Oil Pastel – Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist, by Kenneth Leslie – book review


There are hundreds, probably thousands, of books on art instruction – not a lack of resources that’s for sure.  For oil pastels there are four books that I know of – one I’ve reviewed written by John Elliot, two I wouldn’t recommend, and probably that which I hear the most about is the one I’m reviewing today by Mr. Leslie.

Oil Pastel – Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist, written in 1990 has 144 colored pages.  I usually buy art instruction books as (very good) used, to keep the cost down.  My copy was purchased on Amazon for around $21; I was lucky to have found it – most times there isn’t one available unless you buy it new and then it’s $65 on up.

At first glance the information seems pretty basic, especially if you are an experienced artist.  Here’s the deal, OPs is like no other medium – it goes on like soft pastels, performs a bit like oil paint (has oil in the ingredients), and is manipulated very differently.  Most important, oil pastels never dries.  In fact years after a painting has been completed, the oil pastel can still be smeared or scraped off.

So why this book.  To paint with OPs it’s all in the manipulation and that’s where Mr. Leslie’s experience comes into play.   Most artist new to OPs struggle to learn how to manipulate them.  Kenneth Leslie does a great job giving an overview of oil pastels and basic painting concepts:  the history, brands, values, hue, intensity, mixing colors, papers/surfaces to use, and experimental approaches.

The most intriguing chapter that I continue to reference is on Handling Techniques – if you ever wanted to understand oil pastels this is where the rubber meets the road.  Here are some techniques that are a must to get down, Kenneth Leslie takes all the guess-work out of manipulating OPs as he explains each technique and provides pictorial diagrams along the way:

  • Making Marks and Fine Lines – using color/clay shapers, paper tortiliuns, pocket knife/metal nail file and soft pastel pencils.
  • Layering and Scumbling – for dramatic patterns, atmospheric effect, and tools (rags, tortiliuns, clay shapers, etc.).
  • Scraping Down – using a razor, painters knife, scissors, nails (to name a few tools) can create lines, patterns or completely change an entire scene.  One of my recent paintings was done using the scraping technique https://oilpastelsbymary.com/2013/11/25/forest-secret-1-and-2-oil-pastels/
  • Turpentine Washes – ways to use washes to create patterns, a process for getting a fine glaze, or how to change the hue and intensity of colors.
  • Changing your Mind and Correcting Mistakes – methods for putting down one color over an other and taking the top layer of OPs off without muddying the hue underneath.

To paint with oil pastels you can lay-down and spread/manipulate around the surface, or paint using a wash technique.  Either way you move OPs and develop subjects using any number of tools, just as you would with painting (tools = brushes, painters knife, hard sponge/rags).  Mr. Leslie has laid out a number of techniques that makes painting with oil pastels much easier.

Many get frustrated and give up on the medium way too soon.  If you want to learn how to paint with oil pastels this is a book I highly recommend.  Mr. Leslie has taken the mystique out of oil pastels – painting with Ops is always a learning experience for me, but very enjoyable.

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About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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9 Responses to Oil Pastel – Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist, by Kenneth Leslie – book review

  1. Pingback: Pea Island, oil pastel | Oil Pastels by Mary

  2. Donatella Bellini says:

    Can you tell us which were the books on oil pastels that you don’t recommend?

    • Mary says:

      Hi Donatella, thank you for your comment. I decided a long time ago that I would only review/write a post on books that I would recommend and not books that I didn’t measure up. It’s only my opinion I don’t think a negative review would be very fair to the author.

  3. So true, not much info about oil pastels-you are MY source Mary! Thanks for the great review.

  4. Nuno says:

    Very informative. Thanks!

  5. Nawfal says:

    This is an excellent review! 🙂

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