Have you ever used oil pastels and wondered how the heck to blend them smoothly? I’ve been there! Oil pastels seem messy and scratchy at first, but they can actually create some of the most vibrant, creamy blends you’ll ever see.
In this guide, I’m breaking down all the oil pastel blending techniques I’ve learned over the years. From quick finger blending to advanced methods using solvents and oils, you’ll be a pro at mixing those colorful waxy sticks by the end.
Ready to turn your oil pastels into smooth, creamy tools for artistic awesomeness? Let’s dive in!
Pre-Blending On a Palette
Before you even touch oil pastels to paper, you can pre-blend colors on a palette to get your perfect hue.
Palette Knife Mixing
Grab a palette knife and start mixing those pastels! Scrape off bits of the colors you want, smoosh them together on your palette, and voila—custom blended magic.
Palette knife pre-blending takes a little more time upfront, but it gives you full control over the final color. Once you’ve pre-blended, you can swipe the oil pastel paint you’ve created smoothly onto your paper.
Finger Blending on a Palette
If you’re not into tools, go ahead and use your finger to mix oil pastels on your palette! I find this to be a quicker way to blend colors before applying them to my artwork.
It doesn’t give quite as much control as a palette knife, but the finish still looks smooth and creamy. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly between colors to avoid muddy mixes.
So next time you need to mix that perfect sunset orange, try pre-blending on a palette before you put pastel to paper.
Blending Directly on Canvas
For organic blends and color gradations, you’ll want to blend those pastels directly on your paper. Time to get hands-on!
Using your finger is the easiest way to start blending oil pastels. And we all have our own built-in tools, so no extra purchases required!
I love how quickly you can mix colors by rubbing the edges of pastels together with a fingertip. The finish looks almost airbrushed.
Be aware that it can get messy fast though. Be prepared to wash your hands frequently to avoid muddying your colors.
Blending Stump Basics
If finger blending isn’t your jam, try a blending stump. These handy sticks let you mix colors without getting your hands dirty.
They usually have a paper or cardboard tip that you can reshape as it gets worn down. I like using the precision tip to smooth color transitions in detailed areas.
When your stump starts looking grubby, simply use sandpaper or a kneaded eraser to clean it up!
Paper Towel Smudging
Don’t have any fancy art tools on hand? No worries! You can actually use a simple paper towel to blend your pastels.
Carefully rub or smudge side-to-side with a crumpled up towel to mix those colors. It works best for broad blends rather than tiny details.
And if you press too hard, the paper towel can start shredding. So go gently for the best results.
Baby Oil Blending
Here’s a secret weapon that helps oil pastels glide smoothly! Just dip a brush or Q-tip in a little baby oil and apply lightly between pastels.
The mineral oil in baby oil binds with the pastels, creating a creamy, paint-like texture that blends like a dream.
Too much oil can make things greasy though. So I like to wipe most of the excess off my brush before touching it to the pastels.
Kneadable Eraser Mixing
Along with erasing mistakes, a kneaded eraser can help blend your pastels in a snap. These soft, pliable erasers can be molded into points perfect for smoothing color transitions.
I like to shape my eraser into a fine tip and gently run it along the edges where two pastels meet, leaving behind a perfectly blended gradient.
So handy when I need to erase and blend all in one!
Advanced Blending Techniques
Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to try some next-level oil pastel blending techniques! These methods create unique effects you can’t get with regular smearing alone.
Scumbling for Texture
Scumbling involves layering colors with quick, swirling strokes that overlap each other. When done with oil pastels, it creates tons of depth and texture.
At first your colors will look scribbly. But you can use a finger or blending stump to lightly smooth it out after for a cool weathered finish!
Cross-Hatching for Smooth Blends
I use cross-hatching whenever I need to seamlessly transition between two colors. Simply make a layer of parallel lines in one color, then overlay with perpendicular lines in another color.
The colors mesh beautifully with this technique! But if you want an ultra-smooth look, go over the area lightly with your finger or a soft cloth once the cross-hatching is complete.
Sgraffito for Dimension
This technique sounds fancy, but it’s surprisingly easy. Sgraffito involves scratching into layers of color to reveal what’s underneath.
Apply a few layers of contrasting pastels, with darker colors on bottom. Then carve lines through the layers with a skewer or dull knife tip to create cool dimensional effects.
For seriously creamy oil pastel blends, break out the solvents! Products like turpentine or odorless mineral spirits blend the waxy pastels into a lush, paint-like consistency.
Use a small soft brush to apply the solvent sparingly between colors you want to blend. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated spot—some fumes may be released.
Similar to solvents, oils can take your oil pastel game to the next level. Products like linseed or vegetable oil help loosen the pastels so you can spread, layer, and mix them with brush strokes.
I like to use very small amounts of linseed oil when I’m going for a painting effect. Dip your brush in linseed oil, then lightly brush across colors to transform them into melty, blendable goodness!
Handy Blending Tools
Having the right tools makes blending pastels a breeze. Here are some must-have oil pastel accessories:
Paint brushes with soft, flexible bristles are perfect for blending. The tapered tip allows you to smooth both broad areas and fine details.
Try a stiff bristle brush to really move and mix the pastel. Or use a wide, fluffy brush for airy blends.
These handy tools have silicone or rubber tips shaped like paint brush heads. The soft tips blend colors cleanly without disturbing the texture underneath.
I like to use stiff, tapered shapers for precise blending work and bigger flat ones when I need to cover more area.
A chamois cloth offers a soft, simple way to blend. Made of pliable leather, these can wipe across big areas or fit over your finger for detail work.
When it starts getting dirty with pastel dust, just hand wash and let it air dry. Then it’s ready to use again and again!
This affordable essential tool lets you scoop up and mix colors on your palette before applying. I use my palette knife for nearly every oil pastel painting.
The blunt flexible edge smooshes multiple pastels into a perfectly blended paste ready to swipe smoothly onto paper. Total color control!
Best Practices for Blending
Want your oil pastel blends to look professionally polished? Follow these simple tips:
- Always apply darker colors first before layering lighter shades on top. This prevents that harsh light-on-dark line.
- Use very light pressure and build up colors gradually. Heavy pressure can remove the texture that makes oil pastels unique.
- When trying a new medium or solvent, test it on scrap paper first to ensure it won’t damage or alter your drawing surface.
- Mix colors on scrap paper before applying to your artwork. It helps avoid a muddy mess on your masterpiece!
- Tackle broad overall blends before going into detailed blending. It’s easier to cover big gradients first.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment! Discovering new techniques is part of the fun. The more you blend, the more ideas you’ll uncover.
After learning all these oil pastel blending techniques, your artwork is sure to look polished and pro. Don’t be intimidated by the waxiness—just grab your fingers or tools and start mixing away.
Before you know it, you’ll be crafting the creamiest pastel blends that would make Bob Ross proud. So try out some of these blending methods and watch your art take on a whole new dimension of color.