Techniques for Blending Using Oil Pastels

Giraffe - Oil Pastels

Oil Pastels artwork by
Eric D. Greene

Blending with oil pastels is one of the first techniques any oil pastelist wants to learn. The question comes to mind as soon as you first begin working with oil pastels – “How do I blend with oil pastels?” I would like to answer that here.

Oil pastels can be blended in many ways, and I think we should first distinguish that we are talking about physically blending the colors with one another, as opposed to using a visual technique (for that I will write another article).  The main methods of blending with oil pastels are as follows:

  • Blending with fingers
  • Blending with cloth or paper towel
  • Blending with tortillion
  • Blending with a solvent
  • Various other methods
Mountain Sunset in Oil Pastels

Mountain Sunset in Oil Pastels

One suggestion I have with these techniques is to purchase some decent pastel paper and oil pastels to begin with, just for practice.  Don’t make this the most expensive paper and pastels yet, as you want to just get started practicing techniques.

Also, before getting starting with oil pastels blending techniques, you might want to read my Beginner’s Guide to Oil Pastels first.

Let’s talk about finger blending first, as it is the most obvious and easily accessible method.

Blending with fingers

I think this is the quickest and easiest way of blending with oil pastels.  Just use your fingers to rub the colors together to get a blend.  It is often not as precise as using something like a tortillion, but it does get the job done when blending a large area of colors together.

One thing to keep in mind when blending using your fingers is the amount of medium that will remain on your fingers and hands after you are done.  If you are going to blend with fingers and use that throughout your work on a piece of art, you will probably have to stop and wash your hands or wipe off your fingers several times before your art is finished.  The biggest concern I have when blending with fingers is that I want to make sure that the only colors I am blending are those on the surface and not the colors stuck to my fingers from another area.  In other words, if I am blending a red and yellow to get an orange color, I want to make sure that I don’t have any blue on my fingers which might be remaining from something I previously blended.

The advantages of blending with fingers are the quickness and accessibility of use.  There is no time wasted in grabbing a cloth or another item, your fingers are right there to use so you just blend with them.  Another advantage is that since you are directly touching the surface, you have more awareness of how much pressure to apply in the blending than with any other blending technique.

The disadvantages of using fingers for blending are the messiness on your skin, and it can also be not as precise in some areas as you might want.  For example if you have a section of your artwork that requires hard lines, it is difficult to blend right up next to that line because your fingers tend to soften the line some.  And it does get messy too, as I mentioned, you do usually have to wash off your hands and fingers multiple times while working on a piece if you are blending with fingers.


Blending with Cloth or Paper Towel

If you want to avoid getting your fingers messy, or if you just want to try another technique, you can blend oil pastels with either a cloth or a paper towel.  Although this isn’t one of my favorite blending techniques, it has it’s place and with practice you will learn when blending with a paper towel or cloth is appropriate.


Oil Pastel Flowers

Oil Pastel Flowers

Blending with tortillion

Using a tortillion is a great way to blend with oil pastels.  Tortillions can be used for blending oil pastels when you don’t want to get your fingers too messy.  They are mostly best for edges and fine details in an oil pastels painting.  When working with oil pastels, sometimes the edges of the objects you are drawing can turn out a little rough.  You can use the tip of a tortillion to sharpen those edges, as well as for blending the colors you’ve been working with.

Tortillions come in large, medium, and small sizes, and are inexpensive to purchase.  You can get a pack of 6 for just a couple dollars, or sometimes a dozen or more for under 5 dollars.

Here is an example for a cost of $1.55. Not too bad! Blending Tortillions (Dozen) Medium


Blending with a solvent

The next blending technique is use of a solvent for blending. This technique takes some practice but with a little bit of skill it can produce a variety of outstanding results. A future article entirely devoted to this technique may eventually need to be written, actually. The interesting thing about using solvent is that you can either dip the oil pastel in the solvent first, or you can first wash the surface with the solvent, then draw into the solvent on your surface.

John Elliot demonstrates both of these techniques in his book Oil Pastels For The Serious Beginner. One bit of caution I would like to mention with using solvents is to be careful with the type of surface you choose, as solvents can easily stain right through some paper surfaces.

A popular choice of solvent to use is odorless turpenoid such as this: Martin/ F. Weber Weber 7.98-Ounce Odorless Turpenoid


Other Blending Methods

The thing to keep in mind is that you really can blend with just about anything, cloth or some old rags, pieces of scrap paper, maybe even some rubber or plastic gloves.  The key here is to try different techniques to see what effects work best in different situations.  For me personally, I don’t mind getting a little messy so I will use my fingers for blending often.  Probably my second-most used technique is using tortillions.

I hope my article has been useful, and if you have any suggestions or comments on oil pastels blending techniques, please leave a comment below.


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About Eric D. Greene

Eric D. Greene

Eric D. Greene

Eric is an oil pastels artist living in Folsom California.


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