What is an Oil Pastel


Oil Pastel (OP) is an exciting medium that’s a newcomer to the painting community, having only been around since 1924.  OP is my choice of medium because of it’s versatile use and application.  Today pieces are produced with OPs using many forms of style, from realism to the abstract, there is no limit – that’s why I love painting with the medium.  

Oil pastel (OP) is similar to “dry” soft pastel.  Both painting mediums come in stick form, contain color pigments and a binder.  The distinguishing feature for soft pastel is that it comes in stick form as a fine dry dust (some call it “chalk”).  There are many techniques written about painting with soft pastels, but as a simple description the stick is applied in layers onto a surface and then blended.  

Oil pastel (OP) differ from its soft cousin, it has a non-drying oil and a wax binder.  OP comes in stick form and can be tacky or sticky to touch (sometimes called crayon).  The paint never fully dries and can smear to touch long after a painting is completed.  The OP handling performance depends on the mix of non-drying oil agent versus the amount of wax.  The less wax, the more smoothly the OP handles when layering and blending.

Artists using OP for the first time can get easily frustrated, myself included, because of the difficulty experienced in trying to move and blend the medium on a painting surface.  There are two types of quality:  artist (has more non-drying oil) and student (has more wax than oil).  The more wax an OP has, the more difficult it is to maneuver, there lies the frustration.  

If you’re purchasing OPs for the first time be sure to get artist quality to save yourself a lot of aggravation, because in its best form it’s a great medium to paint with.

There are a number of OP brands in the market today.  I’ve only listed the four I’m most familiar with and often use:

  • Sennelier:  abuttery consistency (think of creamy lipstick), great qualities, good colours to select from, but is expensive if you’re starting out. 
  • Holbeins:  a bit less buttery, but wonderful to layer and blend with, fine qualities and colour choice, and is expensive as well.
  • Neopastels (artist quality):  some creaminess, very manageable, is excellent for layering and blending, great colour choice, and is less expensive than the first two.
  • Gallery – Mungyo (artist quality):  Gallery’s newest OP performs like Neopastels and is the least expensive than the other brands mentioned.

You can order any of the above in stick form or as complete sets.  My suggestion is to order several sticks of each so you get a feel for what you like in terms of colors and performance (ease of application, moving and blending).

Respect for oil pastels has been slow in coming.  As artists continue to experiment with the medium, the industry is seeing many more quality pieces being painted.   That’s exciting!

I think oil pastels are here to stay, what’s your opinion?

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About Mary

Oil Pastelist
This entry was posted in About Oil Pastels, OPs Mediums. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is an Oil Pastel

  1. Marick says:

    Thank you very much for referring me to this post, I found it very helpful. I’m sure those who love oil pastels really cherish them, but you are right in what you say about respect for this particular medium — it is slow in coming! When I went to my local art shop this past winter to ask about pastels, they made a point to tell me how soft pastels (“chalk”) are mostly preferred. In high school, we’d used oil pastels (obviously student grade), and I just hated them. I’m quite happy using soft pastels, but am always on the lookout for something new to try out. In fact, I’m so happy you sent me this link, because now I will look for these brands and experiment with them on the practice pads when I visit the shop later on today. This was very helpful, thank you so much! 🙂

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