The Benefits of Oil Pastels: A “Happy Medium”

"Benefits of Oil Pastels: A 'Happy Medium'" (blog post) | |

Oil pastels don’t seem to be used nearly as much as other art mediums—they’re not even used as much as chalk/soft pastels. Yet they can deliver amazing results.

Even on the Internet, if you’re looking for information on oil pastels, there’s little about them. Surely, everyone needs to find his or her “happy medium.” For this particular drawing/painting of a carousel horse, based on an original photo, oil pastel was perfect.

"The Benefits of Oil Pastels: A 'Happy Medium'" (blog post) | |
Underpainting done in Faber-Castell Gelatos for Carousel Horse Oil Pastel

First, the underpainting was done with Faber-Castell Gelatos. It probably would have been best to skip the background underpainting so that the softness of the oil pastels would simply create a more blurred look when blended. Still, the whole underpainting worked.

Drawing (or Painting) the Carousel Horse

Depending on what you prefer, oil pastels are either considered drawing or painting. We’ll just use both interchangeably here.

All of the oil pastel portions (almost the entire painting) were blended, either with a blending stump for smaller areas or a make-up wedge for larger areas (as a sidenote, try to use make-up wedges where the holes of the sponge are not as obvious, as these will last longer and are less likely to disintegrate as you go).

The decorations on the saddle, the “bar” areas of the saddle and a few other areas needing more precision were done with conté crayon, and for really small areas, a wax-based colored pencil.

One Major Con of Oil Pastels

The one major disadvantage of oil pastel is that it’s difficult to deal with mistakes. It seems that you either have to somehow work the mistake into the piece (e.g., creating a shadow) or hope that you can blend it out (doesn’t always work). You cannot paint over it; you cannot erase it.

"Benefits of Oil Pastels: A 'Happy Medium'" (blog post) | |
“Carousel Horse.” Oil pastel on mixed-media paper.

Oil Pastels: A Beautiful Art Form

If you’re open, oil pastels are a lovely medium to try. Don’t let the fact that they’re not as commonly used thwart your efforts: They’re totally worth it!


Materials used:

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Oil Pastel Experiment: Trying Gelatos for Underpainting

""Working in Oil Pastel With Gelatos for Underpainting" (blog post) | |

In the last post, we looked at using acrylic paint as an underpainting layer for an oil pastel piece. This time, we’re going to look at a medium that is probably not commonly used for underpainting: Gelatos®.

Faber-Castell’s Gelatos are a stick pigment often used for art journaling. They aren’t pastels, but they do resemble softer oil pastels in their consistency—but they are much more “mushy” and are in fact often compared with lipstick in texture. There are several sets of Gelatos available; for this piece, the pastel color set was used to match the subject: a retro Peaches n’ Cream Barbie.

Gelatos offer a lot of flexibility. They can be used dry (and blend into the paper easily) or can be used with water. Once they’re dry, they don’t budge—which makes them great as an underpainting layer if you want it to stay put. Also, you can draw pencil marks on top of it, and nothing will smear from erasures.

Gelatos aren’t noted to work well on canvas (from my research), so a mixed media paper was used. Mixed media paper also seems to work well with oil pastels, similar to bristol board, in that it offers a smooth surface for blending.

Materials used:

  • Faber-Castell Gelatos: Pastels Set
  • Sennelier and Faber-Castell Oil Pastels
  • Conte Crayon (for fine details)

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the underpainting layer. It looked similar to the underpainting done in acrylic paint but was obviously done in pastel colors.

All Pros—and No Cons

The Gelatos made a perfect underpainting layer for the oil pastel! They were applied dry and blended in large areas with a baby wipe; small areas were blended with Q-Tips. At a certain point, it was obvious that the outline of the nose was not drawn in (which I meant to do), so I went in with colored pencil to draw on top of the Gelatos. Even though some mistakes needed to be erased, the Gelatos did not move.

The conte crayon used for finer detail did well when used on top of all the mediums underneath when Gelatos were the underpainting.


""Working in Oil Pastel With Gelatos for Underpainting" (blog post) | |

So the verdict is in! Gelatos are great as an underpainting layer under oil pastels. They’re fun to work with, and are readily available at places like Hobby Lobby and Michaels—plus, you can use coupons there. I will definitely be purchasing more Gelatos for future projects.

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Oil Pastel Experiment: Acrylic Underpainting Pros and Cons

"Oil Pastel Experiment: Underpainting Pros and Cons" (blog post) | |

Oil pastel is perfect for those who want something between drawing and painting — something with more of the control of drawing but some of the flexibility in blending available with painting.

Oil pastels on their own can be very striking — but underpainting can help fill in some of those little spots that show underneath. This is the first experiment with underpainting mediums for pastel and trying to find the right one.

Since canvas worked for some previous oil pastel pieces, canvas seemed to make the most sense when working with acrylic painting as the underpainting; a matte varnish was added over the acrylic to make it easier to blend the oil pastels. So that’s what was done here. An earlier “mini experiment” ended up having no varnish over acrylic underpainting, which ended up a bit rough for blending the oil pastels on top.

The subject was a collector Barbie doll from the 1990’s: Renoir Barbie. Dolls make a great subject because they have a face to work with but aren’t as difficult as real people at the same time. For a piece that’s basically just an experiment, that works perfectly. 🙂

Materials used:

  • Acrylic paint: Grumbacher Academy and Winsor & Newton Galeria
  • Liquitex Matte Varnish (over the acrylic underpainting)
  • Sennelier and Faber-Castell Oil Pastels
  • Conte Crayon (for fine details)
"Oil Pastel Experiment: Underpainting Pros and Cons" (blog post) | |
Underpainting in acrylic for 1990’s Renoir Barbie oil pastel. Sorry for the glare!

The underpainting for this piece was done in all gray tones, as the finished product was to be black and white.


The oil pastel blended very smoothly and easily with this method. Not only was it easy to work with, but it also made it easier to scrape off mistakes. Unwanted marks came off pretty well without much left behind.


It was difficult to build up white pastel very well with this method; the same went for any semi-transparent or lighter grays. Any sketch lines also showed easily underneath.

Also, conte crayon, which has worked well in the past for fine details on top of oil pastel (e.g., eyelashes) did not want to stick to the pastel when it was on top of the acrylic underpainting.

The finished piece turned out decently, though.

"Oil Pastel Experiment: Underpainting Pros and Cons" (blog post) | |

So overall, this method may work well if using very faint (or no) sketch lines drawn in beforehand. If bold colors only are used, then the transparency when blending wouldn’t be an issue — but clearly, there’s probably a better method out there.

Stay tuned for another experiment….

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