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How to use oil pastels

How to use oil pastels, what you can do with this under-estimated medium.

I love everything about oil pastels: The textures and colors are gorgeous, they are affordable, portable, not too messy … You might have noticed if you do a google search though that not many professional artists seem to use them and an image search will return mostly kids drawings. I think you can do much more than that with oil pastels! Here are a few ideas of what you can do with this underestimated medium and how to use oil pastels.


You might also like: Preparing your paper for oil pastels, watercolor and mixed media. A comparison between clear gesso and gel medium

How to use oil pastels


I recently started to go through my life drawings and see if I could re-work them with mixed media. I tried oil pastels on a few of them.


oil pastels on life drawings

The main issue with oil pastels seems to be the conservation of the artworks:

There is a bit of conflicting information on the internet about this. Oil pastels are made with inert oils and wax and are not supposed to damage paper as oil sticks would (oil sticks are usually made with linseed oil). But if you want to make sure your artwork is archival, then it can be safer to protect your paper by brushing on a layer or gesso or acrylic medium.

From the Holbein Company:

I emailed Holbein to ask about archival properties of paintings dome with oil pastels and this is what they replied:

Holbein Artist Oil Pastels are produced using pigment, paraffin, and mineral oil. The mineral oil content ensures the user that Holbein Artist Oil Pastels will never fully dry and will remain absolutely inert. Holbein recommends that all finished paintings done in their Artist Oil Pastel be mounted behind glass as varnishing will only detract from the intensity and vigor of the colors used. Although Holbein Artist Oil Pastels are inert, Holbein recommends that Artists prime their substrate to ensure the lasting qualities of the Holbein Artist Oil Pastel line.

How to use oil pastels

So basically, if you want to be safe, brush a layer of gesso or medium on your paper before applying the oil pastels. I like better medium because it dries transparent and I can still see the life drawing underneath. Then don’t apply varnish and frame the artwork under glass.

It is better to apply a layer of gesso or medium before drawing with pastels

Brushing a layer of medium that will dry transparent allows you to still see your drawing when you will start working with pastels.


oil pastels never dry totally

Oil pastels are spreading well on dry medium.

Oil pastels never completely dry so they will remain a bit soft, that is why framing is the best option.

I like painting with oil pastels because of the softness and the creamy texture you can get, especially when mixing colors or layering colors.

How to use oil pastels : Layering colors

you can layer colors with oil pastels

It is difficult to get a very white white with oil pastels as they tend to get dirty, but it is not necessarily a problem for me as I like a bit of broken color anyways.

layered colors have more depth with oil pastels

You can layer colors for nice effects like on the exemple here, a layer of reddish brown underneath a layer of black.

color fields with layered oil pastels

You can get really nice colors effect by layering colors to mix them. I usually start with the darker color and then use the lighter color to blend.

life drawing reworked with oil pastels

You don’t always need to use many colors, this painting is done only with three colors.

What medium can you use with oil pastels?

As long as you follow the rule of “fat over lean”, you can mix different media without trouble.

I used acrylic, watercolor, pencil, markers… under oil pastels, but you can’t do the opposite.

How to use oil pastels

Before painting over my life drawings, I go over the pencil lines with a black fine line marker. That way I can better see my lines when I will start using the pastels.


black marker underneath oil pastels

It is not possible to paint acrylic over oil pastels because the oiliest medium should always be on top but you can paint oil pastels over acrylic.

How to blend oil pastels

If you want to smooth out colors, you can either use a soft cloth and try to blend colors mechanically. You can also try a a bit of turpentine or baby oil will also work very well.

how to blend oil pastels with baby oil

You can mix colors by layering them, here green and blue, but you always get a bit of a “broken” color.

how to blend oil pastels with baby oil

Blending colors for a smoother effect with a cloth or a Q-tip and a bit of baby oil.


Have you tried oil pastels? did you like it?

Do you have any tip about how to use oil pastels you would like to share?

Feel free to post a link to your oil pastels paintings!





How to use oil pastels, what you can do with this under-estimated medium.
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