Painting with dry mediums is very unique kind of painting


Mainly 2 categories of pastels are commonly used – oil pastels and chalk pastels.

oil pastels and chalk pastels


oil pastel painting example

These are the most well known among the pastels. Remember using them in your art classes in school? Did you like using them? For me, it has always been a love-hate relationship. As a kid I loved them and used them extensively in my artworks but as I grew up and discovered other mediums such as watercolors I lost interest in oil pastels. Until recently, I never really gave any serious thought to this medium. But some time back I developed a renewed interest in this medium. And this is what my experience so far, says about oil pastels.

It is a common perception that oil pastels are for kids and are not used to make fine works of art. On the contrary oil pastel paintings can really look like oil paintings as they look similar in texture. Smoothness and softness of the pastel may vary from brand to brand. I have always preferred and liked the wet mediums such as watercolors over oil pastels because I found oil pastels very time consuming, and it gets difficult to get the details right with them. You will find very few people who actually know how to use oil pastels and even fewer who can teach this medium.

So for quite some time now, I have been working with this medium. If you really know the techniques and nature of the medium, oil pastels will start making sense to you. I think that you need to approach this medium with much more patience as compared to other mediums.

First get yourself a pack of good quality pastels (choose a good quality brand). This will cost you more but it will

be worth it. Often we go after cheap art supplies thinking that it’s just the learning stage. Yes, you don’t have to

buy the most expensive and superior products but try to buy a decent one. Quality of the color does matter

however pompous it may sound.

About the medium –

  • These are pigments mixed with oil binders and then made into small sticks.

  • Oil pastels give a very greasy and smooth feel when you touch them and apply on paper.

  • They blend beautifully into each other.You can also layer them up to some extent and create rich textures. With some practice, your oil pastel paintings can even give an appearance of an oil painting.

blending with chalk pastels

  • Unlike the wet mediums such as watercolor, acrylic you can’t really mix the dry mediums, to make a new color. Thus you need to have all the shade variations separately.

  • Make sure to clean your pastel on a tissue or paper after you blend them because often the pigment of the other color gets attached to your pastel. To save your artwork from dirty looking colors, this needs to be taken care of.

  • Since these never really dry, you have a fair chance of smudging up your artwork. So store your artwork really carefully.


Materials required –

  1. Oil pastels

  1. Paper – It is better to work with a paper that has some tooth in it. These are specialized papers available for pastel colors. But for learning and understanding, the commonly available sketchbooks are just fine. Once you get familiar with the medium you can switch to advanced papers.

  1. Cloth or tissue- when you blend oil pastels the pigments stick on the pastel. So it is important to wipe your pastel each time so that when you use your pastel you get the clean color.

  1. You can keep a sharp tool to scrap off the pastel if you make a mistake or as a drawing tool as well, as you will see in the following example.

  1. Keep a Reference picture(optional )

Reference picture for oil pastels painting

Step 1: Draw a primary sketch. I used a light grey pastel to sketch my basic lines. Avoid using pencil for the primary sketch or keep the pencil lines really light because when you apply the pastel, the pencil lines tend to smudge on the paper and make your colors look dirty.

primary sketch of reference picture

Step 2: Unlike in watercolors where we develop the painting layer by layer, in oil pastels, it’s done patch by patch. However, I advise that dark tones should be applied in the end.

develop the painting layer by layer on sketch

Step 3: Add finishing detail such as the dark shady areas and scrape the pastel where needed. Like in this painting I have scraped off the pastel to make the patches on the skin of the apple. You can use the scraping off technique to correct the mistakes or remove the excess color.

oil pastels painting of reference picture

Here are some other pastels that you might want to try.


    1. SOFT PASTELS also known as chalk pastels. These are different from oil pastels. The binding agent is gum with far more pigment than the former. Thus they produce a lot of chalk dust when you apply them on a paper. They blend very beautifully. You can smudge them easily on the paper. You can blend these colors with your fingers too!

    2. HARD PASTELS they are another variety of chalk pastels but harder than the soft pastels. They don’t blend and smudge as easily as soft pastels. They are good for sketching and doing fine detailed work. However, these are less chalky.
    3. PASTEL PENCILS these are somewhat like pencil colors. But they are richer in color in comparison to regular pencil colors. They are used to make sketches and fine detailing because you have much greater control over your strokes. They are a good compliment to the other pastels.

      Even among the above-mentioned types, you will find differences among each type depending on the brand.

      So what are waiting for, get your pastels out of that forgotten corner of your cupboard and start creating.

      PS: Just be careful while you paint, because these pastels will mysteriously get into your nails and will give you a hard time coming out.

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