15 Drawings With Oil Pastels: Explore Your Creativity

Oil Pastel drawing of a footpath under trees - Image by The Virtual Instructor
Oil Pastel drawing of a footpath under trees - Image by The Virtual Instructor

Oil pastels are a versatile medium of art. They can be realistic, abstract, colorful, or monochromatic. If you have been interested in oil pastels but don't know where to start, this article is for you! Below are drawings with oil pastels that will inspire your creativity and show off the beautiful results of using these tools.

What You'll Need:

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Gather your materials

Gather all the materials you need for your oil pastel drawing. You can use white, toned, or black pastel paper or canvas. Many artists swear that the oil pastel paper is the deal-breaker when it comes to quality. You should also have the other supplies and tools listed in the above section.

When choosing the right materials, check your budget and preference. There is no need to buy professional-grade oil pastels if you're a beginner. Also listed above are blending tools and medium - essential for making your oil pastel drawings stand out. If you're a novice, visit our tutorial on oil blending techniques to learn the best technique that works for you.

Decide if you want to apply gesso

Although applying gesso is not a prerequisite, some artists prefer it to improve the archival property or add more texture (tooth) to your surface, whether paper or canvas.

If you decide to apply gesso, use a low-quality brush about 3 inches wide. Apply the gesso in even strokes, first in horizontal, then vertical. Let it dry before starting your oil pastel drawing. Do this step at least 1 day before you start your oil pastel drawings.

Choose a subject and style

Your subject is important to do justice to your oil pastel drawing, then decide how you want to do it. While drawing a realistic copy of your subject is very tempting, you can also make an abstract, impressionistic, or surrealist take on it.

For beginners, though, we recommend you stick with the realistic and impressionistic style to master the play of light, values, and tones on your drawing.

Make a light sketch of the image

Draw a light sketch of your subject using a pencil. Make it as light as you can to avoid leaving a mark on the paper.

Outline your drawing using the main color of the object

Outline your drawing using a lighter shade of your subject. A harder oil pastel works best for the outline for accuracy and fine details.

Start working from the background

Once you have the outline of your drawing, start building the background, using darker tones and values. Work into the foreground, blending your colors as you progress. Move to lighter tones as you create the foreground. However, if you want to add more drawings to your background, use a lighter pressure so you can layer beautifully.

Add an underpainting

Underpainting is important to make your oil pastel drawings stand out. There are four techniques you can try for underpainting your drawings. The first is a value sketch where you'll use vine charcoal to darken your drawing. Start by identifying the darkest values of your subject, then using a brush dipped in some alcohol, apply the vine charcoal. 

Another way to add underpainting is using a monochromatic layer. Use a very light color or watercolor, going about it freely to set the background for your oil pastel drawing. It is best to use the same background, going darker where the values are darker on your subject.

Complementary colors give your work a glow by setting the opposite of your image color as the underpaint. It is best to use the color wheel to decide which color complements your main color. After applying your underpaint, blend it with a brush dipped in alcohol so the colors spread evenly. 

Lastly is to use the main colors of your subject, going for a lighter value. Again, go over it with a brush dipped in alcohol to give your drawing a warm feel.

Layer and blend colors, values, and tones

Add more layers to your drawing, blending it with a paper stump or paper towel, going in circular motions. Some artists use baby oil to blend the colors, but we recommend linseed or walnut oil if you want an archival quality. You may also use a medium if you want.

Learn when to stop

Stop when you think you need to add more. If you want to give your painting more details, leave it for a few hours or overnight so you can look at your drawing with a fresh eye.

Landscapes

Landscapes are among the most popular subjects for any medium, and it only follows that they're also popular for oil pastels. Here are a few landscapes you can't resist trying for your projects.

