Oil pastel may seem like an unconventional medium for art journaling as many artists and art journalers prefer watercolor or acrylic. But if rendered properly and with effort, these highly pigmented sticks yield beautiful results. You do not have to attend a workshop or to read plenty of books to get the hang of it. You can begin with just a few oil pastel sticks and have fun! Here are some tips to help you get started:
Start with a small set of academic grade oil pastels. Yes, you can begin with student grade oils pastels and come up with well rendered journal pages. Choose a brand that’s popular among art students. I recommend Sakura Cray-Pas, Gallery Oil Pastels, Faber-Castell, Pentel, or Crayola. If you want water-soluble pastels, try Art Attack or Portfolio (also made by Crayola).
Use oil pastels to line, add depth or to cover large areas. Oil pastels may not be the best medium for rendering details, but they give stunning results when used for creating depth or for covering wide spaces. For example, you may want to use blended oil pastels to make a background, to paint a face, or to color a dress. You can also rub oil pastel on texture made out of modeling paste or hard gesso.
Use baby oil and a rug to blend the oil pastels. Ever tried this before? Rub the oil pastel on the paper or canvas, put a bit of baby oil on a small portion of the rug, wrap the oiled cloth round your pointy finger, and use it to blend the pastel. Brilliant!
Combine oil pastels with other mediums. In my case, I like to combine oil pastels with watercolor (the oil pastels act as a resist) and/or archival ink or drawing pen. I prefer to use the brush Faber-Castell PITT pen to line my oil pastel paintings. I like how the PITT pen can actually go over the oiled areas without skipping.
Gesso your substrate. I don’t usually do this but I have read in forums that some artists do coat their substrate first – even if its paper — before using the oil pastels. I have done it once and I didn’t really see much difference, except that the oil pastels seem to glide more smoothly on gessoed surface rather than on an uncoated one. It’s a matter of preference, I suppose.
Create an underpainting for your oil pastel artwork. Underpainting is simply coloring the entire or portion of a substrate where you plan to render oil pastels. You can do this by covering an area with watercolor or acrylic washes. These colored areas do make an effect when topped with oil pastel. Try washing an area with yellow, let dry and then coat with green or blue oil pastel. You might see hints of yellow after rubbing the oil pastel with baby oil. I find this technique beautiful as it creates layers of color that are pleasing to my eyes.
As you get well acquainted with your oil pastels, you will find them a good medium for art journaling. Later on, you may want to try a few artist or studio grade brands that are more highly pigmented. I use Sakura Cray-Pas Expressionist and Gallery Artist’s Oil Pastels (metallic and fluorescent), and I love how much color they put on my journal pages!
Do you have other tips on how to use oil pastels? Please share them here through the comments section. I would love to hear from you.
I'm a professional writer for print and online media. I'm also an art enthusiast, an organic gardener, a wife, and a mom. Thank you for reading my two cents! Please do check out my art and journals on Instagram and on Facebook.