Art

The Best Oil Pastels for Creating Art

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Even the greatest artists are nothing without their tools.

If painting is your thing, this handy guide will help you choose the best oil pastels for creating some wonderful art that really stands out. There are two types – artist grade and student grade and we took a look at both.

While many may turn their nose up at student oil pastels, there are some that are actually very good. These ones are firmer and contain less of the pigment while their price makes them good for filling large areas with color.

Artist grade pastels, on the other hand, are softer, richer and let you add a create more detailed paintings. Most artists on a budget will fill their collection with a good student grade and just pick a few artist pastels to use for everyday work and then bring out the artist grade ones when more detail is required.

So what are the best pastels on the market? Here’s what we recommend:

ImageBrand RatingGrade

Sennelier
4.9/5Artist

Holbein
4.8/5Artist

Cretacolor Aqua Stic4.8/5Artist

Cray-Pas Specialist4.3/5Artist

Van Gogh4.4/5Student

Cray-Pas Expressionist4.1/5Student

Mungyo Gallery4.0/5Student

Loew-Cornell3.8/5Student

Best Artist Grade Oil Pastels

High-quality pastels that are more expensive and ideal for serious artists.


Sennelier

Sennelier sits at the very top of the range and were supposedly a favorite of Pablo Picasso himself so you can’t get much higher praise than that!

Sennelier oil pastels are thick, creamy and have a lipstick like quality that could be hard to control for the untrained hand but in experienced hands will produce spectacular results.

The quality can be seen in the end product and they give an effect similar to actual oil paints. By blending two of the same color you can create a wide range of varying shades.

 

 

Ratings Features
Quality:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Texture:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Color:4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)
Average:4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5)
  • Creamy flow
  • Highest quality oils
  • Ideal base layer

If you want a rich, high-quality oil pastel with a top layer that doesn’t blend with what’s underneath, this should be your choice. they are simply the best on the market.


Holbein

Holbein oil pastels are firmer than their Sennelier counterparts. They add a nice smoothness to your work but, of course, it’s an effect which comes at a price.

Each color in the set comes with two tints giving you sublime variety. They are easy enough to blend with without being over-creamy, so you get a nice balance between the two.

Ratings Features
Quality:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Texture:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Color:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Average:4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)
  • Moderate oil consistency
  • High blend ability
  • Range of colors and tints

The rustic unwrapped style is pleasing to the eye, but again beware as many are toxic, especially important if it happens to get onto your hands.

These are high-quality pastels and are a good choice if you are looking for something less soft.

 

 


Cretacolor Aqua Stic Watersoluble Oil Pastels

The Aqua Stic’s leading feature is that they are water soluble oil pastel, a definite plus if you are used to working with water-media.

Ratings Features
Quality:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Texture:4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)
Color:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Average:4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)
  • Medium-firm blend
  • Water soluble
  • Variety of colors

A long, narrow design and a pleasant feel that is comfortable for long periods of usage – make these incredibly easy to use.

A medium firm texture makes them easy to work with compared to the two above – meaning they are a great choice for less experienced artists that still want that quality. Using them at room temperature or warming with your fingers gives best results. Ideal for top layers and a great addition to your art supplies.

 

 


Cray-Pas Specialist Pastels

Firmer than the Cretacolor above, Cray-Pas Specialists are ideal for colorless blending. Don’t be fooled by the texture though, as they transfer to paper smoothly & effortlessly. Many artists use them as an underlay to the other creamier pastels.

Ratings Features
Quality:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Texture:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Color:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Average:4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)
  • Firm texture
  • Easy color transfer
  • Ideal underlay
  • Affordable price

They hold the same square design as Holbein for that line definition. In contrast to Holbein and Sennelier oil pastels above, they are non-toxic and also lightfast, while holding a much lower price tag. A good first choice of artist grade pastels to add to your existing student ones.

 

 

Note: If none of the above look good to you, another good choice is the Caran D’ache – Neopastel set of 12


Best Student Grade Oil Pastels

These sets are the lower quality and lower price oil pastel, ideal for beginners, students and those on a tight budget.


Van Gogh

Top pick would be the Van Gogh, as they are on the verge of being an artist grade oil pastel. They are firm and non-toxic, while many contain the same pigments used in more expensive grades.

The composition makes them firm and non-crumbling while easy to transfer onto paper.

Ratings Features
Quality:4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)
Texture:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Color:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Average:4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)
  • High quality for their grade
  • Firm non-crumbling
  • Variety of colors and tints

With many colors to choose from you have an excellent range and high quality at this level. If you want the highest quality in both student pastels to complement your artist pastel collection, you can’t go wrong with these.

 

 


Cray-Pas Expressionist

Another high-quality pastel on the verge of being artist grade. The Expressionist is a lower priced sibling of the Specialist range above, without suffering too much loss of quality. These would work just about equally as either a base or for larger artworks.

Ratings Features
Quality:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Texture:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Color:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Average:4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)
  • High-quality student pastel
  • Colors true to form
  • Versatile for student and artist uses

Pastels are reasonably opaque, and even the white is true to form. You have a decent range of 48 colors and they are a popular choice of artists for filling out large spaces in their work. At such a good value, this would be a good one to bulk up your stock early on.

 

 


Mungyo Gallery

Another excellent quality pastel for a student grade, priced at the middle level for its kind. Like the Van Gogh and Expressionist, the Mungyo is borderline between student and artist.

Ratings Features
Quality:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Texture:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Color:4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)
Average:4.1 out of 5 stars (4.1 / 5)
  • High-quality student pastel
  • Colors true to form
  • Versatile for student and artist uses

These are extra soft pastels and easy to blend, with the highest quality pigments at this range for color gradations and overlays.

This oil pastel set comes with some interesting variations – you’ll particularly like the fluorescent and metallic ranges. Yes, fluorescent pastels have little durability, but as you’d expect – they are still a good choice for temporary or seasonal work.

The remaining colors are lightfast and hold out against fading. Especially good choice if you like playing with different colors.

 

 


Loew-Cornell

Loew-Cornell price on the border of ridiculous. No, they don’t fall apart in your hands or make you turn radioactive!

On the contrary, they are long lasting, an excellent blender, medium soft with a decent opacity. For larger works that don’t look like something out of playschool (but more of a masterpiece!).

Ratings Features
Quality:3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)
Texture:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Color:3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
Average:3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)
  • Excellent price point
  • Long lasting
  • Decent quality
  • Excellent for larger work

At their pricepoint Loew-Cornell pastels make an ideal number for sketchbook drawing or when you just want to try new things. Take a little hunt around as they may be hard to find, but if you come across a trusty supplier it will be money very well spent.

 

 


Choosing the best oil pastels is a lot down to preference, and many artists will build wither arsenal with a multitude of brands.

About Oil Pastels

Oil pastels or wax oil crayons are often made using Methyl Cellulose which is a hydrophile, meaning it is attracted to and easily dissolved in water. This is what gives the pastel like effect.

Using dry oil pastels results in a pigment on the surface material which can then be manipulated with a brush or sponge which has been moistened. They can be used on a wide range of surfaces to achieve many different effects.

Many artists like to have acrylic paints watercolors, pencils and these kind of materials amongst their art supplies but pastels are often overlooked. But you can acheive amazijg things with them!

Before you decide on which pastels to buy, let’s look at the differences between oil pastels and soft pastels.

Oil Pastels V Soft Pastels for Art

Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are the go-to if you’re looking to paint a vibrantly colourful picture of your grandma’s favourite flowers, or a sunset scene for your best friend, as they produce a beautifully intense hue. Painting with oil pastels is easy as they allow for easy mixing and lots of experimental creativity, as they allow you to play freely with different textures and scratching techniques you will easily pick up by yourself – no need for extensive tutorials.

Their wax-like consistency promotes different layering techniques that will have you thinking of your painting as infinite – you can add layer upon layer making the painting thick and textured, or decide to scratch back to its original surface to reveal its essence. The most important thing to consider when working with oil pastels is to use primed, textured paper, to ensure the pastels stick to the painting surface and don’t dull out your colours.

Soft Pastels

If you like the delicate hues achieved with watercolours, soft pastels are the best bet for you. Made from Gum Arabic, white chalk and pigment, soft pastels can be brushed off and have a matte finish to them, making them the ideal choice for the type of project you will be finishing over the course of several days, weeks or even months.

Soft pastels do not dry out, nor will continuing an unfinished piece alter the colouration in any way. This is particularly advantageous for beginners who do not want to rush the experience. Soft pastel sticks differ in strengths – soft, medium, hard – but the medium variety is by far the most popular choice amongst beginners as they allow for easy blending. One of the best brands to start out with – and continue with, according to professional soft pastel artists – is Rembrandt. They are inexpensive and sticks can be replaced individually as you use them up.

Whichever pastel medium you decide to work with, you’ll have a jolly good time creating another gift from the heart to hang above the Christmas tree.

 

Q: Did Picasso invent oil pastels?

A: No but it is believed he pesuaded Henri Sennelier to produce a high quality version for him to use.

Painting Techniques

This video has some cool techniques you can try to paint with your oil pastels.

Resources

Here are some useful resources for using oil pastels:

http://www.oilpasteltechniques.com/oil-pastels-for-beginners

http://www.artistsnetwork.com/oil-pastel-techniques

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey.

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