The Magic Of Oil Pastels 

Oil pastels are the type of medium that everyone should have in their collection or should experience at least once on their artistic journey. They are an exceptionally versatile material, and such an enjoyable experience to use in your artwork. It can absolutely get messy, but that is part of their charm and something you just have to accept when working with them. Though, you can be comforted in the knowledge that they are at least more controllable than soft pastel or PanPastel. Oil pastels consist of a coloured pigment combined with a binding mixture of non-drying oil and wax, so they are not powdery or dusty when in use. They certainly have much more structural integrity than most other pastel types so they are particularly great if you suffer with any dust-induced allergies, making them a real user-friendly and all inclusive art supply.

Oil pastels are a relatively new medium to the market, first appearing in 1925 in Japan. They were originally invented by a company called ‘Sakura Cray-Pas’, who made them with the intention of being a go to and safe supply for school children to use. The early prototypes of oils pastels saw pigments combined with natural and non-toxic ingredients like mashed paraffin, steric acid and coconut oil as a binders. ‘Sakura Cray-Pas’ is around even today, now making economical Expressionist and the artist grade Specialist line of oil pastels. From their initial appearance as an art supply, nothing really changed for manufacturing process or uses of oil pastels until 1948, when a certain French manufacturer, that you very well may have heard of, was approached by a certain artist master, who you have also probably heard of… Henri Sennelier was contacted by none other than Pablo Picasso, who declared that he was looking for a very specific new medium that he wanted to have all the vibrancy and brilliance of oil paints but with the ability to be applied on any surface and without having to worry about waiting for it to dry. Without realising it, he had inadvertently requested the development of oil pastels, a medium originally created for young children to be made into a fine arts version. 

Thus, in 1949, Sennelier went on to develop a type of oil pastel that was explicitly designed with professional artists in mind. These pastels were advanced by featuring exceptional wax viscosity, which made for a much smoother and creamier texture, as well as higher pigment quality and quantity which made this medium more consistent in its colour application. And because of these changes, oil pastels started to become rather popular, catching the eye of some big names in the art sphere. They were soon used and loved by some of the greatest artists of all time, featuring in the artworks of Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. And so, what had originally started off as a children’s supply, refined itself into the loveable, charming and versatile supply that we now know and enjoy to this day. Today, the art supply market is filled with a wide variety of oil pastel brands, plus a range of student-professional grades to choose from, so there is a version out there to suit everyone’s needs and requirements.

Nowadays, the binders in oil pastels are usually made up of a combination a natural wax such as beeswax and a non-drying oil like linseed oil, so their manufacturing process is almost exactly the same as it was back in the mid-1900s (with a slight variation in materials). And because of their natural ingredients, just like they were originally intended for, they remain a non-toxic art supply that is used amongst schools and children for creative exploration. But that is not all they are used for. Oil pastels are a go to supply for many artists, both expert and beginner alike, as they are very accessible and produce fantastic results, regardless of the mess that comes hand in hand with their use. They are popular among artists who are looking for quick and immediate application of bold and vibrant colour in their work. Some artist also like to use them as a foundation for their oil paintings and there is plenty of cross-over to explore with multimedia experiments.

So, whether you are a seasoned pro or a complete novice to the world of art, oil pastels are a great medium to explore and develop your creativity with. Don’t be scared… dive in and experience the magic of oil pastels!

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