Techniques for Oil Pastels - Online Art Supplies

Oil Pastels may rank as one of the most versatile art supplies you can ever invest in. Almost any medium intended for use with oil painting will work well with them, and you can get effects similar to most types of oil paintings using those mediums on canvas or gessoed hardboard.

Making Marks

Scumbling, hatching, drawing, pointillism, expressive strokes or carefully blended smooth passages are all possible using them dry.

Sketching under Oil Pastels

Start out with sketching a contour drawing on watercolor paper, sanded pastel paper or your choice of good surface.

Underpainting Underpainting is another useful technique with oil pastels. By adding a wash or a flat underpainting under different areas, you can eliminate the white flecks from white paper, create richer color or use complements to build interest.


Oil pastels can mix on the page or on a palette. You can blend them to produce smooth gradients or hyper-realism.

Crumb Control

Crumb control is essential in realism and important sometimes even in loose impressionistic or sketchy styles. This article discusses ways of removing or eliminating those annoying crumbs from the paint layer or bare background of an oil pastels piece.

Wet Effects

Watersoluble oil pastels with plain water create a variety of transparent and opaque wet effects. A heavy application can be smoothed with a wash or blended. These techniques are the same if you use odorless turpentine, linseed and other oils or Liquin medium with regular oil pastels. The results of different oil mediums will be handled separately in other future articles, odorless turpentine is the one that handles most like this water-based demonstration.

Thinner Wash

Any solvents you use for oil painting such as odorless turpentine substitutes, turpentine itself or Zest-It citrus thinner can be used to get the same effects as water with watersoluble oil pastels. This demonstration of thinner wash with a yellow rose painting on canvas paper shows how the results will look and gives a copiable tracing of the outlines so that you can try this technique even if roses give you trouble.

I will cover linseed oil and other oils used as thinners with oil pastels in another article later, the look is different but the technique is similar.

Tonal Layers

Creating smooth tonal layers without distinct thick or thin areas and strokes is an important technique for realism. These layers of broken color can either work well by themselves or get blended into smooth transitions with a lighter color.

Grass Texture

Grass texture is something many beginners have trouble with. Using descriptive short vertical strokes can create beautiful textures for clipped lawns or wild clumps of tall grass.

How to Draw Grass in Oil Pastels

A step by step demonstration of choosing colors and layering short jagged strokes to create sunlit and shadow areas on a clipped lawn. Picks up where "Grass Textures" left off, shows specifics on how to use color and value to draw grass with an impressionist look.

Reflections and Shadows

Careful observation of the shape and color of reflections and shadows is an important part of realism, demonstrated with a study of three shiny black cherries. The effects can be very dramatic, especially working from life.


Realism demands very small details sometime. Small accurate details or accents can also be important in many other styles. Happily there are numerous ways of achieving detail with oil pastels. This article describes some and links to others.


Used dry, oil pastels handle in ways similar to soft pastels -- and can do things you'd never think of trying with the dusties. One of these is sgraffito. Lay down one color and blend it smooth, then cover it with a lighter or darker cover. Scraping through the outer layers reveals the first color you put on. If you want white details revealed, just use white for your first layer.

Temperature Tricks

You can also use temperature to alter the softness or hardness of both what's already on your painting and the sticks in your hand. If it seems like it won't take any more layers, warm your sticks in your fingers but put your artwork in the fridge for twenty minutes.

Using a warm stick on a chilled artwork will give it a better chance of good coverage. Alternately, you can try a heated drawing surface to melt the sticks as you apply them for an effect closer to encaustic painting. I haven't done encaustic, but I've seen it done well and it shouldn't be that hard emulating it with a heated drawing surface.

Tips for Special Surfaces

Every type of paper, board, canvas, wood or glass you work on will demand different techniques. So this section will start with some basics and expand into the specifics of working on different surfaces in different conditions with different tools, mediums and techniques.

So if you're bored, wondering what to do with your oil pastels on a Saturday afternoon, check this section for updates. You might find something new to inspire you. If you've tried something new and weird, don't hesitate to let me know and show me the results!

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Projects and Demonstrations

Art Lesson -- Fish and Coral Demonstration Continuation of the Fish and Coral underpainting from the Underpainting lesson to a completed small painting, with tips for scaling it up and elaborating it to a larger reef painting using watercolor pencils and Cretacolor Aqua Stic watersoluble oil pastels.

Art Lesson -- Cretaceous Leaf Fossil Demonstration

A study I painted of a Cretaceous leaf fossil became a step by step demonstration of using Holbein oil pastels for layering, blending, color mixing and developing awareness of your creative process.

Art Lesson -- White Rock Blending Demonstration

In this third art lesson, I demonstrate blending oil pastels in a 4" x 6" study of a white quartz pebble on a blue-gray background using Mungyo Gallery oil pastels on ProArt sketchbook paper.

Art Lesson - Pink Petunia Project
Step by step demonstration of a flower portrait done with student grade oil pastels in a hardbound sketchbook. Teaches drawing from the negative space and color harmony.

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