oil pastel (noun) ~ a painting and drawing medium in stick form from a mixture of pigments, non-drying oil, and wax binder; also called oil crayon
Oil pastel (also called wax oil crayon) is a painting and drawing medium with characteristics similar to pastels and wax crayons. Unlike "soft" or "Japanese" pastel sticks, which are made with a gum or methyl cellulose binder, oil pastels consist of pigment mixed with a non-drying oil and wax binder. The surface of an oil pastel painting is therefore less powdery, but more difficult to protect with a fixative. Oil pastels provide a harder edge than "soft" or "French" pastels but are more difficult to blend.
Other sources that we've curated, corroborate the history of "artist grade" oil pastels from Pablo Piccasso and Henry Goetz.
From OurPastimes.com Early Development of Oil Pastels
The modern oil pastel was not developed until the 20th century, but the wax based medium has historical roots that date back thousands of years. According to the Oil Pastels Society, oil pastels are related to melted wax painting. Instead of painting with dry wax, the wax was melted and used as a traditional paint. This historic method of wax painting is called encaustics and is approximately 2,000 years old. In 1921, the traditional oil pastel was developed by an artist named Yamamoto. The crayon he developed drew on the wax painting method and combined the softness and smooth texture of a crayon with the bright colours of the common pastel. Although the final product was produced for children, famous artists became inspired by the use of oil pastels.
Professional Oil Pastels
A few decades later in 1949, Sennelier developed a professional oil pastel for serious artists. With inspiration from Yamamoto's creation, Sennelier created pastels with a creamier consistency and with a wider color palette, including metallic and fluorescent. He even created a large variety of grey shades, specifically for Picasso. These professional oil pastels eliminate the dust that usually come with using pastel crayons, while keeping the shades and colors bright and intense.
Famous Artists & Oil Pastels
Famous artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Goetz, began using oil pastels. While Goetz primarily wanted to sketch oil paintings, Picasso was more focused on the professional quality of the colors when he used it on different surfaces without priming it first. He used oil pastels on various surfaces such as wood, glass, cardboard, ceramic, metals, paper and canvas. Up until this point, other artistic mediums required priming before use and Picassio wanted a medium that was readily available when his urge to paint surfaced.
Unlike other crayons, oil pastels have a base of oils and wax, which result in great adhesion. Because of the oil content, the crayons will not harden or crack despite being left out in various temperatures. Despite the various developments throughout the years, oil pastels remain acid free. As Picasso had wished, oil pastels can freely be used on various types of paper and fabrics, which gives any artist or child the freedom to paint and develop whatever he/she pleases.
Comparison to Other Mediums
As the oil pastel crayon developed throughout the years, inspiration was often drawn from other artistic mediums. However, unlike paints, oil pastels never dry and changes can be made days later as the oils leave the colors moist. Also, unlike regular crayons, the oils leave the colors glowing, even years after application. While corrections are easily made, multiple corrections on the same area can severely mess up the painting and mix the colors well together. Despite numerous developments through the years to improve oil pastels, textures can still create unwanted surprises. For example, too many layers of oil pastels on a single surface can lead to ripping or weakening of the texture due to the oils.
This Short history is an informative look at oil pastels as well:
From Empty Easel:
A short history of oil pastels
The very first oil pastels were made in 1925 by Sakura and named Cray-Pas because they were a cross between the clean dustless ease of crayons and the brilliant saturated colors of traditional soft pastels.
Talens of Holland also created some Panda oil pastels in 1930, but the medium really took off when Picasso and painter Henri Goetz spoke to Henri Sennelier about creating something with traditional artist pigments.
Goetz wanted something he could use to start an oil painting: a sketch medium that would blend right in with painted layers. Picasso on the other hand just wanted to leave his brush behind and draw or paint directly on the canvas.
Sennelier ended up making a range of 48 colors that were heavy on the subtle grays and earth tones that Picasso requested. He produced 40 sticks of each color, and Picasso bought 3/4ths of those, so Sennelier put the remaining 10 of each in his shop where they sold out fast. Naturally, he continued to make them, and Senneliers became the first artist grade oil pastel available.
Oil pastel brands for sale today
Unlike soft pastels or colored pencils, professional oil pastels are not available from dozens of manufacturers. There are only a few good artist-grade brands, each of which has its own proprietary formula.
Sakura still produces Cray-Pas oil pastels, but in several grades—children’s Cray-Pas Junior Artist; student-grade round wrapped Expressionists, which many artists use for sketching to save money; and the last and best are artist-grade Cray-Pas Specialists, which are square wrapped sticks.
Cray-Pas Specialist pastels are the hardest oil pastel sticks you can find, followed in order of hardness by Cretacolor Aqua Stic, Erengi Art Aspirer, Caran d’Ache Neopastel and Holbein. The softest are Sennelier Oil Pastels which are now available in 120 colors.
Van Gogh Extra Fine Artist Oil Pastels are usually billed as good student-grade oil pastels, but share many qualities with these artist-grade brands. Depending on your application, they may be good enough to include in the list above.
Oil pastel prices are comparable to artist-grade colored pencils or soft pastels without quite reaching the price of high-end soft pastels.
In addition, only two brands, Holbein and Sennelier, include toxic mineral pigments such as Cadmiums and Cobalt. All others use strictly nontoxic hues.