Layering techniques with oil pastels

Oil Pastels Layering Techniques
Oil Pastels Layering Techniques

So, you’re working on a piece of oil pastels art, and you need to add some layers on top of layers. Or maybe you want to work over a piece with another color, or make something a bit darker or lighter. You start working the new oil pastel color over the bottom layer, and what happens? The colors beneath just get smudged and pushed around, or they don’t blend well, or the color you hoped for just isn’t working out. Ever been there?? I know I have!

The following article will list some of the solutions I have found when layering with oil pastels.

The most common problem involved in layering oil pastels is the type of surface you are using. Generally speaking, the smoother the paper or whatever surface, the more difficult layering is going to be. That’s just the way it is with this medium. Unfortunately it isn’t like oil paints where you can just brush over another layer of paint. Oil pastels require some grip from the surface so the color can be applied.

The solution to this problem is to find the best surface for you to work with. There are various surfaces for pastels that you will definitely want to give a try, and here is a quick list of each of these surfaces (links to Amazon products, but most are available at Jerry’s, Dick Blicks, and elsewhere):

Please note a few things about this list. 1) The list does not cover all the possible papers that are out there. 2) Even though these are titled “Pastel” paper – you can use them for oil pastels too! And 3) – Some of the papers might not be to your best liking. The point is just to try out as many different types of surfaces as you can, so that you can have a better understanding of what works well with oil pastels.

Ampersand pastelbord for oil pastels
Ampersand pastelbord for oil pastels

I would like to comment quickly about the Ampersand Pastelbord surfaces. These are by far my most favorite surfaces to work with in oil pastels. I feel that the grip (otherwise known as “tooth”) is perfect for working with oil pastels. I find that I can add layer after layer with Pastelbord, and never have a problem doing so. The amount of tooth is just right, whereas some surfaces don’t have enough tooth, and others have too much. If you are working with oil pastels and you haven’t tried Pastelbord yet, you definitely have to give these a try. If you aren’t sure about spending the money, I recommend a Pastelbord 5″x7″ 3-pack. The 5×7 is a small enough size to experiment with and get a feel for how the surface works, and the price really isn’t so bad. Who knows you could end up with a nice smaller sized piece of art in the end.

Once you get your choice of surface worked out, you can experiment with different techniques for layering oil pastels.  One tip of advice I like to give is to cover your base layer of colors with a less expensive brand of oil pastels.  It is easy to quickly use up oil pastels when covering large areas of a surface, so I usually go for a student or mid-grade quality medium for the first layer of colors.  Often, I do end up covering most of this base layer with the better quality oil pastels such as Sennelier, however it still doesn’t use up nearly as much.  Obviously if you are working on a piece where only the best will do, then don’t go for artist quality for your base layer or anything else.

If you get to the point of feeling frustrated with adding multiple layers of color using oil pastels, my best piece of advice for that situation is to just put the piece aside for awhile. I’m not saying take time to relax and calm down about it either (although that could help!) – what happens is, over time the oil pastels do tend to dry up a bit, which makes it easier to come back to later and add another layer over top. This doesn’t always completely solve the problem, though. It could be that the surface you are using is simply to slick to handle multiple layers of oil pastels. But it is something to keep in mind, to give your art time to dry somewhat, then come back to it and attempt the layering again. Most of the time, it will help, even if only slightly.

In summary, it’s really all about the surface when it comes to layering techniques with oil pastels. In my own experience, I find Pastelbord the best, but this surface might not be for everyone. Find something with a good tooth to it so that the oil pastels don’t just glide over the surface and push the base layer around.

As always feel free to comment on your own experiences using the comments form below.

2 thoughts on “Layering techniques with oil pastels”

  1. I found that watercolor paper with a coat of gesso applied on top offers a good rough surface for oil pastels.

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