I have two sons who grew up in the same house, with the same father, the same dog, the same school…everything. And yet, they seem to have little else in common. If one of them says he likes X, the other likes Y. They’re a little like oil and water.
Which brings me to mixed-media painting techniques and the use of acrylic and oil pastels. Staci Swider explains to us that since acrylic is water-based, oil doesn’t seem like it would be a good partner–but you might be pleasantly surprised if you combine the two.
Mixed-Media Painting Techniques: Acrylic and Oil Pastels by Staci Swider
I use oil pastels to add lines and pops of color to my paintings. Every time I teach a workshop or give a gallery talk about my artwork and techniques I share in my book, Acrylic Expressions, I get asked the following questions: “Can you really combine oil pastels with acrylic paint?” “Do I need to seal the painting to keep the pastel from smearing?” “Do you need to put it behind glass because of the oil pastels?” Here are my thoughts on the subject and how I handle these two seemingly disparate art materials, oil and water.
First, a little background info. The pigments of acrylic paint are suspended in water. We refer to acrylic as water-based, meaning it cleans up with soap and water, as long as you don’t let your brushes dry out with paint on them. Oil pastels are made from pigments mixed with oil and a wax binder, making them water resistant. If you paint over top of oil pastels they will resist the paint and will never really dry out completely. Remember grade school art class and painting with watercolor over crayon drawings? It’s like that. Think of oil pastels as high-quality crayons. They’ll stabilize over time but technically they’ll never completely dry out.
Mixed-media painting techniques: Many oil painters use acrylic for their underpaintings in order to save drying time. Once the acrylic paint is dry, they proceed with their oil painting. There’s no conflict because the oil paint is left to cure on its own time.
Let me clear things up a bit about what I do on my canvases to address this oil and water situation. I never paint over the oil pastels; I apply them last. I add a line of pastel to an area as a painting is developing. I’m very careful not to paint over that line, I just paint up to it on both sides. I like this because I get some great colors from the underpainting that come through around the line, and I really love the depth that this gives to my paintings.
“But you said the pastels won’t ever dry. How do you keep them from smearing? Isn’t it safer to put the painting behind glass?” If I were using larger amounts of oil pastel on my paintings then yes, it would be safer to put them behind glass. But I only use the pastels in very small areas proportionate to the rest of my larger painting. A line here, a small half-inch square of color there. I’m also careful not to use the pastels too close to the edges of my canvases, where they would be subject to handling when a painting is being moved.
I should add here that not all oil pastels are created equal, and not all of them will scribble across your painted surface the same way. Some are harder than others and don’t make a mark as easily. So why do I use them? Because I have yet to find a water-based product that will give me the opacity and visual texture that I get from oil pastels. ~Staci
As you’ll often hear from us at Cloth Paper Scissors, experimenting is key. You just might find that this is one among many wonderful mixed-media painting techniques to add to your repertoire. Staci has even more to teach you with the Acrylic Painting Studio kit, which is only available through Cloth Paper Scissors. The collection includes the following:
• Acrylic Expressions (book)
• FOUR video workshops from the Acrylic Painting Studio Series: Working in a Series, Painting Negative Space, Natural Compositions, and Using Personal Imagery (DVDs)
• Sennelier Oil Pastel starter set of 12 pastels
If working with acrylic and oil pastels is new to you, give it a try the next time you want to change things up a bit. I think you’ll find that although they’re very different from each other, like my boys, they’ll work together enough to pleasantly surprise you.
Until next time,