A Brief History
Oil pastels are a relatively new medium. They were originally developed in 1921 and later improved in 1927 at the Sakura Crayon Company. The original product was to be a combination of the crayon and the pastel. Thus the name Cray-Pas was born. Cray-Pas are considered a children’s medium as they are made with dyed fillers and have no archival qualities.
In 1949 Henri Sennelier, in collaboration with Pablo Picasso and Henri Goetz, created a new professional grade oil pastel. Picasso is said to have asked for a medium that could work on any surface, such as wood, canvas and metal. Oil pastel offered him the most direct way to work. No brush or instrument interfered between the artist’s gestures and the work.
What Are Oil Pastels?
Oil pastels are small crayon like sticks. They measure about 3″ long and 1/4″ thick They can be square or round, and may or may not come wrapped in paper.
There are three grades of oil pastels.
- Children’s Grade (Cray-Pas)
- Student Grade (Van Gogh)
- Professional Grade (Holbein, Sennelier)
Professional grade oil pastels consist of a pigment mixed with a non-drying inert oil and wax binder. They are non-yellowing and acid free. Oil pastels can be applied to any surface as they have excellent adhesion. They will never harden, so they will never crack and they maintain archival stability.
Protecting the Artwork
Because they never really dry, they must be handled carefully as they can be damaged. Most artists use 1 of 3 methods to protect their completed works.
- Cover with a wax paper.
- Frame under glass. (My personal way of going.)You must be sure to provide an air space between the glass and the painting with the use of matting or spacers.
- Apply a fixative or varnish. This is somewhat controversial. Sennelier makes an oil pastel fixative spray. But I would recommend only using it with Sennelier oil pastels. Personally, I don’t use fixative because Holbein, my main brand, says not too.
The Brands I Use
Most oil pastels vary in coverage and texture. Some are very firm while others are buttery soft. Experiment with a few different types when trying to determine whether oil pastels are a medium for you. All the brands I use are professional grade.
Holbein – my favorite. They are firm have great coverage and color and are wonderful for mark making. They also have an extensive color range.
Caran d’ Ache – This was the first brand I tried and I enjoyed them so much I never looked back. The are slightly softer than the Holbeins with a more limited color range.
Sennelier – Excellent quality oil pastel. They are buttery soft. Because of this I am not a huge fan. However their colors are sumptuous. I do use Senneliers but tend to mix them with the afore mentioned other two.
Note: I recently tried Sakura Specialist They were recently created by Cray-Pas. They are seriously hard and their coverage is a little weak. When I first tried them I was disappointed but I have played with them some since. And have learned to use them in combination with the others effectively. Not my favorite, but that is more about how I prefer to work than a reflection of the pastels.
Where I Get My Oil Pastels.
I usually get whatever open stock (individual pastels) I can at whatever local art supply stores we run across when we are out at an event. Usually Dick Blick. Living in the boonies as we do, this means I can usually only replace the most common brands.
Where To Find Open Stock
www.dickblick.com In most DickBlick stores.
www.dakotapastels.com These guys are great. They carry all the brands in open stock. The only place that I have found so far, that does so.
Where To Find Complete Sets
History Reference: http://www.oilpastelsociety.com
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