October 17, 2020

Oil Pastels - Comparison of Sets

Oil Pastels are an easy and fun medium for drawing. Often beginning artists will run across oil pastels in an art store or as part of a larger multimedia art set. They are easy to use and work well on many surfaces. But you may find that as your skills increase, you may end up frustrated with the limitations of that first set of oil pastels.

Before you toss those pastels in the trash and buy another set, take a look at these sets at different price points and you may save yourself some money, time and frustration. Also, realize that some oil pastels are good for some techniques, but not all. You can easily use your first set for specific techniques and save your "good" set for other parts of the drawing or other works. Another thing you can do is use the "starter" set for thumbnails and quick, general color studies.

Before getting into the sets, first consider your drawing surface. You could use oil pastels on canvas panels or a pre-stretched canvas, but as a beginner - why would you? For the price of a panel, you could make many more drawings on regular drawing paper while you develop your skill. Any brand of drawing paper will give good results and save you money while you practice. Use a sturdy drawing paper like the Strathmore 200 (or 300) Series Mixed Media paper or an inexpensive Watercolor pad. Do not use thin paper such as Newsprint as it will tear easily. If you use a bound sketch book, you will want to use only one side - because the oil pastel will affect the facing page. A pad with removable pages will likely be the most convenient option. Bristol board is sometimes recommended for oil pastels, but it's often more expensive than drawing paper and is too smooth. You want some "tooth" to the paper so the pastels adhere to it. Uart sanded paper is for soft and hard pastels (the dry, dusty kind). You could use oil pastels on Canson Mi-Teintes or Sennelier Pastel Card paper, but again - the cost for these papers is unnecessary for the developing artist.

Multimedia Pastels

The term "multimedia" pastels refers to pastels that come in multimedia sets. Any large art or hobby shop sells these beginner sets. Most come with over 100 pieces and often are set in a beautiful wooden box. They have various combinations of colored pencils, charcoal pencils, watercolor cakes, acrylic paint and oil pastels.

The oil pastels found in these sets are very poor quality. But they are still useful. Most sets have 24 colors and you can use them for quick sketches and thumbnails. You can use them to block in your darks and lights for a quick value study. But realize they have limitations.

The first thing you have to realize is that they don't blend well. The 24 colors you have are the 24 colors you have. Oil pastels are not paints. You cannot take just a blue, red and yellow and mix the colors you need.

If you look closely at the blue and yellow, you can see some areas of green, but not the smoothly blended green you may have expected. As you continue to go back and forth with blue and yellow, it eventually ends up in a muddy, sticky blob. They're not blending - it's more like smearing.

The other thing they don't do well with is layering. The circle has a blue which is layered with yellow and then pink. When layering the yellow, it pulled up most of the blue. When the pink was layered over the yellow and blue, it does not produce orange and purple. The yellow pulled up the blue and filled the tooth of the paper. The pink slid right over the top of it and covered over the blue a bit. Continuing to put more pink on it only created a muddy color.

If you've ever used these inexpensive pastels, you know the ugly and unusual colors the blending produces. It's because to make them at the price they need to be for a 119 piece set to retail for $35, the pigment is not the best and it contains a lot of filler and binder. Therefore you get some very inconsistent mixing results. There is no solvent or method that is going to make them mix better because it's the components of the pastels that are causing it to smear together rather than blend.

Having accepted the colors as they are, you then try to lay down a coat of pastel and you want it dark, so you put a lot on the paper. When you look at it, you see some of the paper showing through, so you add more. You still see the paper showing through and as you add more, you don't get any better coverage, just lower on pastel. Those blobs are annoying.

Again, it's the quality of the pastel. Gently rubbing will not smooth it out. It will only move the blobs around or lift the pastel off the paper and onto your finger. If you want a smooth color without the blobs, look at the right side of the green rectangle. You can lay down the color with the pastel stick and then use a paper towel to rub it into the paper. It will lift off most of the pastel, but your color will be even. You will not be able to get dark versions of that color, but it will be smooth and much more even. Basically, you're using the pastel to "stain" the paper.

