One of the most important skills that can separate amateur artists from experienced artists is blending. Whether working with paints, colored pencils, charcoals, pastels, or another medium, blending plays a vital part in the way the final piece comes together.
Blending in your art can be the difference between a beautiful, soft landscape of the ocean and an imitation of the ocean with separated shapes and blocks of color drawn around each other.
While blending can be easy to pick up with paints, it’s a little difficult with some other mediums and takes extra tools and skill. Blending with oil pastels, for example, requires some extra help and knowledge to do correctly.
So, how can you blend oil pastels? To blend oil pastels, you can try a variety of methods, including baby oil, heat, a blending stump, oil stick, tissue, a kneaded eraser, stippling/scumbling, cross-hatching, or even your own finger. The biggest key to blending oil pastels is to overlap the colors.
Blending oil pastels can be a breeze if you have the right tools and know-how. Read through our methods below and try them out to see which one works best for you.
What Are Oil Pastels?
Before we dive in on the details of blending oil pastels, it’s important to know more about what oil pastels are. Understanding the medium helps you to recognize why each of the below methods work.
Oil pastels consist of pigment, wax, and oil. They have a similar feel to crayons, though crayons are made without any oil, so there will still be a noticeable difference.
Oil pastels apply smoothly to canvas or pastel paper. They require a paper with teeth, or ridges, that allow for the pastel to grip onto the paper and sink into the divots between ridges.
When used correctly, oil pastels can give a very painterly appearance. Blended oil pastels have the beautiful look of a soft, hazy painting.
Oil pastels are just one form of pastel. There are several other types of pastels to use, and you can learn about them in our article “What Are Pastels? – Complete Beginners Guide.”
Tips For Blending Oil Pastels
Regardless of the method you choose from our list below, there are some basic tips you’ll want to remember prior to blending oil pastels. These tips will apply to every method and should guide you no matter which you choose.
The first is to not apply the colors separately. When you apply your oil pastels to your canvas or paper, apply each color that you want to blend together.
To do this, start with your darker color and work your way to the lightest color. As you apply each new color, run your new color over the old one.
Overlapping the colors gives your oil pastels the help they need to blend. If you apply them in separate blocks all next to each other, when you try to blend, you’ll still see that harsh dividing line in between each color.
It’s also important to apply your oil pastels with consistent pressure. When you apply your oil pastels, there shouldn’t be any white space showing through the color from your paper or canvas. Your oil pastel color should be applied in a solid, dark block.
Once you apply it, though, you want to use a lighter pressure with your blending. Pressing too hard as you blend can make the colors combine completely and leave you without that beautiful ombre effect.
The last tip is to use circular motions. When blending, using circular motions creates a more fluid, smooth blend. Simply going up and down or left to right still creates a linear motion to the blend. If you use circles too, your blending will look more natural.
Methods For Blending Oil Pastels
There are several different methods to use to blend oil pastels. Some work great for some artists, while others are best for some artists. The method that works best for you will depend on how you work and what feels most comfortable to you.
We recommend trying each of the methods listed below before settling on your preferred method. Testing each of them out will give you a sense of how they work and help you find the right one for you.
Some of the methods included below can be seen in this video. While the video doesn’t include every method discussed below, it does give you a visual for some of them which can help you learn the look you’re going for when blending oil pastels.
1. Baby Oil
Your first option for blending oil pastels is to use baby oil. Since oil pastels have oil in their formula, using another oil to blend works great.
You can also try dipping your cotton swab or paintbrush into the baby oil, then applying it to the oil pastels. The important part is to use a small amount of baby oil and rub it around the oil pastel colors you’re trying to blend.
Of course, applying baby oil to your canvas or paper can make it feel very wet. Don’t worry! The oil will dry over a few hours, maybe a day, and your canvas or paper will feel as it did before.
You can also use linseed oil as opposed to baby oil. It will also do a great job at blending your oil pastels, though it will come at a higher cost.
Some people may prefer linseed oil since it comes in bottles specifically marketed for artistic use, but baby oil works just fine and costs much less per ounce.
You can also use heat to blend your oil pastels. No, we don’t mean hold a flame to your canvas or paper. This will surely cause a fire, so don’t do that.
Our recommendation for using the heat method is to warm the oil pastel stick itself. You can do this with a small flame such as a candle or with a blow dryer.
Be sure to keep the flame away from your paper or canvas. Also read the package warnings of your oil pastels to double check for any flammability in the wrapping or additives of the oil pastel.
Heat the end of your oil pastel color that you want to use, then apply it directly onto the paper or canvas. It should apply smoothly and in a more liquid state.
Heat up the next color quickly and apply it with your first color, blending them together. The colors should be heated enough that the oil pastel has melted a bit, allowing for a smooth blend as you would with paints.
Let the oil pastels cool once blending is complete.
3. Blending Stump
Blending stumps, often referred to as tortillons, are a must-have in many artists’ tool kits. A blending stump is made of paper sheets that have been tightly wound together into a cylindrical form with a point. They have a look like that of a pencil.
Using a blending stump is incredibly easy. Simply apply your oil pastel colors to your paper or canvas, remembering to overlap as you go.
When ready, use the tip of your blending stump and apply light pressure, rubbing in circles and lines alternatively to blend the colors. You may need to add more pressure as you go, but it’s best to start lighter and press harder depending on the way your oil pastels react.
