History and Properties of Oil Pastel
Since oil pastel is a relatively new medium and most people are unfamiliar with its characteristics, the following is a brief introduction to its history and properties.
All of my recent work is executed in oil pastel. In November 2006, I was Artist of the Month for the Oil Pastel Society of North America.
Oil pastel was invented in Japan in the 1920’s , not as a fine art medium, but as an inexpensive crayon for children. In 1947, artists Henri Geotz and Pablo Picasso approached Henri Sennelier with the idea of designing a professional version of the children’s product. Picasso felt inhibited by the traditional materials of oil painting, and longed to express himself without having to adhere to the physical rules and restrictions of painting on primed canvas with oils. Picasso was famous for drawing on any surface at any time (restaurant bars, wood walls, glass, placemats, etc.) and desired a colour medium of true artists’ quality that could be used on a variety of surfaces without fading or cracking.
Henri Sennelier’s response to Picasso’s request was the “pastel a l’huile” – the oil pastel – created with the same pigments used in Sennelier’s famous oil paints, combined with a pure, acid-free binder made from a proprietary formula of microcrystalline petroleum wax and nondrying chemically inert oils. The oil pastel was a true artists’ quality multimedia painting material that had the colour intensity and texture of oil paint, without the drawback of oil paint’s acidity and cracking that prohibited him from painting on any surface he liked.
Paper is a common surface, but oil pastel can be used on wood, metal, hardboard or canvas. My artwork is created on acid free illustration board. The painting is sprayed with varnish, which completely protects it and allows the art to be framed without a mat like a traditional oil painting.