Oil Pastels aren’t much different than the crayons that children use on their coloring books. In fact, looking at them from afar, you might not even be able to tell whether sticks are oil pastels or crayons.
Their outcome, on the other, is a completely different matter. While crayons are simply colorful sticks for children, oil pastels can create masterpieces.
In fact, many professional artists prefer to use oil pastels in their work to minimize the amount of mess created by oil paints.
Truly, with oil pastels, there’s no need to add liquid solvent to the paint, or make a mess of your easel, studio, paint brushes or palettes.
Learning how to use oil pastels isn’t much different from learning painting with oil paints. Even when you aren’t using paint brushes or a palette, the paint comes out almost exactly the same as with oil paint.
The mechanism of using oil pastels is the same as using crayons for drawing or coloring, but the final results will resemble the works of the best oil paints.
One of the most important ways to make sure you are getting the best out of your oil pastels is to learn how to properly blend or smooth out your oil pastels.
How to Smooth Out your Oil Pastel?
There are several ways to smooth or blend your oil pastels, depending on when and why you are doing it.
1. Pre-Blending the Colors
If your reason for smoothing out your oil pastels is to mix two or more colors together to create a new shade, the best way to do this is to pre-blend your colors.
This will require you to cut off small chunks of the colors you need from the oil pastels, preferably on a palette. Use a palette knife or a regular knife to break the chunks into even smaller pieces until they mix together to create a thick paint.
Since there is oil already present in the pastels, the small pieces will melt together to form a paste instead of powder. You can use this pigmented paste as paint using a brush, or use your palette knife to apply it to your paper.
In this way, you won’t have to do the smoothing out or the blending on the paper, and wait till you have the exact shade or color that you want.
2. Blending on the Paper
In this method, you can blend two or more different colors - or multiple shades of the same color - on paper. For this, you can directly apply the oil pastels on the paper, one beside the other.
It helps tremendously if you place the colors directly beside each other, even make them touch each other or almost overlap each other. The closer they are, the easier they will be to smooth out.
When the two (or more) colors are beside each other, you can use a wet brush to blend them together. This blending can be achieved with a lot of things but work best with water and a painting brush.
3. Overlaying your Colors
Overlaying is a technique when two or more colors are used on top of each other to create a different color or a darker shade of the same color. This particular method is used to blend colors on a large space, not smaller areas.
For creating a different color or a different shade, apply the darker color first, and the lighter color on top of that. This will change the colors of the oil pastels completely and give you a new color or a new shade.
This method of overlapping colors is popular when you want a color that is not present in your set, or when you are not satisfied with the colors you have in your set.
4. Trying the Scumbling Method
Scumbling is a method that is used when you want to create some texture and depth to your paintings, simply by using the oil pastels themselves. With this method, you can smooth out or blend more than half a dozen colors together, not just two or three colors.
Under the scumbling method, a number of colors need to be applied on paper or on canvas, each of them close to each other or overlapping each other.
After all the colors have been applied on the paper, they can be blended together using your fingers or a brush.
When all the colors have been smoothed out together, the colors will create a completely different look altogether. Instead of separate colors, they will give your painting a combined hue of different shades together.
5. Applying the Sgraffito method
This is a method that requires applying multiple layers of different colors to the paper or the canvas you are using, so that together they can add a contrast to all the colors used.
Different colors are applied beside or close to each other in this method; most of the time, they overlap each other. Then a dark layer is added on top of all those colors, completely hiding the other colors.
Finally, a sharp or pointed object such as a paper clip, a comb or even the edge of your palette knife can be used to scratch away at the layers. The top layer will be completely scraped away, leaving a smooth blend of the colors below.
6. Using Your Fingers
The easiest way to smooth out oil pastels is to use your fingers to blend two or more colors together, or simply to smooth out the different shades of the same color within an area.
Your fingers ideally need to move in a circular motion for the pastel to effectively blend together.
Using your fingers might cause them to become dirty; in fact, oil pastel colors have been known to stick to skin, and can be difficult to wash off.
For this reason, you can wear a pair of gloves or use a finger clot to protect your skin from the paint. However, bare hands work much better than gloves when smoothing out oil pastels.
7. Using Shapers or Other Tools
There are some special tools available solely for the purpose of smoothing out your oil pastel colors on paper, but they are completely optional.
The shaper is one such tool that looks like a thin and blank plastic crayon. Its sides are pointed, just like a coloring pencil or a narrow piece of crayon; a shaper doesn’t have any pigments or colors in it.
It can be used, instead of your finger, to blend the different colors made by oil pastel on paper.
Tortillons and stumps are also similar tools for blending and smoothing out oil pastel colors on your paper or canvas. They look like shapers as well, and come in various sizes: small, large or medium.
8. Using a Piece of Chamois
A chamois is a very small piece of leather - soft and extremely flexible. It may actually be mistaken for a piece of fabric, but it is actually leather.
A chamois can be used just like a tissue paper or a piece of cloth two blend two or more different colors together made by oil pastels.
Chamois can be used on both paper and canvas, and actually works better at blending, smoothing out and creating shades than anything else.
Other similar options include a piece of kneaded rubber, which look like the erasers used to remove pencil marks, and regular household items like a Q-tip, cotton balls, a piece of cloth or paper towels.
Blending or smoothing out oil pastel colors is a very important part of painting.
It is the part of smoothing out and blending properly that will make your painting or your project look complete or professional, and not just something an amateur or a beginner has completed.