Can You Use Oil Pastels on Canvas? – Oil Pastel Techniques

Written by Laura Walker / Fact checked by Leilani Carroll

can you use oil pastels on canvas

Oil pastels are a fantastic medium for creating vibrant, expressive artwork. They are easy to use and can even let you create detailed pieces that look like they were painted with a brush.

Usually, people use them on cardboard and paper. But if you are seeking something more professional-looking, you might want to know, Can you use oil pastels on canvas?

The short answer is YES! You can use oil pastels for canvas projects. However, there are other things you should know to make the most out of this medium on canvas. Keep reading for the complete details.

Can You Use Oil Pastels on Canvas?


Certainly! On canvas, they are easy to use and produce vibrant results. You can use them directly on the surface for writing, drawing, and coloring. Alternatively, you can apply them with a brush and turpentine.

The key is to use the right canvas surface: rough and grit-coated. In fact, this is a must-have feature of any surface you use oil pastels on. Otherwise, the pigment will have nothing to “hold” onto, meaning that the colors wouldn’t stick.

Any surface prime with gesso is to be avoided since the primer will leave the canvas too smooth for oil pastel to grab onto, making it impossible to color on the surface.

In case you have accidentally purchased gesso-primed canvas, there’s still a way to go around the issue. Simply re-coated the canvas with an additional layer of gritty primers which can give the smooth surface a porous and gritty nature, allowing the color to stick.

There is also the option of using canvas paper, which is textured and thick enough to prevent bleeds. There are a few subtypes of canvas paper, including Ingres paper, honeycomb paper, and sanded paper.

How Can Oil Pastels Be Used on Canvas?


As mentioned briefly above, you can use oil pastels to write, draw, color, or paint on canvas. The possibilities are endless when it comes to art creations.

You can hand-letter your favorite quote, motto, message, etc. A portrait or landscape drawing filled in with colors is also possible. You can even doodle all over, creating an abstract piece. It is alright to use oil pastels with other tools, like watercolor, too.

Two great oil pastel on canvas ideas are:

  1. Adding whitespaces while drawing with oil pastels, then applying watercolor paint on top to get a “resist” effect.
  2. Painting with oil pastel over dried watercolor for mixed media creations, especially those that emphasize textures.

1. Ways to blend oil pastels on canvas


One of the most common oil pastel on canvas techniques that you should take time to learn is oil pastel blending. This can branch into a few subtype blending techniques, as follows:

  • Direct Pre-Blending: In this type of blending, you mix different-colored chunks of oil pastels together in a palette using a palette knife or your fingers. Then, you can apply the new color as desired.
  • Heavy Pressure Blending: Here, you thickly layer two or more oil pastels on top of each other and achieve a rich blend. It works well for filling up large areas.
  • Oil Blending: Put the colors you want to blend down side by side. Then, you can use a brush dipped in baby oil to rub the edges where the colors meet to blend them together. You can replace the brush with a Q-tip as well.
  • Stippling: This blending technique, well-liked by many oil pastel artists, is basically making lots of dots, dabs, and mini-strokes with oil pastels in various colors. It creates an illusion that these colors are merged, especially when looked at from afar.
  • Scumbling: Essentially, this is overlapping oil pastel colors with controlled strokes, usually in circular motions. You can add depth and texture to your work this way. In addition, it lets you play around with many colors.
  • Feathering: As you can probably guess from the name, this is making light strokes that resemble feathers with different colors to produce a seamless blend. It is similar to what you would do with crayons.
  • Crosshatch Blending: This is exactly what it sounds like. You use cross-hatches to mix and blend colors. First, make horizontal straight strokes with one color. Then, go over it with another color in vertical straight strokes. This works best for light and dark shades of the same color.
  • Sgraffito: Apply your color pastels in thick layers. Then, scratch it out using something sharp, like a palette knife or the handle of a brush. This is a great way to add details and highlights, adding value to a piece.

2. Oil pastel tips for beginners

Tip 1: Clean “contaminated” oil pastels


When you layer and overlap oil pastels, they pick up bits and pieces of other colors, which “contaminates” them. This can compromise their actual colors and, ultimately, affect your creation.

Therefore, it is important to keep them clean and check that they are clean before putting them down on paper. The best way to do this is to grab scrap paper and scribble to “draw off” the contaminants.

Tip 2: Keep your fingers & hands clean


Oil pastels can be messy, especially if you use fingers to break and mix them on your palette or rubbing them for a seamless blend. So, it is recommended that you keep wet wipes handy.

You should also wash your hands regularly to prevent accidental transfers of colors. Wearing gloves is another great option.

Tip 3: Manipulate the oil pastels’ consistencies


You can thin out oil pastels for painting with thinner, mineral spirits or linseed oil. The oil pastels will be more wet and runny, making them ideal for underpainting. But make sure you do this in a well-ventilated area.

Tip 4: Test your color combinations first


When combining colors, order matters. You will get different results depending on which colors you lay down first and which later. As such, it is best to test your color choices first.

Use a scrap piece of paper or keep a swatch pad of your color schemes. This will help you know what to expect when actually working on your final piece.

Frequently Asked Questions


How to seal oil pastels on canvas?

You can get the job done with a fixative spray. Each will come with its own instructions, so you just need to read through them carefully and follow along.

If you do not want to apply anything over it but still want the protection, you can consider framing it. But you must be very careful doing so, as oil pastels never truy dry. So if you so much as brush your hand over the canvas when framing, you can smudge your painting.

Do you need to prime canvas for oil pastels?

You should only prime canvas using Golden Pastel Ground when its surface is too smooth, such as when it’s already pre-primed with gesso. It’ll also give another protective layer to keep the pastel from bleeding to the other side of the canvas.

In case the canvas is already gritty and rough, you can skip this step.

Can you use oil pastels on acrylic canvas?

Acrylic canvases are typically primed, so you can use oil pastels on them. However, the oil in the pastels can transfer to the acrylic underneath, which can ultimately stain the canvas. Therefore, the paintings should be stored in cold places to prevent the oil from melting and seeping underneath.

Besides baby oil, what else can you use to blend oil pastels on canva?

Blending oil pastels with alcohol is one option. You can also substitute baby oil with olive oil, vegetable, linseed, and walnut oil.

What tools can you use to blend oil pastels?

Above, we mentioned your fingers, a brush, and Q-tips. But there are other alternatives that you can consider, including a kneaded eraser, chamois, wound-paper stump, or pastel shaper.

Other pastels can use on canvas

Other than oil pastels, you can also use soft pastels on canvas. Please remember that the surface requirements are also the same for these pastels: the canvas should be rough and gritty so that the pigment can grab onto them.


Can you use oil pastels on canvas? The answer is yes. However, the canvas should be rough and prime-grit coated. If it is smooth and stretched, you need to use Golden Pastel Ground to prime it. Otherwise, the oil pastel will not hold. It might seep inside and leave behind dark patches as well.

Hopefully, you have gotten the information you need from our blog post. If you have any other questions about the topic, leave them in the comments down below. We are always glad to hear from our readers.

Read more: Can I use markers on canvas?

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