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  • Writer's picturePam Hayes

Oil Pastels – A Cinderella Story

Updated: Mar 24

Oil Pastels might be considered the “Cinderella” of drawing and painting media. The pastels are a hardworking and versatile medium, who has yet to get the “glass slipper” of respect that they so rightly deserve. Their sister media, soft pastels and charcoal, have been out and about throughout the history of art, earning awards and claiming many renowned artists as their patrons. But our Cinderella Oil Pastel has still been hanging around the hearth, waiting for more popular recognition.

A few excerpts from an online site called SCRAWLRBOX, in an article titled “The Magic of Oil Pastels”, explains a bit of the history of this medium. (Please refer to this site for more information:

“Oil pastels are a relatively new medium to the market, first appearing in 1925 in Japan. They were originally invented by a company called ‘Sakura Cray-Pas’, who made them with the intention of being a go to and safe supply for school children to use.”

“Henri Sennelier was contacted by none other than Pablo Picasso, who declared that he was looking for a very specific new medium that he wanted to have all the vibrancy and brilliance of oil paints but with the ability to be applied on any surface and without having to worry about waiting for it to dry.”

“Thus, in 1949, Sennelier went on to develop a type of oil pastel that was explicitly designed with professional artists in mind. These pastels were advanced by featuring exceptional wax viscosity, which made for a much smoother and creamier texture, as well as higher pigment quality and quantity which made this medium more consistent in its colour application.”

There are differences in the available brands of oil pastels, which are important to know when making choices of what to purchase. Inexpensive Cray Pas student grade pastels will work well for some applications. But the more expensive and softer Sennelier sets are the easiest to apply and most versatile for a variety of techniques. Cray Pas Expressionist brand is a moderately soft stick, and Cray Pas Specialist is a square shaped stick which is a harder and drier oil pastel. It’s beneficial to have an assortment of different sets for their different qualities. This is especially helpful when the pastels are applied in layers starting with the driest and finishing with the softer and more easily blended pastels. One could say that Cinderella does have a variety of costumes to choose from for the ball! And she also has a lot of choices when it comes to what coach she will ride in as well! Oil pastels can be applied on several different substrates, either textured or smooth. Pastel paper, watercolor paper, canvas paper, and even Bristol will support this medium. They can be applied over watercolor or acrylic underpainting as well.

There are a lot of ways to apply and manipulate oil pastels, which can also be combined with other media to create unique effects. Oil pastels can be blended with fingers, which is messy but very effective, soft paper towels or brushed with a solvent like Gamsol and treated like paint. In this landscape the oil pastel in the sky and water areas were thinned with Gamsol and “painted”.

Textural elements are very easy to create with oil pastels, as the softer sticks are easy to scratch through with any sharp implement, such as a toothpick or sharpened pencil. Colored pencils can be used to add fine detail to the artwork. Since oil pastels are pretty sticky, just touching them together can create textures. Textural elements in both of these landscapes were created with scratching through layers, tapping pastels on top of each other, and adding pencil work.

A variety of subject matter can be depicted with oil pastels, whether applied thinly so that the background shows through, or very thickly so that it resembles brushstrokes. Cinderella can dance with all of the beaus at the ball and does so nimbly on her glass slippered toes!

If you are interested in taking a turn around the dance floor with Oil Pastels, do so knowing that this Cinderella of art media will be a fun and versatile creative partner to have. And you won’t even have to have a Fairy Godmother!


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