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Oil Pastels for Beginners

Saptakee Sengupta
We have provided you a complete guide on using oil pastels. Read the post to know how skillfully you can master the art by incorporating those versatile techniques of using oil pastels.
Remember your nursery days when you had your most treasured crayon box filled with numerous sticks of oil pastels? And all you could do as a kid was, dabble in your painting skills. Oil pastels are still the favorite medium of painting for beginners owing to the ease with which they can be used and the vibrant effects they create.
Oil pastels or wax crayons contain pigments which are mixed with wax binders and non-drying oils. Due to this consistency the colors gain prominence and they have a very fine luster. You will find painting with oil colors very easy if you have aptly learned the various techniques capable of adding an edge to your artwork.
Soft pastels, pastel crayons, pastel pencils and water-soluble pastels are normally used in crayon painting. You will also come across powered and crushed forms of crayons. You can use them for dry painting if they are insoluble in water.
However, here you can also dissolve crushed crayons in turpentine oil, white spirit, vegetable oil or other solvents needed for painting on a canvas. For a beginner, I would suggest using dry crayons and once you have gained expertise, you can try painting with wet crayons or crushed varieties. Your concept will be clear after reading the next segment.

Painting with Oil Pastels

Getting Started

Oil pastels come in different packs and sizes and you can choose anything that comes within your budget. Scholastic, student and professional grades are a few types of oil pastels that you will come across in stationery stores. Go for student's grade if you are a beginner.
Van Gogh oil pastels and Caran D'Ache neo-pastels are of good quality. You can apply the colors on any kind of paper, viz. medium grained, smooth, thick and even on handmade paper. However, prefer using a smooth watercolor paper to begin with.

Sketching and Coloring

You can sketch with a pencil and fill the colors. Begin with simple objects like fruits, animals, trees, cartoons. Color smoothly without applying much pressure on pastel sticks. Oil pastels are delicate and might break if handled roughly. You can erase the pencil outline if the picture looks better. This was the easiest way to begin with oil pastels.

Shading and Highlighting

You can enhance the visual appeal of your drawing with subtle shades and highlights. If you want to add effect to a dark shade, then fill the base with a relatively lighter shade. You can use cotton buds and soft tissues for shading and blending.
Highlight those areas that need more focus. Experiment with your ideas to improve your painting skills. Try painting different forms of landscapes when you are emphasizing more on shading and highlighting.

Finishing Touches

Analyze your painting closely and well as from a distance. Think if your work has satisfied what you had actually imagined to paint or if it still needs modifications. Finishing touches are those fine detailing necessary for making the picture absolutely perfect and flawless. In short, you polish your painting with finishing touches.

Techniques for Improving the Artwork


When you add a layer of color, followed by another layer, then the colors gain better prominence. Your painting appears brighter and the effect of color combination is enriched. Your underpainting need not be a perfectly polished work of art, rather you can choose certain colors for the base and give an abstract form to your painting.
Use muted tones for the underpainting so that when you apply the final colors of preferably darker shade, they blend nicely. This way your final picture gets a rich and bright texture.

Traditional Sgraffito

This is one of the most popular techniques that oil pastel pioneers have been using for years. So what is Sgraffito all about? First apply a single color on the base of your painting sheet. Then coat the canvas with another layer of different color.
Use a light color for the base color while a darker shade for the top layer. Now bring out the image or the sketch by scrapping the colors with a nail filer or a knife. The lighter shade becomes prominent on the dark background.

Crumb Control

Incorporating crumbs with soft variety of oil pastels is indeed a bit tricky. You have to practice the technique with the help of a kneaded eraser, cotton cloth swabs or a razor in order to make the painting appear rough. Unlike a typical crayon painting with a delicate texture, crumbled paintings appear rugged, yet artistically beautiful.
You have to crumb the soft crayons on the paper with the given tool and keep coloring simultaneously. Your painting will have a flaky texture with scrapes of pastel pieces sticking out of the paper.

Wet Effects

You have to use water-soluble oil pastels to add wet effects to your painting. It's always a better idea to do a underpainting first and then apply the final coat of color. Dissolve the color in water and use a normal painting brush for coloring. The technique is similar to that of watercoloring.
All you have to do is ploy your brush with the colors of your choice to create versatile wet effects. Let the painting dry and then you can spray an oil pastel varnish to polish and endure the quality of your artwork.

Tonal Layers

These when created perfectly infuse life to the artwork. Tonal areas are produced by applying pressure with the crayons. There are different ways to produce tones; you can either incorporate numerous spots to fill an area by striking the paper with the oil pastel sticks or rub the pastels with pressure.
You can easily distinguish the tones after you have finished the drawing. However, the kind of tone that needs to be applied and determining the depth of the tonal zone depend absolutely on your imagination.
Apart from those techniques, you can explore your creative skills to evolve better with oil pastels. Most importantly, a great deal of practice and experimentation is needed to enhance the visual appeal of your painting. You will definitely become a perfectionist if you are enjoying it thoroughly and have put your passion to bring out the best in you.