Painting Surfaces Used For Oil Pastels

Oil Pastelists use a variety of surfaces to paint on.  To move oil pastels (OPs) around (without melting) and build layers of the paint it’s essential to have texture (tooth) and my preference is a tightly spaced texture.  I’ve tried a number of surfaces, with varied results – here is what I’ve learned in the process:

  • Ampersand board and museum board quality surfaces are wonderful to paint on.  Fantastic texture, tightly spaced tooth so an artist gets good coverage with multiple layers of oil pastels.  Love to paint on these boards.
  • Watercolor paper is only good to use if they are heavy enough to withstand multiple layers of applied clear gesso.  If not the paper will buckle, but more importantly there’s no texture and spreading oil pastels becomes a real problem.
  • Artist canvas/board are okay if clear gesso is applied for texture, without texture the canvas/board becomes slick and limit the artist in spreading oil pastels and in layering.
  • Heavy card stock is only good if the card is heavy enough for multiple layers of clear gesso for texture and tooth.
  • Pastel papers usually have large checked-type texture.  Unless the artist uses the highest quality (Wallis) that is already processed with gesso (or sand/marble dust) the painting will have a lot of white checks and very few layers of OPs can be applied.  I don’t like the look of white checks, although some artists do – it’s a personal preference.
  • Hardboard I love.  Simply because I control the surface preparation.  Once I rough up the surface by sanding it, I can apply as many clear gesso coats as I want to create a tightly textured surface giving me exception tooth to paint with.  You’ll find most of my work done on this surface.

I just finished preparing 16 boards and I’m ready to get back to some serious painting.  What follows are two oil pastel paintings of a marsh located not too far from where I live different surfaces were used:

Nature’s Own (11×14, hardboard prepared with gesso)

Nature's Own

Nature’s Own

Close-up Marsh Study (5×7 doing for a larger painting, pastel paper [no gesso] notice the white checks!)

Marsh Study

Marsh Study

Can you see what I mean?  To me those little white checks are very distracting.  What do you think?

About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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15 Responses to Painting Surfaces Used For Oil Pastels

  1. Lu says:

    I like them both, and I don’t find the checks all that distracting – they add a little extra 🙂

  2. Call me crazy, but I like the texture in the second painting.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much, such a nice compliment. I don’t know, I’ve never warmed up to the heavy texture look in my oil pastels – simply because that texturing doesn’t allow for easy layers and blending with OPs. But I’ve seen some Oil Pastelists that are very successful resulting in some beautiful pieces of art.

  3. exiledprospero says:

    i hardly ever prepare my word processor with gesso. i start with a blank canvas and then add a layer of subjects and verbs. When the first coat dries i add an adverb or two, and the sheet hardly ever buckles. i fully understand that some people don’t like the look of adjectives, though eccentric people do–it’s a personal preference.

    Nice paintings as usual, Mary.

    • Mary says:

      Ariel’s Prospero you have the most incredible imagination – couldn’t help but smile as I read the description of your process used to make art. Just love this one – you need to frame it!!!

  4. It amazes me what you are able to do with oil pastels! We seem to fight every time I try to use them. Simply marvelous.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Elena, thank you so much – you are so kind, it’s so appreciated. If you tried Sennelier oil pastels I think you would love them, they are creamy and buttery.

  5. prewitt1970 says:

    I Agee choosing the correct surface is hugely important. I think with smaller piece one can get away with a bit more but the more surface area the chance for “bleed through” from the undersurface can occurr. I love the hard board as well, but I paint on 1/4in birch panels almost exclusively either cradled or just panel and frame. Love the piece by the way.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Benjamin, thanks so much for your reply and information. I haven’t tried birch before – I assume that you have to prepare the surface in a manner similar to what I do with the Eucaboard-hardboard? You may not need gesso if you’re not looking for texture – I need that coating so I can put down payers of oil pastels, w/o it I can’t get the stick of color to blend into one another. Thanks for commenting on the paintings.

  6. Healthy A-Z says:

    It’s interesting how your textures can vary so much. You might think of the little white checks as distracting, but take a look at any of the paintings on this site:
    Those dots can become so much more.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Cyndi, thanks for so much and also for the link. I looked at Julia’s images of her paintings are they are beautiful, she’s a very talented artist. Texture works for her style and the impression she wants to provide.

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