How to Use Oil Pastels: Comprehensive Guide with Techniques and Tips

Oil pastels are a great medium for those who want to create artwork without the mess and permanence of traditional oils. They can be used on many surfaces and they offer an array of techniques that will keep your creativity flowing. There are so many ways to use oil pastels, which is what makes them so versatile!

Oil pastels come in a wide range of colors so they’re perfect for artists looking to experiment with color palettes. The soft texture also makes them ideal for use by children or beginners. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything from how to use oil pastels on paper up to how you can use them on your favorite blank canvas!

What Are Oil Pastels And What Do They Look Like

Oil pastels are a form of oil paint and wax crayons. They sport the same vivid colors as oil paints, but they have a great advantage: because they’re made with waxes instead of oils, there’s no need to worry about toxic solvents! One end is like an oversized crayon that you can use to apply color on a flat surface such as paper or canvas. The other end is like an oversized paintbrush that you can use to create strokes and blend colors together.

Oil pastels look very similar to soft pastels. They both require sharpening and can be used on many surfaces like paper, canvas, or the skin (for body art).

The main difference between oil and soft pastel is that oil paints contain pigment in a drying fatty acid while soft pastels do not include any oils – only pigments mixed with waxes to form sticks.

Oil pastels are also very similar to crayons. They both contain pigments mixed with waxes and have a waxy texture when used on canvas or paper. Crayon colors come in many different hues, just like oil pastel colors! You can blend them together easily by layering one over top of another to create an interesting texture – although you will not be able to layer it onto wet surfaces as well as oil pastels since they do not mix well with water (oil does).

Oil pastels come in sets of 12-60 different colors, so they’re great for amateurs and professionals alike! They also don’t require any special equipment: just some paper or canvas, and you’re good to go! They come in all shapes and sizes – your only limit is how much space you have!

A Short History of Oil Pastels

Before we get into the details of how to use oil pastels for beginners, it’s important to understand a bit about their history.

First invented in 18th century France as an alternative to traditional chalk and charcoal sticks, early artists such as Marie-Gabrielle Capet started using them for sketching because they were affordable and could be used much like pen and ink drawings. Oil pastel art also allowed these talented women to express themselves artistically without worrying that their work would be destroyed by rain or wind since oil pastels don’t smudge easily when applied over water paint (which was expensive at the time). This made them more accessible and popular among artists.

Oil Pastel Characteristics

Oil pastels are versatile, portable, and easy to use. Pastel artists love how they blend smoothly onto the paper or canvas without any residue left behind on their fingers. Oil pastels can be used with water for an interesting effect on your artwork. This is why oil pastels make a great addition to anyone’s art supplies arsenal!

Oil pastel characteristics:

  • Blend well with other colors and mediums like water, gels, or paint.
  • Smooth layers can be built quickly without smudging.
  • Short drying time between applications.
  • Do not split when layered over top of each other (unlike chalk pastels).
  • Great for creating textures by using them wet or dry, thick lines, layering onto paper to create an interesting effect.
Note that oil pastels need to dry completely before painting on top.

Oil Pastels For Beginners

What to buy when starting out

Let’s go over what kind of supplies we will need in order to work successfully with our oily friends. You can find most or all of this at your local art store or order online.

  • Oil pastels. Our Best Oil Pastels guide will help you choose the perfect set for your needs.
  • A paper plate to hold the pastels you are not currently using. This will prevent them from getting all over your table and rolling off onto the floor if they break. You do NOT want oil pastel pigment smeared across everything in your home! Make sure whatever material you choose is large enough for several pieces so group similar colors together before putting them on the plate.
  • A paper towel to clean your hands when necessary.
  • An old toothbrush (or a new one if you don’t want dusty used ones) for rubbing away extra color around the areas where you wish them lighter like under your eyes or along the hairline. Just make sure you don’t rub it too hard or you will move the color around and where oil pastels are concerned less is always more!
  • Art paper or canvas. They both work well with oil pastels as long as they have been primed beforehand (if using a canvas). This means that both surfaces should be painted with an acrylic gesso primer before beginning your artwork to create a surface that can withstand decades of wear without losing its integrity.
Sennelier Oil Pastel Set, Multicolor 24 Count Sennelier Oil Pastel Set, Multicolor 24 Count
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  • Acid-free
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How to use oil pastels

Oil pastels are generally used in the same way as oil paint. However, depending on how much water is added to the mix they can also be worked into a paste or solidified into paint without being diluted with turpentine/mineral spirits.

You might find that practicing different techniques will yield interesting results so it’s good to try out all kinds of different things. Oil pastels are pretty forgiving so don’t worry too much if something doesn’t turn out perfect – maybe add some color over the top and you’ll have a new original work of art.

Learn How to Blend Oil Pastels in our useful guide.

Oil pastels are non-toxic so experimenting is key!

Surfaces for oil pastels

Oil pastels can be used on a variety of surfaces. It is even possible to use oil pastels on wood panels as long as the surface has been properly prepared.

How to use oil pastels on canvas

When you want to create a masterpiece using oil pastels, then the best material available for this purpose is the canvas. The reason why artists prefer canvases over other surfaces such as wood or even paper is because of its durability and ability to withstand changes in temperature without any damage.

If an artist carefully prepares his canvas before he begins working on it with oil pastels by priming it with gesso first, there won’t be much effort involved later when removing those pencils from your artwork. If you want to use oil pastels on canvas without priming it beforehand, you will have a hard time trying to remove them from your artwork once they are dry.

How to use oil pastels on paper

Oil pastels are also very easy to use on different types of papers that are good with oil pastels in general. They can be used for various techniques, such as working wet-on-wet, blending colors, and even creating unique effects with the oil bar. There is no need to apply fixative after using them on paper.

