View Full Version : Considering Oil Pastels

01-21-2008, 07:56 AM
Hello all!
I am an oil painter who is now quite curious about oil pastels. Is it true that they never dry??? That, in itself, is a big turnoff for me. If it's true, how is the surface protected? Under glass? Always under glass? Also, if they never dry, why do you prefer them over oils? I would love to hear from those of you who love this particular medium and why. I don't want to make the investment to start playing with them before getting more feedback from those of you who love them.
I am totally green where oil pastels are concerned so please don't worry that you'll insult me by talking down to me. I want to know all pros and cons.
Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Pat Isaac
01-21-2008, 08:15 AM
Hi and welcome to the OP forum. I was also an oil painter and occasionally still work in oils. I really like OPs for their ability to be both a drawing and painting medium. I really love to draw and this works for me as I can obtain results similar to oils.
It is true that they never dry, but they do set up and get hard. I always frame under glass as the jury is still out on ways to protect the surface. There is a good thread at the top of this forum called getting started in OPs - tools and materials.
There is also an article on framing OPs without glass in the oil pastel primer on the web site of the Oil Pastel Society. Here is a link.
It took me awhile to find the brand I liked and the surface I liked to work on and I'm still experimenting with surfaces and underpaintings.
Hope this helps, and ask more questions...We're here to help.


01-21-2008, 08:45 AM
Hi Pat,
Yes, this does help a lot. I must confess to having the hardest time searching the archives. Probably more due to being on dial-up than anything else. I will check out the pdf file you mention.
I can see how OP's appeal to those who like to drawing. That's certainly an area I could use a lot of improvement in. I am only now starting to enjoy the drawing aspect of art. Doesn't that sounds like a strange comment? I was always more interested in drawing with my brush, though in a much bigger hurry to apply the paint. Morgan Weistling said you never stop drawing until the painting is complete. It makes all the sense in the world NOW.
Thank so much for your speedy reply!

Pat Isaac
01-21-2008, 09:19 AM
I never thought of that before, but it's true, at least for me, that I never stop drawing until the painting is finished. I am always adjusting things as I go along.
You might also check out the oil pastel library for lots of information.


01-21-2008, 10:55 AM
Hi Gaye, and welcome to the Oil Pastel forum. I painted in oils, too, but was initially attracted to OPs as a medium I could more easily use for plein air painting and sketching landscapes. I found OPs to be so versatile that I use them for everything now. I like the ease of use, the no-cleanup, or preparation (no paint mixing) aspects of OPs, which allow me to paint for short periods when I have limited time. I like the direct application of the medium - no brush needed - and the ability to apply OPs in various ways - strokes evident or blended to a smooth surface, or impasto, or incomplete layering with colour showing through, for example. I also like being able to use different surfaces, including paper, which means complete versatility in shapes and sizes of support. It is true that OPs never dry completely, but they harden to some extent. (They are composed of pigment, wax, and non-drying mineral oil). You can smudge them even when hardened, so framing under glass is recommended. Sennelier does make a spray fixative especially for OPs which some people are experimenting with. I found that four coats prevented smudging. Issues remain about the archival nature of the spray.

Another possible choice for you is oil sticks (Shiva, and Winsor and Newton brands for example), which are composed of pigment, wax, and a drying oil, which means they do dry like an oil painting. They are similar to OPs in the means of application, although the sticks are larger and it's not easy to get any detail with them. Also, there is a difference compared to OPs in the transparency and thinness of the layers of oil-stick paint, more like glazing in oils. I have both, but much prefer OPs because of their opacity and impasto capability.

I hope this helps. I'm wondering whether you have a particular application for OPs in mind? That might help us to address specific aspects of their use. Jane

01-21-2008, 11:04 AM
Hi Gaye,

I am a working oil painter and recently started working in oil pastels as well. While I agree with Pat, I would also like to point out the convenience of using oil pastels. They are wonderful for studies and sketches as there is practcally no preparation or cleanup and they are fun and quick to use. You can also use them on top of a dry oil painting that you are not completely satisfied with. They are great for working "en plein air" as you can can just grab a few and go. While they never completely dry, they do set up and harden a bit.

I will continue to do large studio oil paintings but will also continue to do smaller oil pastels. Framing under glass for me is only a slight disadvantage.

I would suggest that you buy a few good quality (Neopastel, Holbein Artist or Sennelier) oil pastels as well as some sanded paper (Colourfix) to start with.

By the way, my first two oil pastel paintings sold very fast.

I hope this is helpful.


p.s. I guess Jane and I cross posted. I agree with all that she has said but would like to add that I tried Oilbars and Oil Sticks but much preferred the oil pastels.

Pat Isaac
01-21-2008, 03:44 PM
I could also add that I have used and still sometimes do R&F pigment sticks, which are like the oil bars but much creamier. These sticks dry, so I have done paintings with them and then added OPs on top for detail. I have also done underpaintings with thin glazes of oil and then finished the painting with OPs.
It is true that the pigment sticks are large, but I do enjoy working with them also.


01-21-2008, 08:04 PM
I like the versatility of oil pastels. I keep a small set in the car for plein air work. No brushes, turps, rags, and the plein air doesn't smear all over the car if I drop it. The cat has rolled on my work without disturbing anything. They don't dry but aren't wet, either.
If you are reluctant to invest in the artist grade oil pastels,I recommend you play with some cheapies on sandpaper first. Then try a couple of artist-grade ones.

01-22-2008, 12:12 AM
Hello and welcome to the forum. I also paint with oils, dry pastels and oil pastels. Since I work outside so often, the oil pastels are perfect as others have mentioned for plein air studies or more finished paintings. In the studio I work on canvas using the outdoor paintings as references. I paint with dry pastels both on location and in the studio.

One of the things I like best about the oil pastels is the "feel" of creating strokes onto the surface I'm working on. If framing under glass is a problem, use acrylic glazing instead. It's much lighter in weight but about the same cost. One of my favorite surfaces now is Ampersand Pastelbord. I'm using it for all of my mediums!

One issue to be aware of is to use oil pastels on top of regular oils, not the other way around if you decide to mix mediums.


01-22-2008, 07:12 AM
My goodness, you have given me so much information in hardly any time at all! I must say that you are really convincing me to give OP's a try.
Please forgive my ignorance but I need something else clarified. Are OP's used like dry pastels or something like watercolor pencils, where you use water, in this case turp, for washes? If a solvent is used, what is most recommended? Turp, Mineral Spirits, Gamsol? Are any mediums ever used?
Another question...would you say that OP's are somewhat on par with encaustics since both are oil/wax mediums? I know that encaustics are rarely, if ever, covered with glass. Not sure how many have survived the ages well though. If one prefered a more satin sheen to the finished piece, would one polish, as with encaustics, varnish or leave it be?
Is there one, comprehensive book on OP's that you would recommend. How would you rate Oil Pastels for the Serious Beginner?
So sorry for the long post. I can't thank you all enough for the great help you have already been. I'm excited to get started!

Pat Isaac
01-22-2008, 08:02 AM
I'm not sure I can answer all your questions, especially about the encaustics.
You can use a solvent with the OPs and the preference would be yours. I don't seem to have much luck doing that as I find the turps dulls the OPs. I have done an underpainting either with watercolors or oil paints and the put the OPs on top. I use them without a solvent.
I would not use a varnish on the OPs, but there are sprays out there supposedly just for OPs. I'm not thrilled with them, but others have used them successfully. Not sure about this, but I tend to think that the encaustics dry because they contain more wax than OPs, therefore they could be varnished.
That is the only book that is on the market now, that I know of.
Kenneth Leslie wrote a very good one "oil Pastel", but it is out of print. Maybe a library has it. I know you can get it on Amazon, but it is very expensive.
BTW, I like your blog.


01-22-2008, 08:33 AM
Hi Gaye,

first of all I do agree with all that has been said before and I would like to add: when using OPs you don't have to worry about different drying times (since they never dry at all) and there are no rules like fat over lean that you'll always have to keep in mind while working. It's easier to do what you feel.

However, there are two disadvantages, too.
First: you paint with oil, but you draw with the OPs, and drawing is much slower...
Second: you don't have as many colors to choose from, as you have when painting with oils. Holbein makes 225, Sennelier 120 (plus some iridescent ones), Caran d'Ache 98. But, if you read the tutorials on this page, you will learn how to make your own OPs if you miss a color :lol:

01-22-2008, 11:30 AM
Gaye, encaustic paint consists of pigment, resin, and wax. See this link for more info:


Since it doesn't involve oil of any type, it doesn't really compare.