It may not be what you wanted or expected, but this can be useful too. If you use the pastel and the paper towel to stain the paper, you can use this as your backdrop and draw over it with pencil. Color pencil may produce unpredictable results, but a regular graphite pencil works well on top of the pastel stain. Willow charcoal also works well on top of the stained paper and can produce some beautiful silhouette effects. You can try ink, but you may get inconsistent results. Some of the oil pastels contain binders which can give a "wax resist" effect here and there (unpredictably). One of the benefits of making this kind of piece is that you don't need to worry about the color smearing or getting on another page. You've already pulled all that off with the paper towel and it's dry and smooth to the touch.

Inexpensive Oil Pastel sets

The next step up in quality are sets of just oil pastels. Perhaps you're curious about them and wanted to try them. Naturally, you will want to make as small an investment as possible until you know if you like them. The three brands discussed and shown below are not the only ones available, but may be helpful examples.

Note that the prices mentioned below are what is showing at some online sites as of 10/18/2020 and are to be used as relative examples of prices. You may find a better price at a different retailer or even find a gently used set on another site for less.

Cray-Pas Junior Artist
The set used in the picture above are from an older set. The newer ones are a bit bigger. The "Junior Artist" designation means that it is student quality and not artist quality. Cray-Pas makes an artist quality set which will be discussed in the next group of oil pastels.

With student grade oil pastels, you will want to buy the largest affordable set to give you the widest range of colors. Looking at some of the online retailers, you can find a set of 12 colors for $2.00 and a set of 50 colors for $8.50. Be careful when buying sets. On that same site, they sell a pack of 432 sticks - but you only get 12 colors.

Artist's Loft
This is the store brand for Michael's (large chain art store in the US). They sell two sets of oil pastels. One set is the 48 color Fundamentals set for $5.99 and the other set is a 36 color set for $9.99. The sticks shown above are from the Fundamentals set.

Crayola makes a few sets of oil pastels. They have a set of 28 colors that sells for $6.99. They also have a set of 12 Neon colors for $7.49. The pastels used in the comparison below are from the 28 color set. For an inexpensive set, these are probably the best.

[Comparison Results]
The Cray-Pas blue seems to be deeper and the most pigmented, but the Crayola is very close in color and blends better. Remember - you won't be mixing colors to make a new color, but blending the edges into more seamless transitions where you see just a little bit of the transition shade. Someone who uses Crayola oil pastels frequently is the YouTuber known as BlackBean CMS. The oil pastel eye below was created using Crayola oil pastels and a tutorial from the BlackBean CMS channel. For an inexpensive set of oil pastels, the Crayola perform much better than the other two sets. The color of the Crayola pastel is smoother in a thick layer - with Cray-Pas Junior Artist a close second for a single color. Where the Crayola sets itself apart is that it blends more smoothly than the Cray-Pas. The Cray-Pas tends to get more gummy when blending.

Mid-Range Oil Pastel sets

If you have a little extra money for art supplies or you already tried and currently use the inexpensive oil pastels, you may want to take a look at some mid-range (in price) pastel sets. The three discussed below are examples of some of those sets.

Faber-Castell produces three sets of oil pastels. There is a 12 piece set ($5.75), a 24 piece set ($11.50) and a 36 piece set ($17.30). The pastels used below come from the 24 piece set.

Cray-Pas Expressionist
Cray-Pas also produces three levels of oil pastel: Junior Artist, Expressionist and Specialist. The Expressionist pastels are considered student grade (college art student). The Specialist grade will not be discussed at this time. The 12 color Expressionist set is showing for $5.30 and there are various color sets up to a 50 piece set for $21.50. Note that the 50 piece set includes 48 colors and 2 sticks of Extender (Colorless blender). You can also buy individual sticks of the colorless blender for less than a dollar each and do not need to buy this set to get the blenders.

