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Steps to use oil pastel techniques in painting

Step One: Choosing Pastels
The first thing that needs to be done is choosing the pastels. There are several brands in the market that offer these pastels in different sizes. Some going even up to 120 shades or more in a set. However, if you are just starting out, opt for a set of 24. These will be sufficient, because they provide all the shades necessary for experimenting and yet there aren’t too many to confuse you. After considerable practice, however, one can move on to a more wider range of pastels.

When choosing these pastels, always look for their appearance. Pastels which are broken or have small craters and holes in them are of poor quality. Always choose a set that is even and shiny. Opt for artist quality pastels, as opposed to student grade ones. Student grade pastels tend to be extremely waxy and make it harder for blending. In spite of all this, it is mainly through experimentation that one can determine the type of pastels that interpret their style best.

Step Two: Choosing a Canvas
A canvas is the surface on which one will sketch their paintings. Choosing a surface that will best portray the artist’s skill is therefore very important. There are several varieties of paper available in the market. Different artists choose different types of paper, according to their needs. Many artists prefer using pastel paper that is of heavy grade. The reason being that it has a scratchy surface that holds the pigments of oil pastels. Some others choose the ordinary oil painting canvas because of its raised grain―this makes it perfect for grabbing the layers of oil pastel. Some other choices of canvas paper are sanded paper, archival paper, hot pressed paper, and cold pressed paper.

Step Three: Sketching the Painting
Once your paper and pastels are in place, you can start sketching the painting. The pressure of your strokes and the roughness of your canvas are the two most important things to keep in mind when starting to sketch. The pressure you use will decide the intensity of colors. The more the pressure employed, the more intense the colors and vice versa. Similarly, a smooth surface of the canvas will result in a less broken look as opposed to a rough surface.

To start with, sketch your drawing on the canvas paper with a lead pencil. Let your drawing be in gentle strokes and not with pressure, so that it does not cause indents on the page. If indents are formed, then that portion of the paper gets a depression and when you paint, the indented part won’t catch the color, thus giving your entire painting an uneven look.

Next, identify the color that you want to use in a particular area and sketch over the penciled lines with it. Then, fill in the color in the entire area. The first layer of color needs to be laid down on the canvas thereafter. Since this layer is light, it might lead to a transparent appearance and you might be able to see the canvas through it. However, this ‘transparent’ area on the canvas will be covered by consecutive layers of colors.

Step Four: Layering
Always have a clear idea of what your final product will be before you start painting. There are several techniques using oil pastels that can create a work of art.

Different Tones
Layers can be added in different ways, either by adding light colors over dark, or dark over light. However, it has been noticed that it is easier to turn dark colors into light rather than the other way round. It is simpler to keep the white areas in the painting free of any pastels to lend that whitest white feel.

Using the Side
Using the side of a pastel crayon will allow one to cover a broader area of the canvas, thereby retaining an amalgamated feel to it without causing a disjointed effect.

Using Linear Strokes
Linear strokes (lines) can be used for drawing outlines, adding details, hatching (drawing lines, especially parallel lines for engraving and marking), and cross hatching. This allows one to control the shapes and saturation of the colors better.

Even Tone
It is necessary to maintain an even tone if one wants to keep a particular area dark or extremely light. In this case, darker colors should not be tinted with lighter ones or vice versa. They should be colors of a like tone.

Using Turpentine
Turpentine is used to soften or flatten a painting. So, when one needs to blend pastels together on paper, oil pastels become very soft and start to dissolve when you dip them in turpentine. Thus, they can be manipulated according to the desired density. Alternatively, the tip of a brush can be dipped in turpentine and then used to drag the pigments across the canvas―this will form washes. Similarly, several layers of washes can be created this way. The intensity of the colors can be varied by varying the amount of turpentine used.

‘Sgraffito’ Effect
The ‘sgraffito’ effect is a method, whereby the color beneath is revealed by scratching the top layer of the color. It plainly means ‘to scratch’. To do this, a razor, a knife or the other end of a paint brush can be used.

Ghostlike Effect
Using a razor to scrape areas in a painting will lead to a ghostlike or fuzzy look. Sometimes, the addition of too many layers can lend the painting a very heavy look; this can be resolved by using this technique.

Cotton Swab
When one adds layer upon layer, it might lead to a very disjointed look. To solve this, one can use a cotton swab or your fingers to blend the different layers. This will then give the painting a very wholesome feel.

Correcting Too Many Layers
Adding too many layers in the painting can render the canvas unable to grab any more pastels (muddying the surface). In case this happens, one can use a dry cloth, wrap it around a finger and then wipe out the affected area.

After one has finished painting, it should be allowed to harden. The time taken for the painting to harden will depend on the number of layers that are used in it. The life of the painting can be extended by adding a fixative to it. Also, a mat spacer can be added, so that you can frame the painting with glass, without it affecting the pastel.