Oil pastels are fun and easy to use. You can blend them, layer colors and use scratching techniques, or mix them with oil to paint with them. They have bright and vibrant colors that you can use on many different surfaces. They're great for landscapes, flowers, or portraits, and are wonderful if you like a looser style that's more playful.
To help you get started practicing and learning more about oil pastels, we did our research and put together a list of the 10 best oil pastels for beginners. Right on top of our list is Pentel's Oil Pastel Set. We love that it comes with 16 colors that are smooth and easy to use. We also created a buying guide with oversight from an artist to give you more details on selecting the perfect set of oil pastels.
There are several factors to consider when selecting the perfect oil pastels. Keep in mind the quality, the number of colors in each set, the opacity, and the texture of the pastels.
Oil pastels generally come in two different qualities: student and professional grades. You should pick the quality based on your skill level. For beginners, we highly recommend student-grade oil pastels.
Although student-grade oil pastels usually contain less pigment and more fillers and binders, they have more structure and won’t crumble as easily as professional-grade options. Student-grade pastels are enough for beginners to experiment with and feel out the medium.
Once you’ve got the hang of working with oil pastels, you can start investing in professional ones that have better pigments and have higher permanence ratings. They usually have a buttery and smooth consistency, giving them a softer body. They are easy to blend, but can also crumble when used with a lot of force.
If you're buying for young children, look for student-grade options certified as non-toxic by The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI). This means that the oil pastels have been checked by a medical expert and found to be free of toxic substances.
Oil pastels are only harmful if you ingest certain colors made with toxic pigments, like cadmium or cobalt. So, you don't have to worry too much about safety! All oil pastels are safe to hold; it's just a concern if your child tends to put things in their mouth.
I personally think everyone except kids or those who need a lot of pastels for some huge project should look for professional-quality ones. They'll provide you with a reliable result and be more enjoyable to work with.
But, you can also consider buying more budget-friendly ones just for the color variety, and supplementing with professional-quality individual sticks for some colors. It's perfectly fine to mix brands of oil pastels.
Oil pastels come individually or as a set. As a beginner, we recommend going for a set with 10 to 12 colors. This will allow you to work on your skills and play around with different shades.
Some sets can also offer extensive color selections with up to 200 to 400 colors. These might be better if you have more experience with oil pastels. Having a wide range of colors can be challenging to work with as a beginner but helpful once you know how to use and work with more shades.
Some sets may have colors chosen for a certain subject, like landscapes, with more greens, or portrait sets with more browns, reds and yellows. These can be convenient to quickly get most of the colors you might need for your drawing.
With individually-sold pastels, you can build your own set or purchase multiple sticks of a color you need for a project to supplement your existing set.
Buying individual pastels is perfect if you have a certain image that you want to create. For instance, if you want to draw still lifes of flowers, you may want more purples than most sets have. You can consider getting a set plus individual sticks of colors you think you'll need more of.
You can easily layer oil pastels to achieve vibrant colors, but some are more opaque than others. While the description might state their opacity, we recommend checking the reviewer comments to check just how opaque they are.
You should also look for oil pastels that are easy to blend. These will allow you to play around with color, intensity, and shading. Oil pastels are made with wax and oil that make them water-resistant once they set. However, some are also water-soluble, allowing you to create a watercolor-like design.
Water-soluble oil pastels can be great to experiment with. You can lay down color and then brush water on top for a transparent watercolor effect. You can try acrylic medium for a more dense wash. You can also dip the oil pastel right in water or medium, and then draw. Prepare to get your hands dirty in a satisfying, fun way!
When buying oil pastels, you can opt between two textures: soft or rigid. Oil pastels with a soft, buttery texture are great if you want something easy to blend. These pastels tend to have fewer binders and a higher concentration of pigment.
Try using harder pastels if you need to draw details or outlines. They will have more binders and less pigment, making the color less vibrant. Consider what you want to draw before purchasing the pastels so that you can plan accordingly.
Don't expect to be able to get super-fine details with oil pastels, no matter their texture! Even the stiffest ones can't be sharpened to a point like a pencil. They're best for achieving a more Expressionist or painterly style.
You can, however, dissolve your oil pastel in either oil or solvent, and dip a brush into the goopy end. Then you can paint some finer lines as you like.
We chose these oil pastels with beginners in mind and made sure to include options with different qualities, number of colors, opacities, and textures.
Oil Pastel Set
Gallery Soft Oil Pastels
Blendable Oil Pastels
Oil Pastel Set
Portfolio Series Watersoluble Oil Pastels
Best for a Standard Set of Colors
Best for Color Variety
Best Professional Quality Beginner Set
Best for Trying Sgraffito Scratch-Through Techniques
Best Oil Pastels for Kids
Best Soft Oil Pastels for Expressionist Styles
Best for the Travel-Friendly Case
Best Pastels for Portraits
Best for Blending With Water
Best Pastels Sold as Sets or Individual Sticks
|Colors included||16||48, 2 extender sticks||50||50||28||48||24||24||24||12|
|Colors included||48, 2 extender sticks|
In addition to reviewing our buying guide, Susan has also answered some commonly asked questions about watercolors.
"Oil pastels are made using oil and wax, while soft pastels are more similar to chalk (hence their other name.)," Susan says. "Soft pastels will behave a lot like chalk, which most of us are familiar with from using on blackboards and sidewalks. They can be smudged easily with your fingers and are rather dusty and crumbly, although high-quality ones are much nicer to work with than kids' or school chalk.
Oil pastels are sometimes compared to crayons, and other times, to oil paints. They're pretty unique. You can layer them and blend them, but the techniques for doing these are not immediately intuitive. They take a bit more experimentation to avoid getting muddy colors. But they can be incredibly vibrant and dimensional with some practice."
"If you've never used oil pastels before, or even if you just switched brands, I recommend doing some tests to see how each color behaves. Try just making swatches, using really light pressure and layering colors over each other. Then do the same with strong pressure, and see how the layers build and how the colors interact.
Once you have a feel for each stick, you can try a drawing. Many oil pastel artists like to use a style called stippling, where you use short strokes or almost dots to apply the pastels. This can give you an effect similar to a Monet painting.
Other fun things to experiment with are using oil to blend the colors. Dip a cotton swab or brush in linseed oil. Turpentine or odorless solvent can be used to dissolve the oil pastel a bit; like drawing with a melted crayon! Sgraffito is a technique like using a scratchboard; you layer colors and then scratch through to reveal the layers underneath."
Are you a beginner and interested in other forms of art? If you’re looking for more mediums you can use easily, here are some products to try.
If you'd like to read more user reviews or see which products are popular with shoppers, check out Amazon's best-selling drawing pastels, but note that some of these are soft pastels and not oils.
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary, as well as extra tips and advice. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
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