Thursday, April 29, 2010

Answering your questions about painting with Oil Pastel

Taking a break from my painting to answer some really great questions I received from a fellow artist about oil pastel. If you are a subscriber, you may already be familiar with these two slideshows... but since there is no audio, it may be hard to tell what products I use and why. So thank you Diane Fairfield for your great questions! I post my answers for all to see!

For Slideshow Click Here.

    1. What is the support you use? My first choice is Ampersand Hardboard, or equivalent. It is smooth and archival and makes it "EASY" to frame. Wood doesn't buckle :). My second choice is bristol board 3ply or thicker. Easier to custom make your own size, but harder to wrestle with the framing process.
    2. What is the large can of some kind of reddish paint you use as a ground? Daniel Smith Acrylic Gesso Venetian Red. And to answer your next question, I mix the pumice powder into the gesso to create a tooth for the pastel to grab. It's fantastic! The surface is like fine grit sand paper. You have to play with the mixture, I am not very precise with measuring it out or anything.
    3. What do you do with the pumice powder? See above.
    4. I like the impasto texture you create. What do you do about getting it to dry? You are right. Oil pastels never dry. I use Sennelier brand oil pastels. Rich and buttery. They are wax based and very very heavily pigmented. With all that said, pastels DO dry to a certain extent. After about 2-3 days Sennelier's become more rigid on the surface... they kind of "set" so to speak. All that wet buttery feel becomes a bit less and the surface turns into more of a beeswax consistency.
    5. It is my understanding that oil pastels never do really dry and therefore need to be framed under glass. Is that your experience? Yes. It is imperative that oil pastels remain protected. Some artists like to spray varnish their finished pieces. Sennelier makes an aerosol spray that is pretty good. BUT I just don't like the results myself. So I frame under glass. Has a contemporary feel for my work anyway... I have a couple really great solutions for framing and matting oil pastels. Because I favor a wood substrate, I made a slideshow about that process too. It shows how you can "nestle" your finished piece in a hole you cut out of foam core, then mat the whole thing and viola! You can watch it by clicking the link below this next picture...

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Jennifer Phillips said...

I apologize in advance to those that subscribe to my blog... this post probably delivered to your inbox a bit scrambled. Let's just say that "copy and paste" function on blogspot isn't quite working yet... Thanks for your understanding.

Lee Ann said...

Thanks for the help on oil pastels! I have only used them once and was frustrated by them. I was expecting to be able to layer colors, but it seemed that they would always scrape off the underneath layer. I assumed it was because I was using cheapo oil pastels (second hand stuff) but I guess that's because they never dry? Or is there just a trick to it?

Jennifer Phillips said...

Hi Lee Ann, thanks for your comment...

What you are experiencing could definitely be because oil pastels never really dry. BUT with that said, in my experience with Sennelier, after about 3 days the surface IS hard enough to work back on top of and layer color without worrying about lifting the previous layers. As long as you are not too heavy handed. Some colors are softer than others and so the harder sticks may lift a little, but the total advantage you have working with this brand is that most of the colors are soft and buttery. Not stiff and tacky like some of the inexpensive brands. But you will need experiment and find out what colors will work for your color layering technique.
Another thing you could try is diluting the color with turps directly on your board. Let that dry, and then go over it with another layer of color too... that way some of the initial color tint will "peal through"... you can create really smooth effects this way.

In the end, quality of product is definitely going to make a huge difference when choosing to use oil pastel as your medium. The "cheaper" brands are sticky, less pigmented so they don't cover more, and just don't behave... painting with Sennelier is like painting with lipstick (almost- with most colors).

I could go on all day, so I will stop there. Hope that helps a little.

Please remember that I am not an expert, just providing feedback based on my own personal experiences. There are a few other great brands out there (Holbien for example is another). Everyone has a preference.