by May-Lin Iversen Demetriou
For some obscure reason, most aspiring artists tend to avoid oil pastels...and it is true that they are messy and inaccurate, but once you become familiar with them, the advantages will soon outweigh the disadvantages. The advantages? Oilpastels come in a number of colours, they are lightfast, forgiving, easy to use and slow drying, you can work on a piece for several months.
Below is a step by step introduction. (This tutorial is written for beginners as well as more advanced artists.)
Most oilpastels are sold individually, so there is no need to go out and buy a complete set which can be quite expensive. Besides, you will soon discover that you most likely will not use all the standard colours that come with a set.
Make sure that you get the really oily pastels, they should leave a mark if you slide your thumb lightly over them.
Some pastels might have dried a bit in the art shop, especially if they come unwrapped. This is not a problem as long as you can rub of the 'crust' with a tissue.
Recommended brands: Neopastel by Caran D'Ache and Van Gogh oilpastels.
Besides your oilpastels, you will need the following:
Paper, fine to medium grained. I have found that a 180g/m2 (85lbs) works fine. Most important thing is that your paper has a grain and a certain thickness. Oilpastels will not work on, say printing paper, the colours will not stick to the surface and the paper will be too thin to work with.
Cotton buds and tissue paper are very helpful when working with oilpastels. You can use the cotton buds to smooth small areas and the tissues are good for cleaning your pastels, nothing is more frustrating than a streak of blue coming off your yellow pastel.
Dish washing liquid, an absolute must to get off those greasy stains from fingers, table, floor, chairs and wherever else they might be. Normal soap just doesn't do the trick.
Step 1, sketching
If you are like me and cannot make a painting without a preliminary sketch, sketching is the very first thing to do. For oilpastels, make sure that you draw very lightly, using a pencil, and use as little detail as possible. Clean up your sketch after finishing, so that the paper is nice and white.
Step 2, filling in your base colour
Oilpastel are very colour saturated, so if you want a light colour, always start by filling in your sketch with a colour 1-2 shades lighter than you wish the finished product to be. This ensures that you will be able to correct any mistakes by simply wiping over the area with a tissue. Also it makes your other colours blend smoothly.
IMPORTANT! If your background is darker than your main picture make sure to colour in the background last. Oilpastels are messy and you might end up with dark unwanted colours on your main character/item.
Adding a base colour is very easy, simply lightly colour in the desired area and then smooth it out with either your finger or a cotton bud until you have a even and smooth surface.
If you are using a dark base colour, which will actually cover your original pencil sketch, then you should work in sections, finishing one small part at a time, so that you will not loose sight of your original sketch. I have chosen white as a base colour for the woman's skin, which will not show on the scan, but you can see how the base colour of her hair looks like in the second last pic of this tutorial. Also notice how I work one section of hair at the time, since my base colour is too dark for me to see my pencil lines through the brown.
Step 3, adding colour and shades
Once you have your base colour down the fun part starts. Again lightly sketch on your colours and then smooth them with your finger/cotton bud. As you can see below I first add little areas of colour, pic 1,(remember that the pastels are very colour saturated) and next I smooth the colours with a cotton bud, pic 2. If what you are drawing has a grain, like wood or stone, you should of course draw and smooth along the grain.
Continue this way, adding colouring and shading layer by layer until you are satisfied with the result. As you can see I've decided to change her hairstyle, notice how I am working through her hair, section by section adding base colour as I go along. A good trick for drawing something as detailed as hair, is to draw very thin lines of various colour and then lightly go over them with the tip of your cotton bud.
Step 4, finishing
Finally, fill in your background, using the same techniques as described above depending on how you want it to look like. Because oilpastels are so messy, it is virtually impossible to have merely a clean paper background and you will need to do something about it. If you are not much of a background person, I suggest that you simply fill it with the colour of your choice, using the base colour technique. You can also, as I have done below, use an entirely different media (chalk-pastels) and get a texture effect to your drawing. Oilpastels leave behind a very rich velvety surface.
At last but not least. Secure your drawing by spraying it. You can buy a special oilpastel varnish, but 2-3 coats of ordinary watercolour protection spray will also do the trick.