While taking some time off for the summer, I’ve challenged myself with a painting/drawing everyday. It’s been fun and surprisingly not as disciplined as I thought. Part of the secret I think is that I haven’t put any firm rules on what I'm drawing or painting-- anything and everything goes. (see Glastonbury Studios Facebook page for my progress).
And I’ve made a discovery: I like oil pastels. Just for fun I decided to pull out my oil pastels as a daily exercise and was amazed at how much fun they can be. I did so many pastel paintings for so many days, I actually had oil all over my hands, table and even some clothes. So, I’ve quickly learned to keep it at a minimum—no more marathon oil pastel days. Now I pull out my materials, create my “masterpiece,” then clean up—which isn’t too difficult, just soap and water.
Additionally, I’ve also learned a few things about materials. I’ve always leaned toward Pentelsets. Heck for only $10, you can get a 50-stick set. So why not?
Don’t get me wrong. These pastels are still a good buy as well as a good choice, especially when the stick is at room temperature or warmer. But—there’s always a but isn’t there—I was recently introduced to Paul Rubens oil pastels. Wow, what a difference. They are softer to the touch, larger in size (which means more color) and can make a bold impression when met with paper. I do have a problem with their “stickiness” because they have more oil in them, but that’s probably why they are so easy to apply. The cost is twice as much, though. So if you’re on a budget, it may cause you to go for Pentel, rather than Rubens at $25 for the same amount.
Speaking of cost though, the most expensive oil pastels on the market are Sennelier (the first in Europe to create oil pastels). You will pay handsomely for these pastels, but they are the best and go down as if you are working with lipstick. The pigment is strong and they can be manipulated beautifully. However, all that will cost you. A simple 12 stick set is $29.01. I buy them when they are on sale. You can check out sales on Dick Blick, Jerry's Artarama or Cheap Joes.
Keeping it clean With the Pentel sticks, you will not need to work too hard on keeping the oil feeling at bay. But both Ruben and Sennelier are chockfull of oil and can get all over your hands and work area—and if you not careful, on your clothes. I personally don’t like the feeling much, so I periodically head over to the sink and wash my hands with soap. I guess the best advice is to either lay down some paper around your work area or use an easel, which will keep the pastels on the paper and no on your drawing board.
Blending By the way, I do NOT use my fingers to blend or manipulate oil pastel, ever! There are just too many chemicals—mostly the colored pigments—for me. Even my dermatologist recommends wearing gloves if I’m going to put my fingers into anything in art. Instead, I use two things:
Color Shapers (also called clay shapers)
Or Finger Cots
The color shapers I use were made for children and are larger than most. The ones shown above are a close match. You see thinner ones online (see selection above). While I have those in my arsenal, I find myself always leaning to the children’s set. By the way, these are also called clay shapers used by sculptors.
I also use finger cots. Wearing full-size gloves doesn’t work out for me. My hands sweat too much. A good alternative is the finger cot. While I don’t usually mess with oil pastels by using my hand (I do more of that with soft pastels), I do find these are convenient and not too expensive.
Grounds (paper, canvas, wood) Theoretically, you can use oil pastels on anything: paper, canvas, wood, even glass. I’ve used sandpaper, which eats up the pastel quickly but creates a deep, luscious color output, especially when using Pentel products. Recently, I found a paper/card called Pastelmat. The surface is somewhat rough but not like sandpaper. The pastels go down very easily, and the paper has enough tooth for lots of layers. Made in France.
I also use Colorfix by Art Spectrum. Made in Australia, it has a fine tooth and comes in a packet of different colors. The surface is similar to sandpaper but not as harsh.
Of course, I also use the standard Canson’s Mi Tientes pastel paper. However, I do have to warn you that the oil from the pastels can leak through to the other side. For that reason, I don’t use this paper often for oil pastels and just stick with it for colored pencils and soft pastels. The paper is also made in France.
Beyond paper and boards, I am not particularly in love with a wood surface, as it doesn’t have the tooth I want, although I can paint a toothy gesso to its surface. However I do love working on canvas, especially the board-type of canvases. It will eat up your pastel stick faster because it pulls more on the surface, but the ability to manipulate and blend the oil is so much fun, it’s worth it.
Framing This is a medium that never dries. So be prepared to put it under glass. I do have a couple of projects that I’ve done on canvas, which have survived room dust, but usually, I have put my projects within a frame with glass. I have used Miniwax Polycrylic as a top coat and it seems to have done okay. But I can’t guarantee that it will work every time.
---------------------------------------------------------------------- What's coming up in the studio! Classes to begin September 13 and/or 14. No subject or technique has been determined yet. That all depends on the survery that I'm sending out after publishing this newsletter. Please, please, please do fill it out. There are very few questions.
Be on the look out for the 2022 Summer Survey! Your voice counts!