Mungyo Standard Oil Pastel for Artists
Mungyo makes two grades of oil pastels. This is one of those sets where you have to look very closely when ordering online. The Mungyo Gallery set was recommended by the YouTuber known as Syndia Art. Some of the Mungyo retailers consider "Mungyo Gallery" the brand name and it can get confusing. "Mungyo Gallery Standard Oil Pastels" are the student grade pastels. You can get a set of 12 colors for $3.20, a set of 48 for $13.20 and a set of 72 in a wooden box for $46.90. These are Standard oil pastels and are student grade. The Mungyo Gallery oil pastels that were recommended are displayed on that site as "Mungyo Gallery Artist Soft Oil Pastel" sets. This can be doubly confusing as the term "soft pastel" normally refers to the dry (dusty) pastels. Those are the artist grade pastels recommended by Syndia Art and will be discussed in the next section. Interestingly enough, if you have both sets, it will seem that the Gallery colors are brighter than the Standard colors. However, closer inspection reveals that in many cases the sets do not contain the same colors. For example, the Standard set contains a color called "Rose Madder" - which is not found in the Gallery set. The Gallery set has six pink colors - none of them exactly matching that color. Rose Madder is a cooler color than any of the bright pinks, so a casual comparison may lead you to think the Gallery set pigments are brighter or deeper. Closer inspection of the color names and numbers will show that not all the colors are exactly the same.

[Comparison Results]
For the midrange oil pastels, the Expressionist blue had the deepest pigment and seemed to go on more smoothly than the other two. With heavy application, you could still see some spotty areas, but the Expressionist stayed more uniform than the other two - to a significant degree. When blending, all three were very similar. There was some smearing, but the muddy effect was much less noticeable with the mid-range pastels. The sticks themselves were smoother to use. The pastel seemed to glide across the paper more easily (compared to the inexpensive sticks).

Under the Expressionist column are three swatches that show the effect of the colorless blender. As you can see, it's not a magical miracle blender. The top swatch was a heavy application of blue and yellow identical to the one above it. Then colorless blender was used on top. It caused some blotchiness in the middle and pulled up some of the blue, lightening it in the process. The middle blend used a light application of blue and yellow without mixing. Then the blender was used on top to blend the two areas. The results were similar. The last one was a heavy application of blue and yellow without mixing. Again, the blender was used to mix the colors with a heavy application of blender on top of the colors. The most vibrant results were found with layering one color over the other directly without the blender.

This is not to say the colorless blender is useless. However, it is not easily used in the way you would expect from the name. The multiple uses for the colorless blender will be covered in the "Tips and Techniques" discussion. It is a handy tool when used in just a slightly different manner. As seen in the swatches below, when used with heavy pressure, it replaces the original color and will lighten the original pastel it tops.

Artist Quality Oil Pastel sets

When the time comes that you concern yourself about lightfastness and using only archival quality paper, it's time to invest in more expensive oil pastels. They are brands you would use for professional work - something you are selling or intending to hang in a gallery. These sets tend to be a bit more creamy and glide onto the page easily. If you're used to using heavy pressure with other pastels, be aware that a gentler touch is needed (they are softer and may crumble at the edge/tip).

Mungyo Gallery Artist Soft Oil Pastels
This set is the Artist grade oil pastel from Mungyo. Unlike other pastel sticks, it does not appear that they are sold individually. A pack of 12 is showing a sale price of $7.40 (normally $10.99) but currently out of stock. There are also "multiple pack" sets. The wooden box set of 72 is on sale for $60.00 (normally $72.89). Be aware that sites sell these as "soft" oil pastels - which is confusing. Compare this information to the Mungyo Standard Oil Pastels for Artists above to make sure you are purchasing the set you intend to order.

The Mungyo Gallery colors are rich and intensely pigmented. With the Standard pastels, you still get spots of uneven coverage. The Gallery set does not have this issue. The colors go on very smoothly and you get even and heavy coverage using just a little pressure.

Caran D'Ache Neocolor Pastels
The Caran D'Ache oil pastels are selling in a set of 12 for $28.83 with the largest set of 96 selling for $185.30. The site used as a price reference also sells individual sticks for $2.70 each. For those who cannot afford a large purchase, you could create your own set by ordering them individually a few at a time. Realize that you will not have the box to store them and it will cost more to purchase all 96 individually. The Caran D'Ache pastels were also recommended by the YouTuber known as Syndia Art. They also go on very smoothly and give great coverage with moderate to light pressure.