Oil Pastel Drawings to Try

1. Forest Scenery 

Sun-drenched footpath in the forest

Sun-drenched footpath in the forest - Image by Art & Craft with Tanoy

For this drawing, the artist employed layering, blending, and sgraffito to create an interesting texture. Other techniques used are stippling and impasto. See how the black underpaint made very realistic sun rays when the artist added light yellow.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Underpaint the background with sap green, lemon yellow, orange, and black, then blend them with your fingers.
  2. Add the trees on the background with black and brown oil pastels, then blend them with a Q-tip.
  3. Add details using the black glass marking pencil and scrape some lines to highlight the branches.
  4. Add the leaves using the stippling method with sap green and lemon yellow oil pastels.
  5. Using light yellow oil pastels, add the sun rays and blend them with your finger until it looks translucent. You may also use neon pastels to add the sun rays for a more vibrant look.
  6. Add impasto details on the leaves and wildflowers along the path.
  7. Draw more trees in the foreground, then add details using the 10B pencils. Finish the drawing with the shadows cast by the trees.

2. Impasto Landscape

An impasto drawing of a river traversing a wildflower meadow

An impasto drawing of a river traversing a wildflower meadow - Image by Madhubala Arts

The artist used vivid colors and thick layers of oil pastels for the details and different blending techniques for this particular oil pastel drawing. The impasto technique added texture and dimension to the drawing, making it fascinating.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Using several shades and tints of blue, add the sky, using darker colors away from the horizon.
  2. Add scumbling patterns for the trees along the horizon and on the midground.
  3. Underpaint the meadow with blue and green before adding yellow for the wildflowers. Blend the colors evenly with your finger or blending stump.
  4. Add more details and highlights on the foreground for the grass and the trees, then add stippling patterns for the leaves on the trees in the foreground.
  5. Dip the tip of your oil pastel in medium or mineral spirits, then scrape it to the drawing for the details. You may use a small palette knife to apply your soft oil pastels.

3. Monochromatic Landscape

An abstract painting of trees using different shades of blue
An abstract painting of trees using different shades of blue - Image by
Karen Margulis

For this abstract drawing, the artist used a monochromatic color scheme, using different shades of blues. By controlling the values and tones of the color, monochrome drawings challenge your creativity and focus on these features instead of playing it safe with lots of colors.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Add a light sketch of the main objects on your drawing, including the horizon.
  2. Underpaint the drawing with different shades of blue, using a lighter value for the sky and the water, darker tones for the trees, and their reflections on the water.
  3. Blend the underpainting with pipe insulation, using downward strokes for the reflections.
  4. Add several layers of different values of blue for the trees, the reflection, and the sky.

4. Impressionistic Landscape

An impressionistic landscape of a barren landscape
An impressionistic landscape of a barren landscape - Image by
Karen Artist

Impressionism is a quick, loose style of painting that captures the essence rather than a detailed representation of your subject. You can try this style with your oil pastel drawing if you're not confident of your technique to capture a realistic effect of your drawing.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Start with the sky, making large blocks of your gradient until you get the right colors. Blend the colors using a short stump of a pool noodle.
  2. Outline the tree in the foreground, then add the lake and its details.
  3. Add details and highlights on the tree in the foreground until you get the desired effect.

5. Seascapes

Impressionistic oil pastel drawing of the sea
Impressionistic oil pastel drawing of the sea - Image by
GM Creations

The sea is another perfect subject for oil pastel paintings. In this drawing, the artist used white acrylic paint to add the details of the waves.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Mark the areas of the drawing with a light graphite pencil.
  2. Make a true color underpainting for the sand, sea, and horizon. Blend with the paper napkin.
  3. Add the cloudy sky using different shades of gray and blue.
  4. Draw the surf using the stippling technique with white oil pastel.
  5. Highlight the turf with white acrylic paint applied with a fine detailing brush.

6. The Night Sky

Oil pastel drawing of the night sky against pine trees

Oil pastel drawing of the night sky against pine trees - Image by Kobz Art

The night sky is one of the fascinating subjects for oil pastel drawings. In this example, the artist used acrylic paint over the pastel drawing to add the stars and the pine trees in the foreground.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Tape the paper on a piece of board.
  2. Underpaint the sky using different values of black, purple, blue, and pink oil pastels, then blend.
  3. Dip an old paintbrush or toothbrush into white acrylic and sprinkle it over the underpainting to resemble the stars.
  4. Draw the foreground using black acrylic paint and a fine detail brush.
  5. Add the finishing touches by drawing shooting stars and larger stars with white oil pastel and white acrylic paint.