After applying oil pastel onto paper, one must use either a blender pen or tissue papers/tissue rollers wrapped in cloth tape so that lines drawn from oil pastel are blended evenly.

You can also check out our buyer’s guide about the Best Paper for Oil Pastels.

Oil Pastel Techniques

There are tons of techniques available through experimenting but these six should give you an idea about how versatile oil pastels can be while still allowing room for creativity on your part.


One way to approach oil pastels is by adding layers of color. Start with a base layer and then add more as needed! You can always go back into your painting if you feel the need, so don’t be afraid to experiment. This technique works best on paper but canvas will also work under these circumstances.


Blending techniques are used in both watercolor and oil pastel paintings. The basic idea here is that you use multiple colors at once as opposed to working from lightest shade to darkest shade. Oil pastels lend themselves well to blending because they’re fairly opaque which means it’s easier for you to see where you’re blending.


Scumbling is a technique used in painting that involves dragging layers of color over one another without mixing them together too much. This can be achieved by using your paintbrush or even the side of the oil pastel itself! The effects are really cool and different depending on what colors you use so it’s definitely worth trying out. If necessary, blend certain areas with other techniques for more contrast between shades.

Using objects

It might sound pretty simple but it works! Oil pastels work well when applied directly to paper or canvas with hands or fingers because they don’t require water like paints do (although there are some types that do). You can create unique effects by using different textures for your oil pastels. Try out things like pine cones, leaves, rocks – whatever you have around the house!

Adding wax

You can add beeswax (or something like it) to your oil pastels for an interesting effect! It will make them more opaque and give the colors a shinier finish once they’ve dried, which means less blending but with this method, it’s important not to mix too many colors together because then they won’t dry properly. There are all kinds of different effects that you can create with these methods so don’t hesitate when experimenting; after all, there is no right or wrong way of using oil pastels, just have fun while doing whatever works for you!

Using a heat gun

If you want to speed up the drying process for your oil pastels then try using a heat gun. This will cause the wax in them to melt and they’ll dry faster than usual but beware of what this does to paper so use it with caution (if at all). If necessary, add more layers if something isn’t quite right because the colors should blend together really nicely when heated like this during painting which is pretty awesome. Watch out though; don’t get too close or else things might start smoking and that’s never good!

How to use oil pastels with water

Oil pastels can be used with water to create a unique effect. Try wetting an oil pastel drawing, and then applying another layer of color over the top while it’s still wet. This will create different effects depending on how much or how little you add in your second application.

This is especially effective when used in conjunction with other techniques mentioned above so remember not to neglect it if you’re looking for variety in how colors work together and affect each layer. Oil pastels are really cool because they behave differently depending on how much or how little water there is in them but regardless of what technique you use you’ll be able to achieve a unique look that is truly your own.

You can also experiment by adding pencils and other media into the mix for even more dynamic results!

Tips for using oil pastels

  • Use a paper towel or cloth to wipe away mistakes. This will prevent the oil from spreading and ruining your artwork.
  • For best results, use an oil pastel with a high wax content when using crayons on porous surfaces such as watercolor paper or canvas board. In addition, avoid overworking the material because it could become too greasy if you add more layers after each one has dried thoroughly.
  • Mixing colors is possible by combining two different types of color in certain proportions, but try to stick within a single type of medium for consistency’s sake (i.e., all oils).
  • The safest way to store oil pastels is in an airtight container, but there are other ways you can keep your art materials fresh for longer periods. Using zip lock baggies or plastic wrap works too! Just be careful not to drop them on hard surfaces because it could cause breakage and/or shattering.
  • If you plan to use oil pastels on a surface other than paper or laminated poster board, first test them out by applying some of the pastels onto the non-paper medium to see how it will act when applied with even strokes in long lines. Different brands tend to work differently so this trial may help determine which brand is best for your project.
  • Oil pastels are easily blended together using either fingers or cotton swabs (be sure that they don’t have any ink). Start off blending areas where colors meet each other across an edge; then blend towards more central parts of the artwork until you’ve reached desired effect(s).
Blending oil pastels with fingers or cotton swabs requires a lot of work and patience, so if you find yourself getting exhausted quickly maybe it’s best to stick to an alternative method.

Finishing Off and Cleaning Up

  • If you’re done with your masterpiece, just let it dry for a few hours before putting the oil pastels away. This process can take longer if there are multiple layers of color on top of each other because more time is needed between them to completely dry out again.
  • To clean up an area where excess oil pastel has been used (such as hands), use either baby wipes or mineral spirit solution since both work well at removing wax from the skin without causing irritation.
  • If you want to completely erase oil pastel from a surface, the only way is by using either water or mineral spirits. Again, always do a test beforehand if you’re unsure how this will affect your artwork!
  • Oil paint won’t easily come off of fabrics even after they’ve been laundered several times. As such, try wearing gloves when handling them during an art session and be sure that any materials used are non-staining as well as washable.
  • After you’re done with oil pastels, make sure that the leftover pieces are all placed in a container where it’s safe from breakage or shattering.
Mineral spirits work best when applied to larger surfaces, so it’s best to stick with baby wipes for smaller areas.


Oil pastels are a fun and versatile medium that you can use for all kinds of things! If you’re just starting out we would recommend familiarizing yourself with the different techniques available to see what works best for your needs before purchasing an entire set (although it’s good to experiment, too). Overall they’re pretty cheap and if one color isn’t quite right then there will definitely be another that is which makes them well worth trying out because at least some of them will suit your purposes perfectly!

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