How to use Oil Pastels

Drawing in Oil Pastels is awesome!  When drawing with oil pastels, you get many of the benefits of both painting in oil as well as drawing.  You get to experience mixing and use of colors, like you would with painting, but you also don’t have to put all your drawing skills to the side in favor of a brush, mediums, and the extra time it takes to get into an oil painting.  Just pick up a stick of your oil pastels and start drawing with them!

I’m writing this blog post because I am seeing a growing number of people hitting my blog from the search phrase “How to use oil pastels”.  I have some experience with these, which you can check out some examples of my work on this site.  One of which is this one:

Christmas Ornaments (artwork in Oil Pastels)
An Oil Pastel Drawing, 8×10 © Eric D. Greene


So let’s get right to it.  The best way is to just jump right in and start drawing!  The fact is, you’re going to have to experiment with them a little bit.  Grab an apple or orange, set it on your desk in front of you or on a piece of paper, and just start drawing what you see.  Feel free to play around with it too.  The great thing with oil pastels is, there is some room for error.  If you mess up what you’re doing, you can cover it up, to a certain extent.  Just pick up another color, and draw right over it!  Yes, sometimes it is going to blend and mix with the other color, but it’s much better than having to pick up an eraser and try to remove a pencil line.

Avoid mixing too many colors at once

Of course, the key to success in drawing with oil pastels is how well you learn to blend and mix your colors.  This will take practice and experimentation.  Just keep in mind one thing – the more different colors you try to mix in, the muddier and duller of a color you’re going to end up with.  At a maximum, try to avoid mixing in more than 4 colors.  If you’ve already mixed 4 and you’re thinking that it needs more, you might want to re-think that color choice overall.  Best advice I can give again – practice, practice, practice!

Get decent quality oil pastels

I will say this about the quality oil pastel you choose, and yes I have mentioned this on other blog posts – it does make a difference which brand oil pastel you decide to purchase.  Unfortunately, oil pastels are like most artist mediums – the better quality pastels are going to be more expensive!  I recommend Sennelier oil pastels all the way, if you can afford it.  If money is no object for you, go out and get a 50-count wooden box of these!  Don’t waste your time with the lesser quality ones.

To the rest of us where money *is* a concern (that does include me!) – I do have some advice which I think you will find useful.  What you can do is get a nice set of pastels of half-decent quality, such as Cray-Pas Expressionist.  Use those ones to fill in the major parts of your artwork (so if it’s an apple, fill it in with a red), also fill in your background with these.  Then, what I do is grab my Senneliers and do my mixing and capture highlights and details with those.  That way I’m not using up a full stick of Sennelier just for filling in a lot of color!  For most art projects, you will only need to have like 5-10 sticks of Senneliers available, which you’ll use for those highlights and details.

I will mention, there is one stick of Sennelier which in my opinion you simply *must have*.  You have got to have a stick of Sennelier in white.  You will really need this to create your main highlights in your piece.  Trust me, the other oil pastels will leave you too frustrated, because what they do is they smudge the other colors around, whereas the Senneliers basically just glide right on top of the lesser quality pastels.

My Top 5 Tips for using Oil Pastels

Well I hope my article was of some usefulness for those of you looking for tips on using oil pastels. Here is a summary of each of the tips covered:

  1. Practice practice practice!
  2. Don’t be too afraid of making mistakes. Remember, you can often cover up with another color.
  3. Avoid mixing too many colors at once.  The more colors, the muddier and duller it gets.
  4. At least have on hand about 5-10 high quality oil pastels for highlights and details, with white being the most important color to have in high quality.
  5. Just have fun with it!  Oil pastels are a truly unique medium for artists, in that they really combine the ease-of-use that comes from drawing, with the use of color and color-mixing that comes from working in oil paints.

Update: Visit my website at for Oil Pastels Tips, Techniques and more!

Shop for oil pastels at the store I set up here

So feel free to post a comment with questions, or if you would like, I can be reached at eric at ericdgreene dot com if you want to ask a question by email.

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15 Comments on “ How to use Oil Pastels ”

  • #1 Practice practice practice!

    Thats really the best and only tip I can tell you. I use these oil pastels now for some months and the results become better and better. Even other people (friends, family) like it more, than I do – perhaps I become a popular artist although i dont like my own works (i m just kidding…).

    I would like to see on of your works! Could you imagine to publish one here?

  • I love using oil pastels, when I was at school I used them regualrly and I also used a spirit to blend the colours sometimes, but I can’t remember its name! Anyway this spirit helped further acheive an oil paint look which was great.

  • This is a very valuable blog post Eric. I hope that one day I can come back here and use your advice.

    I haven’t made time yet for any art these days, as I am so busy with writing, but the space above our couch that has been there for almost 2 years reminds me that I should do otherwise…

  • ei, great tuts on how to use oil pastels! I’m now one of your new subscribers… 🙂

    btw, found your links while reading on incomediary… =)


  • I always have an innate feeling that I am an artist (although, am not!). So I always check art blogs in hopes of learning more and growing my knowledge of various art forms and media. Thank you for sharing this info on how to use oil pastel, will definitely give it a go. 🙂

  • Dear Eric;
    I’ve red what a wonderful life you are having and saw your beautiful paintings. Congratulations, it is lovely to read the words of a man who acknowledge and admire his wife as you do and also works and live passionately. I’ve been serching about more oil pastels techniques when I found your blog. I’ve been a pastels artist for a number of years now and had to switch to oil pastels due to alergy problems. So, I’m in love with them but finding that it is a very challenging medium to work with. I’ve tried several brands already and as you say Sennelier is the best. I’m also working as you suggest. First loading painting with Cray-Pas Specialist and later using my Sennelier for the last finish. But I’d like to ask you if you can give me some tips at the time you have to put some small details. Because that is what is frustrating me sometimes. When you already have a color as a base it is very difficult to put another one on top without loosing it. I really love your work. Is it your self-portrate the image on top? If yes, that is a fantastic work. Very well done!. Keep going and Happy painting.!
    Thank you.

  • Just to say I’m sorry! I’ve read about your self portrate. Still I love it!
    Beautiful done.! As you said getting the reflexion of the camera in the sunglasses must be so challenging. I know you will understand what I was talking about in my post.
    Thank you Eric.

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