These oil pastels precede themselves. Sennelier produces regular size sticks and "big" sticks. A box of 36 big sticks are showing for $290.95 with individual big sticks for $10.33 each. The standard size sticks sell in various sets and color groupings. A Sampler set of 6 oil pastels is selling for $11.25. The Still Life set of 24 sells for $51.55 and the wooden box set of 50 costs $135.30. The largest wooden box set contains 120 pastels for $280.50. They also sell individual sticks for $3.38 each. At the highest price point, they are known as the highest quality oil pastels. There's a reason for this reputation. The colors are rich and the blending is consistent. However, be aware that many people who purchase the box of 120 pastels tend to not use them. There's a tendency to save them for a "special" piece or the artist feels pressured to create something amazingly great because it's such an expensive art supply. Also the "feel" of the stick on the paper is different. It really does feel like you're drawing with lipstick.

Even if you decide on another set, it's wise to get a few individual sticks of the No. 1 White Sennelier pastel. The bright white can really make highlights pop and its super creamy nature means it can layer over any other oil pastel with very light pressure. This adds an accent without having to use heavy pressure to replace the underlying pastel to be visible. The wolf drawing below was a "rescue" from an original pen and watercolor that looked horrible. An inexpensive set of oil pastels was added over the top and a skewer was used to scratch the direction of the fur and let a hint of the ink and watercolor show. The final touch was a few dots of Sennelier white for the eye reflections. All the comments about it centered around the intense eyes.

[Comparison Results]
All three Artist Grade pastel brands performed well. The single color coverage did not lift off with heavy application and coverage was smooth (no gummy blobs). The Mungyo and Caran D'Ache feel dry to the touch and the Sennelier is slightly tacky. There are a few differences between the three sets which may influence which set you prefer based upon your personal likes. The blue/yellow blend turned out differently for each brand. The Mungyo blend gave a yellow green with the yellow layered on top and a darker green when the blue was layered on top. The Caran D'Ache layering looked to be more absorbed/blended with the yellow layered on top and more covered over when the blue was layered on top. The Sennelier acted more like a paint and blended more consistently. The same dark green was produced regardless of which color was layered on top.

Each of these columns has a swatch beneath it. This shows the effect of multiple layers of pastel. Some of the colors are too close in value to see each layer in the photo, but the results at the bottom are worth noting. The last yellow layer is on top of 4 other layers. And there is still smooth and complete coverage on each layer. The less expensive pastels tend to pull up some of the color beneath as you layer a new color. The color will be affected by and toned by the layers beneath, but will not pull up the previous layer. There were no gummy blobs from layering and the colors did not turn muddy. The color at the bottom for each of these layered swatches is the same yellow from the blending above. One difference with the Sennelier was related to the consistent blending of the colors. Each layer tried to blend with the layer beneath it and you can see some of that along the sides of the marks in the lightest blue. In that way, it gave the swatch a more painterly look than the other two.

Next: Oil Pastels - Tips and Tricks [Don't throw that old set out yet!]
(link coming soon)

Posted by BlueWolf on October 17, 2020

March 01, 2020

Renfest Profile Pic

More portrait practice. This is based on my current profile pic on social media. It was taken at the First RI Ren Fest in 2019. I'm not too fond of the way the face came out (still need more practice on that), but I really do like the way the outfit was drawn.

Oil pastels are not too easy when you're looking to add detail. I'm finding that I need to add all the colors I want to blend and then use the blending stump to get the gradations. The glasses also added difficulty to the portrait. Right now I'm working very small - a larger picture may lend itself to having room to add the detail.

Posted by BlueWolf on March 01, 2020

Plastic Water - Oil Pastel on Drawing paper

This oil pastel was based on a photograph I took in Florida.

Reference Photo

I enjoyed working on the blending. Still need to work more on shading.

Posted by BlueWolf on March 01, 2020

February 20, 2020

Portrait 1 - Oil Pastel on Drawing Paper

My first time completing a portrait. Normally I get frustrated and crumple it. This time the goal was to complete it no matter how it turned out. Glad I did. Good starting point.

Oh - and I used mostly Artist Loft and Cray Pas Junior Artist oil pastels. I also used my new set of 24 Faber Castel oil pastels. Found I needed more than the 24 colors and kept digging into the student quality pastels. Once I finished - I realized that I totally ignored the set of 50 Cray-Pas Expressionist (brand new) sitting beside me in the closed box the entire time!

Posted by BlueWolf on February 20, 2020

Pink Flower - Soft Pastel on Uart Paper

This was based on a picture I took in Florida.

Posted by BlueWolf on February 20, 2020