Best Oil Pastel Technique: Tips From Professionals

An oil pastel drawing of an apple

Oil pastels are a great medium to use for creating art. They give you the ability to blend colors, create texture and depth, and they don't require any solvents or fixatives. But which is the best oil pastels technique? This article will highlight some of the most popular methods professional artists use in their work with oil pastels.


A macro of an eye showing blending technique
A macro of an eye showing blending technique - Image by
BlackBean CMS

Blending is one of the basic oil pastel techniques that any oil pastel artist should understand to make his work look professional. In the example above, the artist showed how he used intense pressure to blend the colors and use the sgraffito technique to add highlights to the macro drawing of the eye.

We have a more in-depth discussion on blending oil pastels, so you'll learn a lot from it if you visit that article. However, to give you a rundown of various blending techniques, here's a summary.

  • As used by the artist in our example, heavy pressure blending creates fully covered, vibrant blended colors on your oil pastel drawing. Apply it in a single direction to get the best results.
  • Light pressure blending is less vibrant but allows the colors to mix to create different hues. Like heavy pressure blending, you should apply it in a single direction.
  • Scumbling looks remotely like your traditional blending technique, but these scribbled marks build value and texture for your oil pastels.
  • If you have limited colors in your palette, color mixing will solve this issue. Adding contrasting colors will create new colors, so you don't have to invest in more. Keep them well-blended to get a smooth transition.
  • Stippling looks great for adding leaves to trees or wildflowers in a meadow, creating texture instead of a flat image. Do this by making random dots, sometimes in three colors and shades.
  • Artists love adding thick layers of oil pastel, each layer applied heavily, then scratching the oil pastel out, so you can see the color underneath. They call this technique sgraffito, which means scratch.
  • Another way to blend oil pastels is using oil. Some artists recommend baby oil, while professionals prefer linseed or walnut oil. To do it, wet a piece of Q-tip or cotton swab with some oil and apply it over the oil pastels to blend them. Baby oil is not a good option because it affects the archival quality of the paper.
  • Blending with whites lightens the values of your colors and helps create tints.
  • When you blend your colors with grays, it will dull your colors, so when you feel your colors are too vibrant, adding grays will help temper the colors.
  • Blending with blacks, on the other hand, darkens your values and creates shades.

The last three blending techniques help add tones and deals to your oil pastel drawings.

Applying as paint 

Different ways to use oil pastels as a wet medium
Different ways to use oil pastels as a wet medium - Image by

Aside from using oil pastels as a dry medium, you can also use oil pastels as a wet medium. Add a small number of mineral spirits to a mixing palette, then rub the oil pastel stick on the mixing palette until you extract enough pigments to pick with your brush. You can apply it as paint.

Another thing is to dip the oil pastel into some mineral spirits, grab some pigments using a brush, then apply it as paint.


Abstract art made with masking tape
Abstract art made with masking tape - Image by
Smart Art Zone

The masking technique involves using tape over the paper to create different patterns. You can also use painter's tape or masking tape for this purpose. Be sure to remove some of the tackiness on the tape before applying it to your drawing. 

Stick the length of tape on your jeans or apron several times, so it doesn't ruin your drawing but still does its masking job. Tape the areas you don't want to color. In this example, the artist made triangles then drew his patterns inside the triangles. When he removed the tape, the resulting triangles were clean and crisp.

Adding textures

Adding textures to your oil pastels using acrylic paint
Adding textures to your oil pastels using acrylic paint -
Tom Quigley Art

Using mixed media is an effective way of adding textures to your oil pastels. Apply the acrylic paints using different techniques and use them to add textures. This technique is best for underpainting your oil pastel drawings.

Impasto also adds new textures to your oil pastels. To use the impasto technique, dip your oil pastel to a medium or turpentine to soften it further. You can also warm the oil pastel using a hairdryer.

Apply the oil pastels using the stippling method while slightly twisting them to leave more oil pastel on the paper. A palette knife is also convenient to use for adding oil pastels to your impasto drawing. Adding short strokes is also a fun technique for adding textures. Experiment with more tips until you master your art.


Oil pastel portrait of BlackPink Lisa
Oil pastel portrait of BlackPink Lisa - Image by

Superimposing is the more technical term of layering, where the individual colors remain visible, as you can observe on the skin and hair of the model. Add the layers over the colors, blending them lightly with your fingers to do this technique.

Underpainting oil pastels

Blending an oil pastel underpainting
Blending an oil pastel underpainting - Image by
Karen Margulis

We discussed underpainting techniques briefly in our article Drawing With Oil Pastels and the different color schemes of using oil pastels. One purpose of underpainting is to add more colors to the paper’s surface you want to paint on.

However, it is also essential to control the color you add, so the underpainting doesn't hinder the layering of colors later. The key here is more practice until you achieve the result you want.

Whether you're working on landscapes or still-life paintings, you can tone the surface of your paper to create paintings that matter. Here, we'll discuss underpainting and the other mediums you can use to underpaint.

Watercolor pencils

Though many artists use watercolor pencils to add details to your oil pastels, do you know that you can also use them for underpainting? We don't recommend them for large drawings, but if you're into cardmaking, a good set of watercolor pencils will give you the desired result.

Use a flat brush dipped in a bit of water to create a wash over the watercolor pencil to give it a clean look. Let it dry, then draw with your oil pastels later. For this technique, though, we recommend using good watercolor paper, so it won't buckle or get crumpled. Also, don't forget to tape it on an easel or board, so the paper stays flat.


Watercolor is one of the favored mediums that many artists use to layer colors on the oil pastel paper's surface to create a fantastic painting. Adding a wash of watercolor on your oil pastel paper improves the tone of your paper, primarily if you use bright or natural white paper. 

Like watercolor pencils, we recommend using high-quality watercolor paper and then taping it on your board. However, if you want to frame it, use a foam board to prepare your paper for framing later. 


When using acrylics for underpainting, thin it with water to get a transparent wash. Follow the same recommendations for underpainting with watercolors to get the best effect on your oil pastel painting.

Oil paints

Oil paints are not only for oil paintings. Some newbie artists think that oil paints work well for underpainting oil pastels because they both contain oil. Thin your oil paint with thinner, but we recommend this underpainting technique with canvas.

You may still use oil paints to underpaint. However, you need to apply gesso or acrylic primer. Oil-based paints, including dissolved oil pastels, harm paper fibers over time, and you don't want that for your drawings.

Oil pastels

Aside from applying oil pastels as a dry medium, you can also dissolve some oil pastels with mineral spirits and use them for painting. The good thing about underpainting with quality oil pastels is that you get the same vivid colors as those you'll later use for your drawings.


Stenciling over oil pastels
Stenciling over oil pastels - Image by
Carolyn Dube

Stencils are a great way to add texts or designs to your oil pastels. Apply your oil pastels in random, solid, or gradient to serve as the background. Then put your stencil on top and paint it with acrylic.

Another way to add stencil design to your oil pastels is to combine it with sgraffito. After applying the oil pastels, place the stencil over it and scratch your design with an awl or a stylus. This technique will transform your flat artwork.

Don't stop practicing. One way to master your techniques is to start drawing new ones. YouTube has many quality tutorial videos to watch to aid your practice. Oil pastels do not follow a single hard rule to produce amazing artwork. However, you should be brave enough to experiment.


So now that you know some of the most popular oil pastel techniques, which one will you try first? If you want to learn more about any of these techniques or how you can use them in your work, we encourage you to come and follow our blog. We have a wealth of information on this topic and would love to share it with anyone interested!

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