning how to draw with pastels, you will increase your potential and expand the range of artistic techniques for future creativity. Don’t be afraid to learn new things! Perhaps this is what you have been looking for in the fine arts for so long. Oil pastels are waiting for you.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Oil Pastels

Oil pastels have pros and cons compared to other painting media and other types of pastels. Its traditional advantages include the following, which the child will appreciate:

The ability to draw literally on any surface, since a special composition successfully “clings” to many materials, including paper, wood, metal, and glass surfaces, as well as fabric.

In this regard, parents should be more attentive to the organization of the creative process; otherwise, the whole apartment will outline!

Oil pastels resist drying out, are always fresh, and are soft enough to require little effort from a child to draw. Such chalk also almost never cracks, so it is very convenient to store it for a long time.

Unlike many other types of pastel, the oil version does not need a fixer – because of its fat content; it is already well absorbing into the surface, which makes it possible not to process the surface of the drawing after completion of work.

The colors of pastels are very bright and picturesque, reminiscent of traditional oil painting, although they are performing in a completely different technique. Even the inept first attempts of the baby are very colorful and exciting, which only contributes to the further passion for drawing.

Most pastels are completely safe for the child, which allows parents not to worry about the baby’s health.

There are no obvious shortcomings that would repel children from drawing with pastels, so the arguments below will be of interest only to those children who have already reached a certain level of skill in the visual arts and are looking for tools with strictly defined properties.

So, you Can Criticize Oil Pastel for the Following Features:

  • Although the oil pastel drawing does not require any special fixation, it can be difficult to protect it with additional means (for example, accidental moisture). Most fasteners are not suitable for this purpose. This requires particular substances, and another question is whether they will spoil the creative idea.
  • Oil pastel virtually eliminates the possibility of mixing existing colors to obtain new shades. It is impossible to do this outside the surface of the pattern due to the hardness of the material and applied to paper or another base; it simply overlaps with a new color.
  • Oil pastels are characterizing by a rather hard edge, which helps draw clear outlines but creates problems for drawing blurry outlines.
  • In general, oil pastel is a good material for children’s creativity. Still, at more serious stages of mastering the art of drawing, it can use at least as an additional element.

How to Seal Oil Pastels

Since oil pastels will never dry completely, they should seal when finished. After four light coats, it protects your oil pastels from smudges, scratches, and dust. It has a glossy surface and is entirely transparent, so it does not change the picture’s color. This makes the painting feel dry, creating a barrier layer on top of the oil pastel painting.

There are other brands, but you should test them before applying them to the finished painting. Some may slightly change color or interact with the type of paper or brand of pastel you are using. Be sure to follow the directions on the can and only spray in a well-ventilated area.

For maximum protection of your oil pastel, you should place it behind glass or plexiglass.

Can Oil Stick, Oil Pastel, and Oil Paint be Used Together?

Oil sticks, oil pastels, and oil paints can all use together, but if you’re interested in archival quality, there are some guidelines you should follow.

Oil sticks, oil pastels, and oil paints are compatible, but mix media is best if one medium is dominant and other media are using as accents or details. This will help the structural integrity of the product.

If oil sticks or oil pastels are using as the first layer, use them subtly as a base or pattern for an oil painting. Use the colors that you will use in the painting. When you are painting with oil paint, the medium in the oil paint will help dissolve the oil pastel or oil stick and blend it into the oil paint.

Because oil pastel never dries completely, it should usually use as a detail or accent color, either with thin oil paint to dissolve into the paint or over-dried oil paint. Oil paint should not apply over thick oil pastels because oil pastels will never dry completely and remain workable and unstable, which can cause the oil paint layer to crack and peel off.

You can combine oil pastels and oil sticks, especially if you use oil pastels for final details and accents. It is possible to combine both media when wet, although archiving quality will reduce. The ratio between oil pastel and oil stick, i.e., the paint, will affect drying, so you may need to place the last piece under glass or plastic.

Oil sticks can easily use with oil paints because they are pencil-shape. However, you should consider them “fatter” than paints due to their wax content. They will dissolve in any media and thinners you usually use with oil paint.

7 Different Techniques for Transforming Your Oil Pastel Projects

multiple color oil pastel

Maybe you always felt like you were demonstrating techniques the wrong way, which made your students’ work look like they were using simple colored pencils. Well, fear not! Here are seven techniques that will impress your students the next time you dig through oil pastels.

Strong Pressure Mixing

Apply oil pastel liberally in one direction onto the paper. Layer complementary colors on top to create a rich blended look. Experiment with black or white pastels for darkening and highlighting effects. Here is a small tutorial that uses this technique.

Light Pressure Blending

Lightly apply the oil pastel to the paper with slight pressure. Stack more colors to get different values ​​or even other shades.

Mixing Colors

Apply a rich layer of oil pastel, and then layer another color on top (try the primary colors first). Continue mixing/overlaying additional colors to achieve the desired hue. Students could practice this technique while creating drawings of nature.


