View Full Version : softies/oilies: same? different?

02-02-2006, 01:52 PM
Somebody in the o.p. forum was asking what the difference is between soft and oil pastels, so I thought I'd start a thread here and people can add their two cents.:cool:
I use both kinds of pastels, often in the same painting, and love them both. I started using oil pastels because of an allergy to dust, and have found more similarities than differences.
I'll start a sort-of chart here. Please feel free to post your own observations and experiences!

Soft pastels oil pastels

applied directly to surface ................yes.....................yes
use paper, sanded surfaces,
suede surfaces...............................yes.......................yes

primed surface recommended........... not necessary ....... yes

use turps to blend underpainting ...... yes..................... yes

use water " " " ...................... yes ...................... no

uses blending, crosshatching,
scumbling,layering etc .................... yes ................... yes

uses color shapers, q-tips, etc ............yes.....................yes

can be applied thinly or thickly ............yes.....................yes

can be abstract, impressionistic,
photorealistic ................................yes......................yes

can be applied to canvas ................?..........................yes

usually framed under glass ..............yes.........................yes

dusty .........................................yes.................no (greasy!)

turps can be used other than
underpainting ..............................no.....................yes

lights easily applied over darks...........yes....................no

fixative recommended ............... debatable .............debatable

02-02-2006, 02:39 PM
Okay Wendy,
I used oil pastels abit last summer to playwith. They are incredibly fun.
Harder to control. have a sticky feeling. you have to use the really good ones. and if you learn them properly, you can have a great deal of fun and do some really rockin' paintings.
Softs can be dreamy creamy, alittle easier to correct mistakes. dusty, dry, frustrating when you fill the paper up and still can't get someting you want, fickle. They can be painted with a brush and water for good effect, nice for people who are sketchers., forgiving.
How'd I do???

Pat Isaac
02-02-2006, 06:20 PM
Good comparisons, Wendy. I don't feel qualified to talk about the softies as I don't use them, but I do have to say that if you use the professional brands of OPs, they are forgiving to a point, and that also depends on the paper you use. I have always found that you get the best results when you use good quality art materials.


02-02-2006, 07:43 PM
One thing I forgot. With both you need to used with a doctors supervision as both are highly addictive fun.

Deborah Secor
02-02-2006, 07:52 PM
I don't work in OPs, so this comes as a comment and question to those who work in both.

One thing I love about soft pastels is the way it is both opaque and translucent, meaning that at various times you can achieve a thickness that traps light in that color, as well as achieving a wash-like effect that allows underlayers to gleam through. It's one of my favorite properties of the softies. My perception of OPs is that this isn't likely, but I don't know--so tell me, is that possible with the medium?


02-02-2006, 08:37 PM
I've fiddled around time and again with oilies and just can't get anything decent out of them...not sure why. For one thing, I find them to be transparent and a lot less covering, I guess is what it is. I can't do ANYthing with oilies when it comes to layers and the dark to light thing doesn't work well at all with them as far as I can tell. I can't get used to the sticky feel either. I suspect that if I could work with a master oilie pastellist, I might SEE better how it's done, but for now, I've pretty much given them up.

02-03-2006, 02:01 AM
At first I wasn't going to comment here because I really don't have enough OP experience, but I do know that comparing the two goes way beyond what Wendy has listed. The feel of the two is entirely different for me. In some ways, I'm working the OPs more like I would oil. It is fun, and they are beautiful in their own right. It is almost like comparing oils and watercolors. They each have things in common, but no one would confuse them and the techniques in application are different for all of them.

Like Wendy, I've used both types in one painting. I'm slowly working on one now that I began the underpainting in pastel, and am now adding layers of oil pastel. I'm also using tupr, and it is on Art Spectrum. If my "experiment" is successful, I'll post it when finished, but you'll have to wait awhile because tomorrow and this weekend I'll be painting - walls!! and I don't mean murals.

I'm far from experienced in oil pastels, but so far I'd have to say Deborah is mostly right. The OPs are a lot more tranparent, and the dark to light method hasn't worked too well for me either, Sooz. I've finally gotten some professional grade Ops, and they don't "scratch" at all. They are very smooth, and the Sennelier are especially creamy. So far most of what I've done is examples for the children's class I'm teaching for the after school program (it started Monday & we all had a good time - how often do you get thanked by 10/11 year olds?) My point being the projects need to be simple so I'm not able to do anything too complicate or using turps. In some ways I'm learning right along with the kids!


Pat Isaac
02-03-2006, 09:07 AM
I don't know that much about the softies, but I do know that you can have many layers with the OPs, just like glazing in an oil painting and you can also build a very impasto look with them. I have had no troble going from dark to light. I do find that I have to let them "set up" in order to build many layers. I don't use turps very mush with them except for an underlayer wash now and then. I find that turps dulls the color. To me they are the best of both worlds, drawing and painting.


