What Are Oil Pastels?

By: Charles Jaymes

What Are Oil Pastels?

A popular medium with artists that many people might not be familiar with is oil pastels. Oil pastel (also referred to as a wax oil crayon) is a relatively new painting and drawing medium. Oil pastels consist of pigment mixed with a non-drying oil and wax binder. As the name implies, this medium combines the ease of drawing like pastels with the vibrancy of oil paints.

The history of oil pastels is relatively new to the world of art. The first oil pastels were made in Japan in 1925 by the Sakura Crayon Company. Oil pastel evolved from the intended combination of the dustless, smooth, soft consistency of crayons with rich brightness of pastels. In 1949, influenced by artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Goetz, Henri Sennelier designed a professional version of the oil pastel. His formula created an oil pastel with a creamy consistency and a subtle color palette. In 1980, Holbein entered the field with a professional grade with improved texture, palette and performance designed to appeal to the serious artist. Professional grade oil pastels feature ground pigments combined with a small amount of wax, softened with a smaller amount of acid-free oil, which gives the product its archival quality. Oil pastel paintings will harden slightly overtime, but being completely acid-free, won't form a hard outer skin.

Today you can find many brands of oil pastel available in a variety of grades. The better the quality, the higher the ratio of pure pigment to its oil and wax binder. Better quality ingredients provide richer colors and finer technique. By using different strokes, pressure and what part of the pastel is being used, the artist can create different effects.

There are various techniques that artists can use with oil pastels. One of the most common is called layering, which involves building layers of colors with oil pastel. Another popular technique is to use liquids such as turpentine or mineral spirits as a blending tool to create a wash effect similar to some watercolor paintings.

Oil pastels never dry out completely, so you need to protect them. An effective method is to apply a special fixative to the work or place it in a sleeve and then inside a frame.

About the Author:
Charles Jaymes writes frequently on art related topics for Wend Images.


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