Create a dot print effect on paper with small, interrupted strokes. Add additional colors for depth in your technique.


Apply controlled scratches to the oil pastel. Create additional layers of different colors to achieve the desired texture and color.


Lay two thick layers of oil pastels on the overlapping paper. Using a paper clip or wooden stylus, scratch or scrape off the lines that reveal the color underneath.


With a cotton swab dipped in baby oil, smooth out the oil pastel to get a blended color or paper. Let dry overnight.

Try these techniques the next time you use oil pastels in your class. You and your students will surprise by the flexibility of this adaptable material.

More Oil Pastel Painting Ideas

After you’ve tried oil pastel painting on your own and experimented with how it works and how fun it is, you can try combining it with other art techniques.

Pencil Resists and Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are great for painting to resist because they are so waxy and lay down beautifully and thickly. You can also use the same pencil resist technique for your oil pastel paintings.

Once you’ve finished your drawing and turned the oil pastel into the paint, paint over it with watercolors for a super cool look. You can also use liquid watercolors or water-based food coloring for a similar effect.

Doodle / Doodle and Oil Pastels

We love creating giant collaborative doodles. This is a fun way for kids of all ages to work together on an art project, and it’s also a great technique for painting with oil pastels.

Start by drawing with a permanent marker all over the page. You can use a large sheet of paper and work together, or it’s fun to do it on a regular size sheet too.

Now fill in all the shapes and spaces created by the oil pastel drawing and add some oil to the paint. The colors will mix and slide to fill in all the scribbles, shapes, and spaces on the paper.

What to Look for When Choosing an Oil Pastel?

It is challenging for a novice artist to choose “his” oil pastel, with which he can make all his dreams come true. At first glance, it may seem that it is enough to take the one with more flowers, but in fact, not everything is so simple.

First, I want to warn you that all oil pastels are conditionally divided into artists and amateurs. The first group will have “artist” in its name, and the second one will have “student” in its name. But not all boxes labeled “artist” live up to expectations.

What to look for when choosing? Here is the main question, and the answer lies in the nuances. Quality crayons must meet the following criteria:

  • covering character, that is, light colors should overlap darker ones when applied to paper;
  • good pigmentation, that is, the color is bright, saturated, and opaque;
  • when creating a drawing, it should not crumble;
  • the degree of hardness of the crayon can be different, and it is better to start with medium, not quite hard, but not too soft;
  • the ability to shade the color.


Although oil pastel is already a subspecies of pastel, it can be classified according to certain criteria with careful study. Due to the relatively small number of parameters, all its varieties are relatively similar, but such differences are striking to professional artists.

First of all, it is worth noting that although all pastel crayons from this category are made based on oil, the percentage of this ingredient may vary. In addition to the classic oil pastels, water-oil and watercolor artistic oil pastels also stand out. The classic version gives a result as close as possible to oil painting and is considered more professional, although it requires fine work with a solvent.

In addition, any pastel, including oil, is divided according to the degree of hardness. Complex grades are characterized by increased dryness. They cling to the surface somewhat worse; however, they can finely and accurately draw fine details and contours, while the colors do not mix well. Soft pastel has opposite qualities – it sticks well to most bases and gives somewhat blurry contours, mixing in places where multi-colored details come into contact.

The piece can also find soft pastels, but multi-color sets are often sold, which is incredibly convenient and practical for children. Sets of 12 colors usually consist of one category of shades (standard, metallic or fluorescent), of 18-24 colors contain either an extended palette of one type or colors of two categories at once, but 36 and 50 colors are already a gift worthy of even a fairly good artist.


If you purchase only one oil pastel without any additional accessories, then there will be no more sense from it than from ordinary children’s crayons. For the best qualities of the substance to manifest with maximum efficiency, it is worth purchasing special paper for drawing with pastels – it has a corrugated texture. The pigment clings to its surface better. In addition, such paper is thicker, which allows you to blur the applied strokes for an additional artistic effect.

Again, children’s water-based or watercolor-infused oil pastels will wash out even with plain water, but more professional severe varieties of this material will need a thinner to blur. This substance should not be purchased at random but with an eye to the specific type of oil pastel used.

Being an analog of crayon, pastel does not require any additional drawing devices; however, the solvent used to dilute it needs a unique application tool. Some artists apply it to the shaded drawing with a particular paper stick; others use ordinary brushes of a certain shape and size.


It is even surprising why the use of pastels for children’s art has such a short history because parents’ comments on specialized forums make one think that this medium is very well suited for such purposes. It is safe and convenient for babies because the crayon draws from all sides and does not require any prior holding skills, so even the smallest can draw with it.

Unlike other types of this substance, oil pastels perfectly adhere to canvases of various origins and almost always give very bright, saturated shades, which children like and stimulate their creative impulse. Moreover, pastel crayons leave a lot of space for creative growth because, over time, the child can master the shading technique, turning pastel drawings into an imitation of painting.

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