They differ from soft pastels in that they use an oil and wax binder instead of a gum one. The pigments they contain are the same though, so naturally enough, using oil pastels isn’t a world apart from using soft pastels. However, there are some key differences.
So how to get the best out of oil pastels? Follow these steps.
1) Choose the right surface.
Soft pastels require a paper with ‘tooth’ (i.e. one that is textured or abrasive). However, the waxy binder in oil pastels mean that unlike soft pastels, they work well even on smooth papers. This is beneficial if you want to create an artwork with a smooth texture, for example a portrait with fine skin tones, as you can use a smooth paper: this will help you get the finished effect you want.
Also, note that if you use a toothy paper designed for use with soft pastels, or canvas, you’ll find it’s much more time- and pastel-consuming to lay down color on it with oil pastels. The solution to this is again to use a less toothy paper. When using on canvas, it is beneficial to use solvents such as gum turps, Winsor & Newton Liquin
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2) Plan ahead.
Before touching your oil pastels, sketch out your design with a hard pastel or artists’ charcoal. When you’re happy with your sketch, lightly shade the areas that are going to be the darkest in your composition (you can use the charcoal or a dark oil pastel), and also mark the highlight areas with a white (oil) pastel.
When you finish this prep work you’ll have your composition figured out, as well as an idea of where the lightest and darkest areas of your artwork will be, and you can safely proceed with a free hand.
3) Use effective techniques.
When using oil pastels, there are a few technique tricks to remember. First, oil pastels layer better than soft pastels, so don’t be afraid to use this technique. Two or three layers can give some beautiful effects.
Second, oil pastels require a firmer hand than soft pastels, as it’s the pressure doing the work, not the tooth of the surface. Ensure you are pressing firmly enough.
Third, you can use an impasto technique with oil pastels (this is where the paint/pigment is laid on so thickly that you can see its texture). Warm your sticks first – this will make them soft enough that you can use a palette knife to spread them around on your surface.
Lastly, you can produce an attractive wash or glaze effect with oil pastels. Just lay down some pigment on your paper or canvas, then take a brush dipped in gum turpentine or Winsor & Newton Liquin and apply it to the pigment. You can get any level of translucency you desire with this technique. This technique can also be used as an underpainting / glaze for oil painting.