I should point out that Sennelier carries all its colours in the Grande size as well as the smaller size, so if you are working large, you can fill in your surface quite rapidly with these. I would disagree somewhat with Silvia in the painting/drawing time-required distinction as applied to OPs. It depends on how you apply your OPs and how you apply your oils as to how long it takes to paint a painting. The thing I like about OPs is that I can achieve a degree of detail with OPs that I simply can not with oils painted alla prima, and I can do that more quickly than if I were using glazing techniques in oils. If I do need to add another layer of OPs, I only need to let it set up overnight, while with oils I have to wait at least several days. This is my personal experience (I can't get brushes to do all that I want them to do) and you may have a different experience. Jane

01-23-2008, 09:10 AM
You have all done a great job of convincing me to give it a try. I just ordered Oil Pastel for the Serious Beginner. I really like that they aren't "dusty", that they are so easy to carry along for plein air and that clean up is quick. I'm getting pretty excited to give them a try. I have the impression that the sky is the limit with them and find that quite a plus.
One thing that bothers me though...I was hanging a show once where someone brought in an oil pastel. When I was hanging it, it felt wet and left paint on my fingers. It must have been on gallery wrap. So, when I read "never dries", this is what I remembered. I don't remember smelling a solvent but it was definitely wet. Is that common???

Pat Isaac
01-23-2008, 09:19 AM
I don't ever recall my OPs feeling wet. It may have been that this was a painting done with oil sticks and it hadn't dried yet. That would feel wet. Many people call oil sticks oil pastels.
I know that a large art organization in NY doesn't allow oil pastels in their show under pastels and drawing because they think they are oil sticks and should be in the oil paint category!
Anyway, that would be my guess.


01-23-2008, 09:34 AM
I was wondering if she may have used water soluable OP's. I had a similar experience using water miscible (sp) oils. I later learned that, though the claim is that you can use water as a medium, if you use too much, it remains tacky. I have an underpainting that is still tacky AFTER AN ENTIRE YEAR! I hated them! I just can't understand why water would not evaporate. Maybe the oil actually created a film that retards the drying underneath. Like I said, I didn't smell a solvent of any kind, which also makes me suspect that they were water soluble.

Pat Isaac
01-23-2008, 09:44 AM
That's true as oil sticks have an oil paint smell.


01-23-2008, 10:46 AM
I have some water-soluble Neocolour II crayons, and they act like water colours once you apply water. They dry quite quickly and would not be wet after a few minutes. It's more likely that the person used too much turps or OMS with the OPs and that combination had not dried sufficiently.

I use watersoluble oil paint (Winsor and Newton Artisan). Too many people think that you use water as a medium, and this causes the sticky result. There is a set of mediums available in the Artisan line, including a new thinner, which should be used in a similar manner to mediums and turps with oils. Water should only be used to rinse your brushes while painting and to clean them afterward. Jane

01-23-2008, 03:22 PM
The question to me is what do you acutally mean by "it felt wet"?

Wet, like if there was a film of water on the surface of the painting, or wet rather like tacky and undried?
If this artist used very soft OPs, if he or she layered them heavily, if the climate in that particular region was rather warm to that time and if this painting was not varnished or coated in any specific manner - then I'm afraid I'll have to tell you that this tackiness was just the normal reaction of these oil pastels. :o

01-23-2008, 04:45 PM
It's been a while so I don't remember a lot of details. It must have "felt" wet because something caused me to look at my hands. I even commented that someone submitted a wet painting. I think I do remember it being think but, the only areas I touched were the edges (gallery wrap) so it could be hung up. I'm pretty sure it wasn't applied thickly to the sides.
So, after a painting sits a week or so, is it common for the OP's to come off on your fingers??? If so, that would be a BIG turn off for me.

Pat Isaac
01-23-2008, 05:25 PM
I have not found that to be true. After 6 weeks the OPs have set up quite well and are hard, but not dry.


01-23-2008, 07:51 PM
I have to agree with Pat. To test this, I just went through a bunch of my OPs on canvas board and on Artspectrum colourfix paper dating from a couple of months to a year ago and pressed my thumb onto the surface really hard and on only a couple of them I picked up a tiny bit of colour. I don't use any fixative. I wouldn't try this until they have set up for a couple of months, but after that they're hard as Pat says. Jane

01-23-2008, 09:19 PM
That's good to hear! Thank you. It may remain a mystery what the problem was with the one in the show. Unless it was done or worked on the day before. Oh, well. No sense in speculating any further.
So, what kinds of "tools" do you use to apply, manupulate the OP's? Brushes w/solvents, tools with rubber ends, your fingers? Probably all of these but what others?
Soaking it all up like a sponge.

01-23-2008, 10:57 PM
Gaye, have you looked at the Getting Started in OPs thread? There are also some threads in the Oil Pastel Library subforum dealing with tools that you should have a look at. Jane

Pat Isaac
01-24-2008, 07:45 AM
There is a lot of information in those threads, Gaye. However, I use my fingers and color shapers, made by Royal Sovereign. The firm ones. I have also used tortillion stumps.


