How To: Draw with Oil Pastels

How To: Draw with Oil Pastels

The best way to get the hang of oil pastels is to do small, quick studies that help you experiment with different kinds of mark making and different techniques of layering colors.

But here are some tips to keep in mind and help you get started!


Create an Underpainting: An underpainting is a loose drawing using usually a singular oil pastel. It is a rough drawing of the [subject/object] and not meant to be detailed. To encourage “loose” drawing, hold your oil pastel with a loose grip and lay down vague shapes.  



Layer colors from light to dark: Darker oil pastels can always be layered onto lighter ones but not vice versa. It is always good to practice noticing the light areas and the mid-tones on your subject before moving onto the darkest shades. (This is of course referring to drawing from life, you can also create your own source of light within your drawing or maybe have no light source at all! Keep in mind having both light and dark shades in your drawing will create more depth).

Scratch it! A toothpick, palette knife, or back of a paintbrush can be used to scratch details into the layers of your drawing. The technical name for this is referred to as “sgraffito” and it can even reveal colors underneath the top layer of oil pastel. 



Be Intentional with Colors - Being strategic with the colors used and layered on the page will make a difference in the overall finish of your piece. Complimentary colors such as blue and orange; red and green; purple and yellow - are excellent combinations for making your subject POP. 

Clean Hands - As you work, oil pastel residue will build up on your hands. In order to avoid a big muddied mess, wash your hands in between color switches and use pieces of scrap paper to create a barrier between your hand and your artwork.

Avoid Applying Dirty Colors - The more you layer your oil pastels, the more the tips will become cross contaminated with other colors. Keep scrap paper nearby so you can clean off the muddied pastel tips and apply clean ~uncontaminated~ color to your masterpiece. 

PRO TIP: Experiment with the oil pastels on different surfaces! Canvas boards, watercolor paper, newsprint, glass, and wood all have different textured surfaces and will create different effects with oil pastels. 

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