7. City Skyline

City skyline in sunset

City skyline in sunset - Image by Alpha Gamer

Another sunset scene to draw is the city skyline or any skyline that appeals to you. For this project, the artist used the rainbow as an inspiration, blended for a smoother transition.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Tape the oil pastel paper on a table or drawing board.
  2. Underpaint the sky using rainbow colors and black then, blend.
  3. Block the lower part of the horizon with black oil pastel, then blend.
  4. Using a black glass marking pencil, draw the silhouette of the reference city.
  5. Add the stars using a correction pen or a white gel pen.

8. Mixed Media Still-Life 

A still-life of a bottle and lemons

A still-life of a bottle and lemons - Image by Nirdesha Munasinghe

As with the other examples in this article, underpainting is always the best way to start your oil pastel drawings. However, the artist used acrylic instead of the usual oil pastels for the underpainting, giving it a glossier effect.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Sketch the bottle and the lemons on a table with a Prismacolor pencil.
  2. Add an acrylic underpainting using different values of green on the wall and yellow and brown on the table, careful to go around the bottle and the lemons. Let it dry.
  3. Fill the bottle and the lemons with the colors. Layer and blend the colors well until you get the desired result.
  4. Finish the background with more acrylic paint but only oil pastels to add details and values to the bottle, lemons, and the table.

9. Chameleon Eye

Macro oil pastel painting of a chameleon's eye

Macro oil pastel painting of a chameleon's eye - Image by Bethany Thiele

The macro style of painting uses focused parts of an object, insect, or animal as a subject instead of the whole animal. In this example, the artist drew the eye of a chameleon. He focused on the nuances of the eye rather than the entire picture.

What You'll Need

Direction

  1. Draw a rough sketch of the eye you want to draw on your paper.
  2. Build the eye slowly by adding colors and details, blending as you go.
  3. Use different techniques for layering - scumbling, stippling, etc.

10. Human Eye

Macro oil pastel painting of the human eye

Macro oil pastel painting of the human eye - Image by Navanita

The eyes are the windows to the soul and are one of the most difficult parts to draw, especially when using oil pastels. However, aside from the eyes, you can also draw a portion of the flower. Focusing on a petal or the center of the flower for your drawing. 

What You'll Need

Direction

  1. Draw the underpainting of the eye, using the true colors you want to use. Blend.
  2. Add the details using the pastel colors, blending as you go.
  3. Add the eyelashes and eyebrows using the black colored pencils.

11. Studies of Nature

Study of water drops on cherries

Study of water drops on cherries - Image by Ohu Sia

In this example, the artist decided to forego underpainting but worked directly on the cherries in the drawing, adding values and blending as she went.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Tape the oil pastel paper on the table or drawing board.
  2. Draw the cherries, adding values and highlights while blending as you go.
  3. Add the branches, stems, and leaves before adding gray underpaint. Blend with the Q-tips.
  4. Add the details on the leaves and the branches.
  5. Using a white Prismacolor pencil, add the water drops on the cherries and the leaves.

12. Portraits

Portrait of a pouting young lady

Portrait of a pouting young lady - Image by Jori

Aside from the usual landscapes and still-life drawings, you can also do portraits using oil pastels. Probably a lot more challenging than using the other art mediums, but it is indeed possible.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Apply an underpainting on the paper using a color close to the subject's skin tone.
  2. Blend the underpainting with a cotton pad wet with a little walnut or linseed oil.
  3. Sketch the face using the Prismacolor pens, then layer your colors on the background, hair, and face.
  4. Add details and highlights until you get the features of the face and the likeness of the reference image.
  5. Apply a feathering technique to the background, hair, brows, and other facial features. Darken the eyes with the pencils.
  6. Add a small amount of turpentine to the mixing palette, then rub black and brown oil pastels, so you can apply them to the hair.
  7. Use the awl to scrape off some strands of the hair to make it more realistic.

13. Scene From a Movie

Simba from the Lion King

Simba from the Lion King - Image by Art Arena

Movie scenes make epic subjects for an oil pastel project. Choose a scene from your favorite more and take a screenshot to draw the picture.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Draw a circle using lemon yellow, blend, then apply a mask over it.
  2. Add orange and scarlet around the mask, leaving a small portion at the lowest part of the paper. Blend the colors using a piece of paper towel.
  3. Using a 10B pencil, draw Simba as he stands on the rock ledge he uses when addressing his kingdom.
  4. Add more details on the horizon and in the sky to finish the image.

