Sennelier Oil Pastels

Review Sennelier Oil Pastels
If you look carefully (bigger photo), you'll see the sticks I broke by being too heavy handed initially. Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The Bottom Line

If the words "oil pastels" make you think of the hard wax crayons you used as a kid, then you're in for a surprise when you try Sennelier's artist's quality oil pastels.

Pros

  • Available as boxed sets of various sizes and as individual pastels.
  • 120 colors available in the range, including a colorless blender stick.
  • Two different size sticks: small (5ml) and large (38ml).
  • Black and white also available in giant size sticks (78ml).
  • Sennelier also produce pads of card, interleaved with glassine sheets, for oil pastels.

Cons

  • A small boxed set may not have the range of colors you prefer using.

Description

  • 120 different colors available. Each has a number rather than a name.
  • The color chart lists the pigment(s) in each color.
  • Paper wrappers on each stick are segmented, making it easy to peel off a short section.
  • Sennelier is based in France.

Guide Review - Sennelier Oil Pastels

The creation of Sennelier oil pastels is tied to that most famous of artists, Picasso. In 1949 he approached Henri Sennelier in Paris through a friend (the Parisian painter Henri Goetz1) and asked him to create a medium that combined the qualities of oil paint and soft pastel, and was easy to apply. Picasso said: "I want a colored pastel that I can paint on anything... wood, paper, canvas or metal, without having to prepare or prime the surface".2

You'd think such a history would mean oil pastels became a widely use medium, but it isn't.

Possibly, part of the reason is because many people's first encounter with oil pastels are cheap, very hard versions. Not the soft, creamy, lipstick-like consistency of Sennelier's artist's quality version.

The pastels are made from pigment, an "an inert, non-siccative binding medium that does not oxidise and that has no effect upon either film stability or surface" and wax (neutral pH)3.

This is mixed together, then shaped into a stick which is covered in a paper wrapper. The boxed sets have foam inserts with slots that protect each individual stick, which makes it easy to carry them around for plein-air painting without worrying about damaging them.

When I first started using them, I inadvertently broke a few pastels by pressing too hard, but soon got a feel for how hard I could press. I also learned to slide the pastel stick across, rather than press into, the surface of the paper to apply color. The small pieces can, of course, still be used, and it's easy to tear off part of the paper cover on a stick as it's divided into segments.

The colors are saturated and intense. They go on smoothly and blend together easily. Being so soft it does feel as if you might use up a whole stick very rapidly, but I found once I started blending and mixing colors this fear disappeared in the joy of the medium and in seeing how far a stick did in fact go. With two different sizes of pastel available, it would make sense to buy bigger sticks of the colors you use most often.

I enjoy the ease with which I can apply color with these pastels, the ability to quickly combine line with tone, and the lack of dust (compared to soft pastels produce).

Whether used by themselves or in mixed media, if you like immediate color, I'd give Sennelier's oil pastels a try.

 

Reference:

1&3. History of Sennelier Oil Pastels, Sennelier website, http://www.sennelier.fr/en/oil_pastels/history.php, accessed 20 May 2011.
2. Oil Pastels leaflet by Sennelier

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.