View Full Version : Confused

03-01-2008, 12:13 AM
When pastels are described as "soft" or "hard" is that meaning that the "Soft pastels" are chalk pastels and the "hard pastels" are oil pastels? Or the other way around? Or are both "soft" and "hard" oil pastels? And if so what is the difference. The only chalk pastels I have had were square/rectangular shaped, the oil pastels I have had were rounded is that true for all or can either one come in either shape?

03-01-2008, 02:19 AM
Typically when you see references to "soft" and "hard" pastels, these both refer to variants of the the traditional dry pastel medium. Soft pastels are what most people think of as the traditional dry pastel sticks. Hard pastels, such as Prismacolor Nupastels, are still dry pastels but they are made in such a way as to be harder and more brittle, and less crumbly than "soft pastels". These are also what you typically find in Pastel Pencils. All are dry (non-oil) based pigment sticks. Oil Pastels are made with the same pigments (as are most paints and colored media) but what makes them different is that the pigments are held together with a " binder" that is made typiically of some combination of soft waxes (like beeswax) and non-drying oils (unlike oil paints) such as mineral oil.

For more detailed explanation see the excellent article at this post and the comments in the thread it is in:


There are also things that 'FALL BETWEEN THE CRACKS". There are a variety of either water soluble or non water soluble "wax" pastels that are similar to traditional OP but have a higher wax content and look and feel more like "wax crayons". There are also things called "oil sticks" or "oil bars" that are essentially oil paint that has been thickened to form a soft stick like form that can be applied similar to OP. However, these are made from different types of oil (commonly linseed oil) that eventually reacts with the air and oxidizes to form a hard "dry" surface, whereas mineral oil based Oil Pastels do not truly dry, although they do tend to "set" and harden somewhat over time but never truly "dry" as oil paints or oil sticks.

There are others that may be able to provide a better explanation, but I hope this helps some.

Welcome to the OP forum. As a relative "newbie" myself I can tell you that all you have to do is ask and there are loads of people williing to either answer your questions or point you to places in the forum where you can find the answers you need. Hope to see more of you here!


03-01-2008, 04:01 AM
Well that explaination didn't unconfuse me haha BUT i realized why I was confused in the first place. I went to the review section to see what everyone thinks i the best oil pastel brand and I looked up pastels ..instead of oil pastels so I was looking at all the "soft" and "hard" pastels instead of the ones in the oil pastel section. I think I have a box of Cray Pas Exprsessionist oil pastels, are they any good? I'm going to look at a "craft" store tomorrow to see if they possibly have any fine art supplies of decent quality. Not the best quality sometimes, but I can't pass up the coupon deals haha.

03-01-2008, 07:45 AM
AmesArt, the Cray Pas Expressionist are student-quality OPs, which are generally waxier and harder to blend than the professional OPs. Since the Cray Pas Specialist's, which are Sakura's professional line, are the hardest among the professional grade, the Expressionists will probably be quite hard. However, I haven't tried them, so I can't say that is true for sure. I have the Specialist and rarely use them, preferring Senneliers, Holbein Artist and Caran d'Ache Neopastels. Note that Holbein makes a student grade which are round - the professional grade, labeled Artist, are square. Hope this helps. Jane

Pat Isaac
03-01-2008, 10:26 AM
Welcome to the forum, AmesArt. Bill and Jane have given you good advice and I might also add that you can get sampler packs of the top professional brands from Dakota Pastels. http://www.dakotapastels.com/index_oilpastels.shtml


03-01-2008, 02:02 PM
Hi, AmesArt, and welcome to the OP forum! :wave:

Bill has given a good explanation of "hard' and "soft" pastels. I just would like to add that there are also hard and soft OPs, with some brands being very hard (such as the student grade Pentels) and others extremely soft, such as artist grade Senneliers. Generally speaking, the artist grade OPs are softer.

OPs come in both square and round shapes, with the round being far more typical. The only square ones I'm aware of are both artist grade: Holbeins and Cray-pas Specialists.

When first starting out, I found the Expressionists to be fairly good. They are harder than most artist brands, true. But they have a fairly decent color load and certainly are far creamier than the Pentels I first used. I have the same feeling about the Gallery brand, and the paintings I did 10 years ago with both of these brands are still perfectly fine. The lilac and rose colors I used for one piece have shown no fading (and these are notoriously fugitive colors, as I understand it). This isn't to suggest that student grade OPs are as good as the artist grade - the color selection and handling qualities of the artist brands are generally superior - but it is possible to achieve some very good results with student grade OPs.

So, imho, you could easily get started with the Expressionists you already have. Trying a few paintings with them will probably give you an idea of what you like and don't like, and that's important info for you to use in selecting what artist brand you might eventually prefer. The Dakota OP sampler that Pat suggested is also a good value, and lets you try out the various artist grade brands.

The sort of paper you use can make a big difference. What kind of paper do you have? Depending on how many OPs you have in your set of Expressionists, you may find that rather than getting more OPs right now, it might be wiser to get some good paper.

I hope you'll enjoy painting with OPs as much as we all have. I'll be looking forward to seeing your first OP paintings!

03-02-2008, 02:07 AM
OK definitely will be getting those samplers! As for the expressionists I've used them in the past, they are the only oil pastels I've used I think so I have no idea how bad these might be compared to the "better" ones, I would definitley like to try others out and see how they are better. I think I posted one pic that I did a long time ago in all oil pastels (not in this forum but one of the others on this site). I looked at the "craft store" today, they only had Faber Castrell?? I think and the Expressionists (student grade I'm sure), and umm one other kind but nothing good I don't think so I'll definitely have to order online whenever I want to start using something better than the Expressionists ones. For now these are good though I think.

Pat Isaac
03-02-2008, 11:02 AM
They certainly are fine for getting started and Annie is right about the kind of paper to use.
Have fun and hope to see some posts soon.