02-03-2006, 09:54 AM
I was just looking at your WC gallery- I'm very surprised, I would have thought that your paintings were traditional oils ( LOVE geraniums and Rivers End or whatever it's called ) Why do you use glass when framing- does it depend on the type of paper you use and what paper is that?
Can you use the types of pastel paper (wallis, colorfix) that can accept getting wet by alcohol, water, turp etc.?

I'm really impressed with your work, I think now I'm going to check out some of the other oil pastelists here, It's the one medium I've never worked with
besides egg tempera. ( anything to do with eggs grosses me out ) I've always thought, being the art supply junkie that I am, that Sennelier's oil pastel set looks veeeeery affordable... :)

If anyone is looking for me I'll be lurking in the oil pastel forum..

Kathryn Wilson
02-03-2006, 09:55 AM
I think you all have covered the comparisons pretty well - don't have much to add there.

I think the one thing that is a hinderance to starting up in OP's from the softies is that the technique, although the same in some ways, is different - so you expect them to act like softies, try to use them like softies, and IMHO you can't do that. You do have to treat them as a new medium learning experience and find out the pros and cons all on their own. You have to find your own way of using them - and what is fun about OP's is that there are many, many ways of using them.

For instance, in my experience with them, I love blending them - whereas in softies, I hardly ever blend. I do experience the problem of lights over darks, so I have to plan my painting better than I do with softies - in that regard, I don't think they are as forgiving as softies. And I do believe you can experiment with new techniques more than with softies - you can combine so many new elements to an OP painting - turp, ink, oil paints, etc. with a bit more success than with softies.

02-03-2006, 10:17 AM
are all the paintings in your "strip" oil pastel?

Kathryn Wilson
02-03-2006, 10:21 AM
No, the first two are - the French Village and the cows, then the second to last is an OP.

Pat Isaac
02-03-2006, 10:51 AM
Thanks, Jennifer for your kind words. I use glass to frame my OPs as an OP never really dries, and because of that it can be damaged. The type of paper that I use doesn't matter and some OP artists who work on canvas also frame under glass. The jury is still out on the question of a fixative. Personally, I will always frame under glass.
I almost always use either Wallis or Colorfix. I sometime use other paper and put a ground of colorfix on them.
Does this answer your questions?


02-03-2006, 11:06 AM
yes, thanks...I think my aunt has a old set of grumbacher oil pastels...the sticks are really tiny but the last time I looked at them they weren't dried out or anything. Seeing both yours and Kat's paintings makes me want to see what I can do with them- though i can't see anything ever replacing my love for the soft pastels!

Becky Foster
02-03-2006, 11:10 AM
I usually avoid threads comparing soft and oil pastels since I've never gone very far with the softies and find oilies to be too different to really compare. But if the soft pastelists are curious I'd like to share...

In the very limited experience I had with soft pastels over the years I have to admit I never enjoyed them much - I always seemed to blend more than was possible with them, they were almost like a tease to me. When I discovered oil pastels for the first time 3 years ago they just clicked. Now I had something I could blend and smear and push and scrape to my hearts content. After working with them for a year I found an interview in the pastel journal with Ramon Kelly (a soft pastelist) and learned more from him about achieving realism with my oil pastels than I have from any book or article or artist before or since. So there's definitely similiarities. But I also find articles about layering with watercolors to be applicable to oil pastel work, too. I work on smooth stretched canvas without solvents. I sometimes mix colors on a pallette and rub my finger over the color and dab on endless layers (I can also rub an individual stick for the same type of layering). What I've found over the years is most oil pastelists are self-taught and are constantly inventing new techniques to suit the achievement of individual visions.

I guess it all comes down to the preference of the artist. And even though oil pastels are too new for much info from the masters out there, where there's a will there's a way when it comes to figuring out how to use them successfully.


Pat Isaac
02-03-2006, 11:10 AM
Doesn't have to, but if you're curious, it is always fun to try a new medium and experiment.


02-03-2006, 11:48 AM
I started using oilies because they weren't dusty, and I used them exactly as I use softies. Didn't know any better. I still use them the same way, and with the same surfaces, with a few differences:
If I'm using a colored surface, I underpaint the main light values with white (as well as underpainting the main dark values with darks), because the oil pastels are not usually as opaque as softies.
I don't use unprimed surfaces as often with o.p.s. Sometimes, especially with Senelliers, Canson lets some grease go through the paper. I don't know if that's bad or not, but I usually avoid it.
As for the feel, yes, it's different, except with suede kinds of surfaces- then they feel the same!