14. Anime Drawing

Itachi Uchiha in village costumeItachi Uchiha in village costume - Image by NC ArtX

For this drawing, the artist used masking to protect the other drawing parts during the coloring process. The artist used different kinds of pens to add some of the details.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Sketch the anime character you want to draw using a mechanical pencil. Darken some parts of the drawing with the pens.
  2. Start coloring the drawing, blending them as you go. The artist here demonstrates how to use the pastel holders.
  3. Finish coloring the other parts of the drawing. You may use a sheet of printer paper to protect your drawing from smudging.
  4. Some parts of the drawing may need a mask to add the details you want

15. Modern Abstract

Image by Ruben Yevgeny Hymov

Image by Ruben Yevgeny Hymov

In this vivid modern abstract, the artist used random colors and shapes to create an interesting play on the colors and lighting.

What You'll Need:

Directions:

  1. Draw a true color underpainting of random squares and rectangles, using different colors. Blend following the directions of the shapes and lines.
  2. Draw a semi-circle over the underpainting and add random lines, following the lines on the underpainting.
  3. Add more colors, blending in the same direction of the lines added.

Drawing with Oil Pastels FAQ

1. Which paper is best for oil pastels?

When looking for the best paper for oil pastels, remember these tips:

  • It doesn't have to be as thick as watercolor paper. A 90-lb (160gsm) paper should be good enough.
  • It has to have some tooth, not overly smooth to allow for layering of colors.
  • If you want to keep your oil pastel drawings for a long time, use acid-free, cotton pulp paper. Some sketch pads include glassine inserts to keep your drawings from smudging.

If you want more tips and suggestions, check out our review on the best oil pastel papers.

2. Can I use oil pastels on canvas?

Yes. Oil pastels work well with canvas, paper, cardstock, and even boards. You may need to apply gesso to your canvas and pastelbord if they are not pre-treated with gesso.

Gesso increases the archival quality and tooth of your canvas and board so you're sure that your work lasts a long time and that you can blend your oil pastels well.

3. How do you seal oil pastels?

Artists have divided opinions on sealing oil pastels. Oil pastels won't turn inert even after a long period, and sealing them is one way to protect them from smudging. However, be sure to consider the following before sealing your oil pastel drawings:

  • Sealing the oil pastels with oil pastel fixative or varnish dulls the colors of your drawing. On the other hand, the gloss medium protects but turns your oil painting too glossy for other painters' preference.
  • Sealing your oil pastels is not foolproof. Some fixatives won't protect your oil pastels from accidental scratches.
  • Fixatives have no proven archival properties, so your oil pastels may have discoloration after some time.

4. Can you wet oil pastels?

You may apply oil pastels as a wet medium by thinning them with turpentine. You may then apply the thinned pigments using a brush, as you would other wet mediums.

If you want to use water, look for water-soluble oil pastels.

5. How do you frame an oil pastel?

Framing an oil pastel drawing is the best way to protect your artwork. To frame your oil pastel, you need good frame and frame spacers. However, prepare your work for framing before you even start drawing!

  • If you plan to frame your oil pastel drawing, invest in a good foam board. Cut it to size and mount the paper you'll use for the drawing to prevent the mess later.
  • Tape the paper to the foam board with acid-free adhesive linen tape. You can now use this prepared surface for drawing.
  • To frame your finished project, start by cleaning your glass with a lint-free rag or paper towel. Spray it with rubbing alcohol, then wipe it clean while keeping your fingers off the center of the glass.
  • Next, fix your spacers around the glass, so the drawing doesn't touch the glass on your frame.
  • Set the oil pastel drawing under the glass with the spacers touching the edges of the drawing.
  • Tape the glass and the foam board with the oil pastel drawing to seal the edges and improve the archival property of your drawing.

Conclusion

The oil pastel drawings in this article should give you a good idea of the many different ways you can use these tools. There is no limit to what you can do with realistic depictions to abstract and colorful works! If you need more tips, visit our website for reviews and tips for using oil pastels.

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