The best paper for oil pastels is mostly a matter of personal preference.
It also depends on what type of drawing you’re going for. If you’re wanting to do something very realistic, you might want to look for paper with a smoother surface, so that you can fine to the sharp details. But if you’re doing something more abstract or pointillist for example, you might choose a textured surface.
Unfortunately there are extremely few artist papers that are marketed specifically for the oil pastels medium, and this can make the search for the best paper for oil pastels tricky.
Keeping these things in mind, there are a few characteristics to look for when choosing paper for oil pastels.
Weight of the paper
The weight of the paper is an important consideration for oil pastels.
I don’t recommend anything under 80lb for oil pastels, such as sketch paper or drawing paper. The reason is that the lighter papers just don’t hold up well with oil pastels. You want a paper that is more sturdy and thick.
A great paper to consider starting out with is Canson Mixed Media 98lb paper. I’m a big fan of this paper, it’s got a good weight to it as well as a little bit of texture too. I think they’re very good for oil pastels and I use this paper often.
Canson makes a variety of sizes in this paper, from 5.5 x 8.5 inch up to 18 x 24 inch.
Canson XL Mix Media pads are acid-free, there are perforations along the edge for easy removal from the pads, and they are also very economically priced.
For some, this paper might not actually be enough weight for oil pastels. My own recommendation is to avoid going below 98lbs, but if you’re new to oil pastels, I feel these are a good place to start out with.
A great step up from the Canson XL Mix Media series is to go for a watercolor heavy paper.
Strathmore’s Visual Journals are excellent quality paper, and the watercolor series is 140lbs. The 140lb might be considered a sweet spot as far as oil pastels paper goes. Not too thin and flimsy, but not overly thick either.
Strathmore’s Visual Journal series of pads could be considered a little more artist-quality than Canson XL. They are a little more expensive but overall still economical.
Although this paper is targeted at watercolors, they are just perfect for oil pastels. 140lb weight is in my opinion an ideal paper for oil pastels.
There are several other brands and types of paper that vary in weight. Again, I recommend not going under 98lb, but this is going to be your personal preference. I have done some oil pastels using Canson colored paper for pastels, and it has worked out fine for me. The point is, it’s just something to experiment with, there are really no rules for what type of paper works best, just guidelines and recommendations.
Sennelier Oil Pastel Pads
If I’m forced to choose just one type of paper as being the “best” for oil pastels, I’m going to go with Sennelier Oil Pastel Paper.
As mentioned before, there are very few art papers created specifically for oil pastels. Sennelier Oil Pastel papers are produced by Sennelier, and are marketed for use with their Sennelier oil pastels. You can of course use any type of oil pastels with this paper.
Characteristics that make this paper the best for oil pastels are that it is a good heavy weight at 160lb, they are acid-free, textured, and provide just the right tooth for Sennelier Oil Pastels.
Any oil pastels artist is going to want to use these for their more serious pieces of artwork. While being more expensive than other papers, they provide the artist-level of quality.
And that’s my recommendation for the best oil pastels paper: Sennelier Oil Pastel Pads. They come in various sizes, from 9.5 x 12.5 inch, up to a larger 15.75 x 23.5 inch.
But wait! I actually have another recommendation that is a personal favorite.
It’s actually not paper, but it happens to be by far my favorite surface to use with oil pastels. They are called Pastelbord, and I feel it’s worth mentioning while discussing oil pastels papers.
Pastelbord is made by Ampersand, who also makes Hardbord, Gessobord, Scratchbord, and a variety of sturdy surfaces for painting and drawing.
In my opinion, Pastelbord is perfect for oil pastels. There is no concern for the weight of the paper, because it isn’t paper, instead it’s a hard surface to work from. Pastelbord also has a nicely textured surface which picks up the oil pastels medium very well.
I use Pastelbord for all my serious artwork, and the only drawback with it is that they are more difficult to get framed. It is possible to frame them however, and because they are so much more stronger and durable, in my opinion it makes the value of the artwork increase. Partly due to the effort and expense of getting them framed.
(For information about getting pastelbord framed, I recommend visiting a local art store or framing shop.)
Pastelbord comes in a variety of sizes, and if you’re interested, also try out some of Ampersand’s other surfaces to experiment with. For me there is no comparison, Pastelbord wins my favorite surface overall, for oil pastels artwork.
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Happy oil pasteling! – Eric
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