01-24-2008, 08:05 AM
Yes, I have tried looking in the archives for info and haven't gotten many answers. This thread has given more far more than I was able to gleen after hours of looking through the archives. I MUST have trouble knowing how to search. Surely, many answers HAVE to be there. I'm going to try again.
Thank you to ALL of you! You've been so wonderful and informative.

01-24-2008, 09:03 AM
Ah, I must have been fast asleep! I found all kinds of info, including photos, in the archives. So, to quote Roseann Roseanna Danna, "NEVERMIND"!

Pat Isaac
01-24-2008, 09:17 AM
Glad you found the info.


01-27-2008, 01:55 PM
Oil pastels are a great sketching medium, but I too found it frustrating that they never dried. I have used things like Galklyd and walnut oil to glaze them and have gotten a dry shiny skin on the surface that is good with the exception that the artwork can be accidently scratched.

I did, however, find a truly wonderful way to use Oil Pastels. Under and in encaustics. Since I had the oil pastels and wasn't using them anymore because they did not dry and there was no satisfactory way to use them without mounting under glass. The oil pastel will look just like it does normally if you just put a light coat of encaustic over it or you can heat it and allow the oil pastel to melt and fuse in a runny manner. It is great. I found it a great way to introduce color and texture and that crayon sort of texture to encaustics. You can make them look like drawings if you want.

I have attached a small section of an encaustic with Oil Pastel encapsulated in the wax. It is very durable this way.


01-27-2008, 05:11 PM
I found oil pastels cumbersome at first, using 24 Sennelier's, but kept going, because Jane's paintings gave me hope there was a way and I was going to find it. Now, I use tools, whatever I have handy to push them around and blend them, and they are wonderful to use. My favorite tool is a round chop stick sharpened in an electric pencil sharpener, after my fingers, paper towels, any colored pencil, endless tools you can find in your kitchen or tool box. (Doesn't everyone have three toolboxes?) They can be as simple and quick or complex as you want them to be. I'm about to post two quick drawings from the All Media Art Event (Weekly Drawing Event). Fun stuff. Join us some Friday. (We miss Jane.) I like Sennelier, because it's so oily, but can see the value in dryer OP.


01-28-2008, 08:17 AM
That's along the lines that I had in mind. My "Oil Pastels for the Serious Beginner" arrived, I have a set of Sennilier's, not to decide what to create ON!

Pat Isaac
01-28-2008, 08:29 AM
That's exciting, have fun.


01-28-2008, 10:24 AM
Gaye, enjoy yourself. Don't forget to try a variety of different surfaces to see which you like the best. OPs behave quite differently on different surfaces. Jane

01-28-2008, 05:24 PM
I have discovered that the oil pastels work well on a rather unusual substrate. I paint 1/8" for small, and 1/4" for larger MDF (multidirectional fiberboard, similar to masonite). I prime it with exterior, flat, latex housepaint. The same stuff Kevin MacPherson uses for his oil paintings. It creates a very toothed surface which is suitable for oil pastels and is rigid. It also works for soft pastels as well.

Wallis paper is the next best thing as it is tough and you can remove or push around the oil pastel with turpentine if you wish.

Good luck and have fun.


02-01-2008, 08:33 AM
Thank you all once again. You have been beyond helpful!

Carey Griffel
02-02-2008, 06:16 PM
Hi Gaye,

I remember a bit of your work from the oils forum...thanks for posting these questions as I've learned from them, too (and thanks for all the replies that were so helpful, everyone!). I picked up some cheap oil pastels about three months ago and found that they were a wonderful sketching media! Since then, I've not been able to stop myself from buying any of the cheaper sets I come across. :D Someday I will no doubt have the Senneliers, but I do find that the cheap ones work well for my intentions, especially using them in my sketchbook as I do.

I am going to rate this thread five stars. (I notice you guys don't have a sticky with links to useful threads...it's a slow enough forum here, I guess, that the stickied threads work all right for now, but as there's more participation and useful threads started, you might want to compile them into a list instead of just stickying them...just a suggestion.)


Pat Isaac
02-02-2008, 06:35 PM
Glad you are having such a good time with your OPs. We do have the oil pastel library with many good threads and a lot of useful suggestions and techniques. We could do what you suggest, but I'm not sure what threads to put in it as there are many good ones and I think in the process many helpful ones that would interest people would be left out.

02-03-2008, 07:51 AM
Hi Carey,
I hope you will be posting some of your new pastel works. I haven't gotten around to trying them yet. I've got 5 oil paintings in the works and can't chew gum and walk at the same time.