Type to search

How to Use Oil Pastels

How to Use Oil Pastels

  1. Chose your canvas.
  2. Blend colours completely on the surface, scumbled over each other in layers, or blended on the palette and then applied with a knife or colour shaper tool.
  3. Use the Sgraffito effect. 
  4. Control the temperature. 
  5. Experiment with thin washes. 
  6. Set the pastels to avoid smudging.


Oil pastels can be very expensive, particularly from niche art shops. You can save one huge amount of money if you order online. Like coloured pencils, the hardness of each stick contributes to a different purpose. Many artists combine different brands of oil pastels to achieve different effects. Firm brands like Cray-Pas Specialist or Erengi are better for early layers, fine details and control. Softer products like Holbein or Sennelier can be used when the surface tooth is fully saturated over heavy layers of the firm oil pastels.
Oil pastels

How to Use Oil Pastels

Knowing how to use oil pastels will help ensure your work is to its maximum possible quality. Pastel work differs from painting as you are working with a more solid state medium that requires a slightly different approach. The following ‘how to’ provides essential tips to consider when using oil pastels.

Photo Credit: Designlazy.com


1- Chose your canvas. Oil pastels can be used wet or dry on any support: paper, board, canvas, glass, metal, wood. . . even rock. Some surfaces work better with a coat of gesso, for preservation or more tooth, but you can be confident in using an oil pastel over any kind of found objects in a collage or mixed media piece.

2- Blend colours completely on the surface, scumbled over each other in layers, or blended on the palette and then applied with a knife or colour shaper tool. Although layering can be done in any order with this thick medium, I still prefer to put down lighter colours first and then work back to them as in step 3. 

3- Use the Sgraffito effect. Sgraffito effects are much easier with oil pastels than with crayon. Laying a strong layer of white or a lighter color on first and then following it with other opaque layers allows you to scrape it back to reveal small details or create sharp lines in the work.

4- Control the temperature. Temperature affects the firmness of all oil pastels, student or artist-grade. When warm, they’ll be softer and flow more easily. When cooled, they become more firm. This can help in both directions—if your surface is saturated and won’t take more color, you can warm the pastels in your hand while the painting is in the fridge cooling to firmness. If your oil pastels are too soft to control (a common complaint about Senneliers) chilling them for a while should make them easier to handle.

5- Experiment with thin washes. These are possible with any oil painting medium, from linseed oil to odorless turpentine or alcohol.

6- Set the pastels to avoid smudging. Thick pastels may take months to harden and so it’s a good idea to try and sets the pastels to avoid smudging; pastels should always be glazed when finished. Some brands of oil pastels do harden somewhat, but not to the level that an oil or acrylic painting will, which means the surface can’t be dusted without smearing the paint. Two brands of fixative are formulated specifically for oil pastels: Caran d’Ache Protector Fixative is useful for preventing wax bloom, something that Neopastels may suffer from just as most colored pencils paintings do. Sennelier D’Artigny Oil Pastel Fixative forms a hard clear varnish with several thin applications and some artists will use it to just varnish heavily rather than glaze their finished paintings.


Keep in mind that oil pastels should not be applied heavily under a traditional oil painting without a good thinning of turpentine, as oil pastels have mineral oils in the binder that never completely dry. Treat them as “extra fat” in relation to oils in mixed media—the oil pastels layers should be the outermost. It’s also easy to use a wet brush to mix thin washes and paint directly from the oil pastel sticks, or just wash medium over areas already drawn for that blended look.

Previous Article

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *