Oil Pastels and Spicing Up Your Art

Girl Power, mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This piece has Sennelier oil pastels, acrylic paints, and graphite pencils.

This week, I show you how to use oil pastels with other art supplies. I also talk about spicing up your art, especially by choosing subjects that are so personal that they make you tremble a bit!

Early Memories of Oil Pastels

Making art can be compared to cooking. Sometimes the food tastes good because the ingredients and the way are processed go well together. That was how my mother cooked. Her food was delicious because it was fresh and made with care. Even if our family wasn’t wealthy, the time that she put on cooking, made the meals worth remembering. I still don’t know how she was able to include the thick layer of blueberries into her pie. When there was a local art competition for children with the theme “home,” it’s no wonder that this is what I drew.

A childhood drawing with oil pastels by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I remember struggling with the oil pastels, definitely not artist’s quality, but the drawing won the first prize. It was a little unpleasant that the organizer has written the prize in the drawing, but now it just adds a nostalgic flair to it.

My mother wanted her children to step away from cooking and caring for the home. She wanted me to get a good education and declined to teach me how to cook. I grew to question what women and men are supposed to do and felt rebellious in that respect. As a result, I went to study engineering and worked in a field that had mostly men.

QUESTION: What memories do oil pastels or other early art supplies bring to your mind? 

Sennelier Oil Pastels – First Experiment

I bought a small set of Sennelier oil pastels for mixed media art. I didn’t want to spend money on a bigger set until seeing if I like them or not. My first experiment was to draw a portrait on a small sketchbook.

Sennelier oil pastels and an example drawn by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

My mother used two spices mostly: salt and pepper. When creating art, salt and pepper are the lightness and the darkness of colors. You need both, but not too much. As beginners, we often think that we don’t need any salt and pepper. That the fresh ingredients – bright colors – will do the trick. But you need some paler and darker colors, not too much, but enough to harmonize a busy painting.

For the first experiment, I thought that making a basic portrait with salt and pepper would be enough. But creating just a pretty face often lacks expression, so I added a hand because oil pastels and fingers go together. No matter how hard I tried to use a palette knife for blending, I ended up enjoying the waxy feel of oil pastels on the fingertips.

A sketchbook page with Sennelier oil pastels by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

The first experiment made me remember why I had tossed away my old oil pastel set over 10 years ago. Oil pastels are messy! Later in the evening, I made a big mistake of not wiping the table carefully and then placing my cross-stitch projects on the very same tabletop. I had to wash oil pastel marks from the fabrics, and that was very upsetting!

Woman’s World – Oil Pastels with Graphite Pencils

I wasn’t ready to give up oil pastels but headed for the new experiment the next day. This time my idea was to use a sponge for blending and combine oil pastels with graphite pencils. They have called me more and more these days. Maybe it’s because my friend Eeva Nikunen uses graphite a lot and I have one of her drawings on the wall. I am not so much into using graphite alone, but I love using it with watercolors, so why not try it with oil pastels as well!

Making of a oil pastel drawing with Sennelier oil pastels. By a Finnish artist Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Making of this sketchbook page both excited and scared me. It went deeper than the first page and expressed thoughts that I don’t usually reveal to the public. I support women becoming equal with men, and often think even more strongly: it’s now the time of the history when we women can take power. I believe that it will liberate men too. Many young women say that they are equal already, but my experiences haven’t been quite like that. And when thinking back to the past, even when narrowing the focus only to the field of art, women have been neglected for centuries. So it can be woman’s world now if you ask me.

Woman's World, mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. A sketchbook page with Sennelier oil pastels and graphite pencils.

When creating this piece, I realized how much I had been used salt and pepper only: making images that are aesthetically pleasing, but that could be spiced up with the message.

QUESTION: What thoughts do you have that you haven’t expressed in your art?

When you think about “what to put in the background” next time, maybe perfect the face a little less and spend more time with a message no matter “what others think.”

Girl Power – Oil Pastels with Acrylic Paints

When I processed the theme – the power of women – further, I wanted to send encouragement to today’s young girls. Most girls that I have met are very smart but also polite and gentle. I wanted to express my appreciation for them.

This time, I wanted to try acrylic paints with oil pastels, and I also had a perfect reference image in mind. It was a miniature portrait of Europa Anguissola painted by her sister Lucia Anguissola. There were six sisters who all became painters in the Renessaince age, but only one of them, Sofonisba, continued her career. I saw the portrait of Europa a couple of years ago, and it’s sweet and amazingly detailed for a small painting.

This project was created in my Dylusions Creative Journal. Acrylics were my choice for the face, and I started very traditionally, making an underpainting with umber and white.

Painting a face. An underpainting with acrylics. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Again, I didn’t want this piece to be just about the face, so I added a hand too. Here you can see how far I worked with acrylic paint only.

Creating a portrait with mixed media. The first part: acrylic paints. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This project was created on a large Dylusions Creative Journal.

Now to the oil pastels. After experimenting blending with a palette knife and a sponge, I gave up and used my fingers only. But I had a new weapon: baby wipes! They are very handy for removing paint both from the fingers and from the table top. After getting used to having a baby wipe in hand, the messiness of the media doesn’t bother anymore!

Blending Sennelier oil pastels. Using a finger with oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I love blending out the color when working with oil pastels. It feels enjoyable and natural. I am excited to try these techniques with oil paints as well.

A mixed media portrait in progress. Acrylic paint and Sennelier oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s one technique that I discovered: First, lay several colors carelessly on paper. It’s like throwing the ingredients into the pot!

Working with oil pastels. Using oil pastels in mixed media. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Second, mix the colors with a finger – beautiful – not the finger but the art!

Working with oil pastels. Using oil pastels in mixed media. Blending of Sennelier oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

I also wanted to add some pencil strokes too. Loud and bold oil pastels look very appealing when they meet the quiet power of graphite drawing.

Using graphite pencils in mixed media art. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

So this one is for young girls: “I wish you all the luck and all the power. Europa Anguissola abandoned painting when she got married, but you don’t have to. You can be anything, and we support you!”

Girl Power, mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. This piece has Sennelier oil pastels, acrylic paints, and graphite pencils.

Who do you want to send greetings through your art?

Free Like a Bird – Oil Pastels with Turpentine

The true test for the oil pastels: how do they work with abstract art and intuitive process. This time I used colored pencils and graphite as well.

Creating abstract art using mixed media. Oil pastels, colored pencils, graphite pencils. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

In the middle of making this abstract piece, a new problem came up. I wanted to spread a thin layer of paint, and tone down some areas. I got the idea of thinning the pastel with the medium that I use for oil painting. The painting liquid has poppy oil, Dammar varnish, and turpentine. After googling, it seemed that turpentine could thin oil pastels. So I rubbed some color on a palette, added few drops of the painting liquid and started painting.

Thinning oil pastels. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

The liquid worked very well. Of course, the odor of turpentine can be unbearable for many. Working in small amounts, and keeping the lid closed reduces it a bit, though.

Thinnning oil pastels and using a brush for painting with them. Oil pastel technique tips by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

Here’s my finished piece: “Free Like a Bird.” It’s what I hope for everyone, regardless of the gender.

Free Like a Bird", mixed media art by Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet. Created with Sennelier oil pastels, colored pencils, and graphite pencils.

If you compare the images of this blog post, the abstract piece leaves more room for interpretations. Recently, I have felt more and more drawn into creating abstracts, and letting go of delivering a pre-chewed message. Cooking without a recipe can be much harder than you would first think. Making a vast selection of foods, learning to use pepper and salt, helps. But first and foremost, art is not just a matter of learning how to cook a meal. It’s also the matter of choosing what you want to serve to the world. And no matter how clumsy the execution, the subject can be the most significant spice.

The Exploring Artist Begins on Sept 10 – Sign Up Now!

The Exploring Artist is a 12-week group coaching program for artists, between Sept 10 – Nov 30, 2018. This coaching is for you who wants to get clear about your artistic passion and become more open about your art, for example, share your art in social media, blog about art, sell your originals and prints, teach classes, etc.

The Exploring Artist - a coaching program for you who wants to become more confident and get clear about your artistic passion. By Paivi Eerola from Peony and Parakeet.

In The Exploring Artist, you will get coaching as a part of a small and tight-knit group. I will personally help you to put your passion into words and visual insights. We will work together to discover what you want to change in your art, where you want to move forward and how to do it. >> Sign up now!

 

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14 Responses to Oil Pastels and Spicing Up Your Art

  1. Nancy Kvorka says:

    Thank you Paivi, excellent post. I missed your Facebook group posting. I would have voted for this information. I think I mentioned in Bloom and Fly I wanted to learn more about oil pastels. I bought that same set earlier this year. This gives me some great ideas on how to use them.

  2. Rae Lynn Reffruschinni says:

    All are lovely! My main problem with oil pastels is the mess. Fingers are a natural tool with them. The colors are intense.

    • Päivi says:

      Thank you, Rae Lynn! Baby wipes help with the mess but I realized that I also have to wipe my pencils and other supplies after the session!

  3. ANN MUELLER says:

    so timely. i had just taken out my oil pastels after years of non use. i am using my left hand as i broke my right wrist in july. YOU POSTS HAVE BEEN GREAT FOR THIS TIME OF HEALING. thank you.

  4. Päivi says:

    Thank you, Ann! Sorry to hear about your hand. I would assume that oil pastels are one of the best supplies for working with the left hand because you can use fingers and it’s not that exact!

  5. Cynthia Richter says:

    I bought a cheap set of oil pastels a year or so when I decided I wanted to try painting again and couldn’t decide what medium I should work in. Needless to say, the pastels were not a favorite. Having seen your work and tips, I will have to try again. I took one of your earlier classes and it introduced me to mixed media. I dabble in several things now and am finally beginning to free up my art to express what I am feeling. Thanks to you, I am creating what I want and not so much copying. Many thanks for your continuing support of us.

  6. Annelie Sahlén says:

    Thank you for this post, it´s really inspiring. I have also been hesitant to use oilpastels. I have an old set that I just haven´t been able to figure out how to best use. I got some inspiration and tips from you, thank you!
    I am wondering, I have the problem with this kind of paint, that it smears everything, it sticks to other pages/paper, after I finished the painting/artjournal page. I don´t know how to store papers with oilpastels on, because it sticks together, transferring onto everything. Do you know a solution or a tip to something I can do? How do you stop the “stickyness/messiness” afterwards?

    • Päivi says:

      Annelie, thank you for commenting! The oil pastels never dry completely, so you either need a blank page between the pages of the journal or use a fixative that is meant specifically for them.

      There are also “oil bars” which dry within the time just like oil paint does. They don’t need the fixative.

  7. Phyllis Thomason says:

    This was very informative. I adore your work. You are wonderful in any medium.

  8. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this topic. I just received an oil pastel set today from my online art shop. Although I am up to my eyeballs in new materials…all different, I hope to try some of your lessons. I am wondering how the oil will work with my high flow acrylics and India inks…and gelli prints??!!! Fun😀

    • Päivi says:

      Thanks, Wendy! if you are layering acrylics with oils, always put acrylic paint on the bottom and oils (pastel or paint) on the top of it. India ink is quite absorbent so I would assume that it works over oil, but because the pastel surface can be quite thick, I would layer ink first, then oil pastels. But if you work the way I did: creating separate areas for each medium, you don’t have to think about these things!