It’s also important to use your blending stump lightly to avoid breaking it. It is, after all, just rolled paper.
You’ll notice after much use that your blending stump will get dirty with the colors of your oil pastels. If this happens, simply unwind some of the paper. This will give you a fresh tip to start with.
4. Oil Stick Blender
An oil stick blender will work similarly to a blending stump. While you can buy sets of oil sticks in various colors in place of oil pastels or paints, you can also purchase an oil stick blender to use in conjunction with your oil pastels.
The oil stick blender works smoothly to create a soft, gentle blend. Like with the blending stump, apply your oil stick blender to your oil pastels and work in alternating circular and linear motions.
Only do this until you feel the colors have been sufficiently blended. If you use the oil stick for too long, you can over blend and end up completely mixing the colors into a new color.
The oil stick blender may develop a dry film on top over time if not used every day, but that’s normal. If you feel the dryness on top, simply rub your finger over it or rub the stick onto a piece of paper.
If you’re looking for something cheaper and easier to use, you can simply use a tissue.
Most people keep tissues around their house for blowing their noses or wiping their faces. Tissues are widely used around the world for various purposes. Tissues can also be a great artist tool.
To use tissues for oil blending, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve folded the tissue up to be thick. You may want to layer two tissues before folding.
You wouldn’t use the tissue as a single layer sheet because tissues are thin and fragile. If you try to rub a thin tissue on top of your oil pastels, it will likely shred and leave little tissue pieces all over your oil pastels that can be hard to remove.
So before you start, ensure that your tissue is thick enough to withstand pressure against the oil pastels. Then, when ready, rub your folded tissue across your oil pastel colors that you’re trying to blend.
With a tissue, you can press a little harder than with a blending stump. You might want to add that extra pressure for tissue because the force of your finger has to transfer through the thick layers of tissue.
As you work, you should see the colors blending. If your tissue is shredding, you may need to get a different brand of tissue paper or try folding it up thicker.
You can also try using paper towels instead. Paper towels tend to be sturdier and won’t be as likely to shred while working.
6. Kneaded Eraser
Kneaded erasers are an incredibly versatile artist tool that you can use not only with pastels, but with chalk, charcoal, and graphite pencil drawings, too.
Kneaded erasers are made of rubber, but they’re pliable so they can be formed into whatever shape you need.
Most artists mold their kneaded eraser into a rounded, elongated shape that fits naturally in the hand, while still keeping a point at the end for precision in blending.
You can use a kneaded eraser to blend oil pastels by shaping it to be comfortable in your hand. If you like working with it in the rectangular shape that it comes in, then leave it in that shape and don’t re-form it.
Apply it gently to your oil pastel colors to blend the colors together. Rub back and forth, as well as in circles, to give a more smooth, even blend.
If the eraser is getting too dirty, simply re-shape it so that a clean part is now your point and the dirty part is somewhere in the part of the eraser that you hold.
A great type of blending for oil pastels that requires no extra tools at all is stippling.
Stippling is the art of applying small dots of oil pastel color to your canvas or paper, then choosing your next color and applying more dots in the next area, while overlapping and adding dots to your previous color’s area as well.
Over time as you apply your colorful dots, the oil pastels will blend together into a seamless sea of color.
While stippling can create some breathtaking effects, it is certainly not a method for those who are a little impatient. To create an entire art piece just through stippling takes quite a bit of time and energy.
You can make the time go faster by trying scumbling instead. Scumbling operates on the same basic principle as stippling, except you’re going to make random marks and scribbles as opposed to dots.
Scumbling is a method widely used by artists who don’t like to play rules. It’s a fun method for those who love living outside the box and don’t adhere to any structure with their art.
While not the same as stippling or scumbling, cross-hatching also relies on the way you apply the color to the paper.
Instead of using the oil pastel to apply dots or scribbles, you’ll choose your first color and apply several parallel lines to the paper or canvas.
These parallel lines will fill the area you want to shade. Then, you’ll choose the next color, and start drawing parallel lines in a different direction from the first color.
Most people think of cross-hatching as a direct X shape with the lines, but you can also do one color all going diagonal and one color all going vertical or horizontal.
This is another method that will take quite a bit of time, since you’ll have to apply enough individual lines to completely cover the white surface you’re working on.
If done correctly, though, cross-hatching can create a beautiful blended look unlike any other blending method.
9. Finger Blending
The final method for blending oil pastels is to use your finger.
Using your finger as a blending tool for oil pastels is heavily debated in the artist community. Some think that this method is the best and easiest way to do it, while others maintain that you don’t yield great results.
The only way to know for sure if you like this method is to try it yourself. Apply your oil pastel colors as we mentioned above, making sure to overlap the colors and work from dark to light.
Once they’re on the paper or canvas, use the pad of your finger to blend the colors together. It may be a good idea to use a different finger for each color area unless you want all of the colors to be incorporated together.
Your fingers will get quite dirty, but you can wipe them off with a wet wipe. You can do this when you finish, or if you only want to use one finger for blending, you can wipe it off in between colors.
Often, our fingers don’t have enough natural oils for this method to work correctly. Some who have tried it complain that the blending just isn’t smooth enough.
However, if you try it and it works great for you, it’s going to be the easiest and cheapest method for blending oil pastels on this list.
Up Next: Best Oil Pastels For Beginners