Ah, Summertime… bright, colorful, and fun. Much like our next Art Product Review on Oil Pastels!
So what is this medium? Is it oil paint in a stick? Isn’t it the same as a crayon? My boss, Linda Wehrli asked me to report on this misunderstood medium to clarify what it really is, once and for all. I’m pleased to share my findings with you.
An oil pastel is a painting and drawing medium formed into a stick made of pigment mixed with a binder mixture of non-drying oil and wax. They are a dry medium in that they don’t require time to dry. Oil Pastels are not “oil paint in a stick”.
Oil Sticks are actual oil paint (linseed oil and pigment with added wax) molded into a stick form and can take 24 hours or more to dry. Oil Sticks can be pricey as well as messy.
Oh, and oil pastels are definitely not the same as crayons! Crayons are made primarily from paraffin wax and color pigment. Paraffin wax is refined from petroleum. While inexpensive, they don’t blend or layer well or provide solid color coverage.
Oil Pastels on the other hand, are affordable, clean to use, blend well, provide good color coverage, and are an all-around great material for exploring and learning. They are ideal for our introduction to color theory course for younger students but are enjoyed by adult students as well. Some of our students have gone on to create masterful works in oil pastel. Some have even sold their oil pastel paintings during one of our many student art showcases.
Please enjoy a brief history and tips about using this fun medium below. Info courtesy of www.theartofeducation.edu.
A Brief History of Oil Pastels
To understand the purpose and versatility of oil pastels, it’s important to understand a little bit about their history. Oil pastels were first created by Sakura in 1925 and called Cray-Pas, which are still prevalent in classrooms today. They were a combination of wax, oil, and pigment that was meant to be non-toxic like crayons and suitable for children. Nearly thirty years later, in 1949, Henri Sennelier would invent an artist-grade oil pastel at the request of Pablo Picasso. Artists like Picasso were drawn to the accessibility of the Cray-Pas material but wanted something that better met their needs. They wanted to be able to travel with this medium while still achieving the painterly effects of oil paint. Thus, Sennelier Oil Pastels were born.
A Painting or Drawing Medium?
Oil pastels are a unique material that is often associated with both drawing and painting. However, in most classrooms, they are mostly used as a drawing material. This thought alone might transform how one uses oil pastels with students. If you are solely using them as a drawing material, rather than a painting material, are you using them to their full potential? Try looking at oil pastels as an alternative method of painting or drawing with paint. In fact, oil pastels can be used to teach some of the painterly techniques commonly taught with acrylic or oil paint. Veteran art instructor of Pastimes for a Lifetime, Linda Wehrli teaches these painterly techniques in the Oil Pastel 101 Course.
Here are some activities to start seeing oil pastel as a painting medium rather than drawing material.
1. Color Mixing
Color theory is a vital concept for the art room. But, it doesn’t have to be taught with the use of paint. Honestly, sometimes the mess and set up with a quick color mixing activity can seem daunting. Next time, try swapping your oil pastels for paint. You’ll save on set up time and maximize learning time.
2. Artist Reproductions
Studying the work of artists has been a common practice throughout generations. An excellent way to bridge the gap of oil pastels as a drawing and painting medium is to complete an artist reproduction. Select a painting of an artist of interest to study and examine their techniques. Even though not all the same effects can be achieved with oil pastels, you’ll take into account all of the details within the painting. The drawing nature of the material allows one to easily put down color onto a surface that can sometimes be hard to control with a paintbrush.
3. Use Oil Pastel Techniques to Learn Form and Value
Just as we do with watercolors, paint, and drawing, there are particular techniques that can help students effectively use a medium. A simple way to do this is by choosing simple objects that you can build up to show value to create form. For example, an apple still life study can show tremendous value and form. Once you know how to apply that technique onto an actual object, you will have a much greater understanding.
Now that you know a little history about the creation of student vs. artist-grade oil pastels, you might be thinking, “Which ones should I use?” This question can be difficult to answer as many factors come into play. Remember, the student-grade oil pastels are going to have more wax in them, which results in a difference in blending and covering a surface. Linda recommends Cray-Pas Expressionist Oil Pastels to her students; they are a great and affordable option. Here are a variety of oil pastels you might want to try:
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