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Monday, January 04, 2016

Pastel or Oil? Taking on the Challenge

'Winter Delight'          5x7        oil on panel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75
Pastels are my very close friends. I have my favorites. I know how they work. We are just easy and comfortable together. Painting with my pastels is like lunch with close friends. Fun and relaxed with no need for unnecessary small talk.  Oils on the other hand are new friends. I'm still learning how they work, what I can do with them. What I need to avoid. Excited to get together and paint with them for the sheer joy of discovery.

I have dabbled with oils over the years. I say dabble because I don't take them out enough. In fact I had not touched them in well over a year.  I usually turn first to my good friends, pastels.  So often I hear people say that oils are better than pastels....that they are held in higher esteem. I decided to commit to becoming a better oil painter not for this reason though. I want a challenge and I want to take my pastel paintings to the next level. Challenging myself to understand and work in another medium will only help my pastels.

'Winter Delight 2'           5x7        pastel         ©Karen Margulis     $75




I toned the panel magenta for a cooler feeling


I am on day 4 of my 30 in 30 challenge and I am learning a lot. What I discovered it that I might just like oils just as much as pastels. But for different reasons.

  • I love the vibrancy and luminosity of pastels but I LOVE the texture I can get with oils.
  • I love seeing brushstrokes in my paintings, something that I can't really do with pastels. Sure we can get the illusion of brushstrokes with a textured support but it isn't the same.
  • I love the effortless texture I can get with oil paint. Thick paint either by brush or palette knife can't be duplicated.  I have found ways to build up pastel and get some texture but it takes work. You can't just pile on thick piles of pastel as easily.


So I am still on my honeymoon with my oils. We still have a long way to go before we are old friends. I know that it will take many miles of canvas before that happens.  And now that I can leave my paints set up in my newly organized studio, I am planning to keep the paint wet!
I want to encourage anyone who has been tempted to try a new medium to jump in and give it a try. Make new friends and watch how it will enrich the relationships you have with your old friends!

Note about today's paintings. I did the pastel first. I knew I wanted to use turquoise in the snow shadows. Easy. Just pick up the right stick. But then when I got to the oils I couldn't get the turquoise color with my limited palette. I had to play around and add a touch of another green to get the color I wanted. I loved the challenge of the discovery....it is perfect for my 'what if' mentality. Oh and I know I could do color charts but for now I just want to play and make discoveries.


11 comments:

Jacqui Boyd said...

Read through this and realised only at the end, you meant oil paints, not oil pastels. Duh!

Have you tried the water soluble oil paints? I tried them last summer on the suggestion made by a member of the local Plein Air group. I was in 2 minds about them, liked the the fact they didn't smell quite some much (there is still a slight smell) but they were not as buttery/workable as oil paints but that might have been the quality of the brand, so I am willing to give them another try with different brand.
Like you, I have not tried out oil paints much over the years for a couple of reasons. 1. the smell and need to ventilate the room (in the summer too hot, 2.basic fear as I know the idiom, fat over lean and that is about it. acrylics were in ascendancy at art college in the late 70's, so not not much teaching taking place. (3) end up with bad dermatitis which at the time I put down to using oils but was probably more to do with etching.

I think you will find you like both as they complement each other in your style of work. As for myself, I have never been comfortable with pastels but admire you work so much. I rediscovered oil pastels in December so I am going to give them try again. When I was student, along with Carah d'ache neocolors II, they were my favourite medium and that was the cheap brand, Pentel. They could be manipulated in so many ways.

ChrisD said...

I was encouraged many years ago to take up pastels, as a second medium to oils. Now I do mostly pastels and not so many oils! I have found that I cannot entirely do away with using one or the other, because each has its own "feel" that runs from the work-surface up your fingers and arm to the brain.
The belief that oils are somehow "better" than pastels (and indeed any other medium) seems to be heavily ingrained in the population all round the world. There's too much of the "what's it worth" thinking, rather than appreciating the art for itself, irrespective of the medium. It looks like you are having lots of fun, though, with both mediums and that's worth a lot!

Anonymous said...

You CAN go half way, Oil Pastels. You still get the color and stokes of pastel, but done right, can get the impasto effect of thick oils. Impasto is very popular in oils. An art dealer once told me he could "sell anything he could get his hands on" with impasto! Then there are water soluble: oils, oil pastels, pastels. So many of the mediums are crossing over these days.

LEX ROSOFF said...

Maybe someone has already mentioned this, or you already know about it, but if not it's a great tip for daily oil painting: have you tried painting on paper? Most papers will be damaged by the oils and solvents over time, but Arches Huile paper is a heavy rag paper that doesn't buckle and is made with a size in the weave of the paper. You can paint directly on it without gesso, or you can gesso it first. Without gesso, your early thin layers will absorb and dry quickly, which is great for underpainting outside and working alla prima. The sheets are big, so you can tear them down to whatever size you like--great for studies, great for storage, easy to pack and ship, and lightweight to frame. It's an affordable alternative to canvas and panels--I ended up liking the paper so much that I use it for pastels as well, with pastel ground added for tooth. If you haven't tried it, check it out and let us readers know what you think!

Karen said...

Thanks everyone for commenting! I appreciate the feedback and sharing!!

Lex, thanks for reminding me about the paper. I do need to try it!!

Wendy F said...

I'm very much enjoying your journey with oils Karen. I use pastels but agree with you that oils have the option of great texture. What are your thoughts on water based oils? Looking forward to more posts on oils as well as pastels.

Karen said...

Thanks Wendy! So far I love the water soluble oils but since I have little experience with oils in general I don't know what I am missing which is just fine with me! I'll review them soon!

robertsloan2art said...

This is fascinating. I love pastels but have some oils and may want to try them this summer. Not a good idea this time of year, don't have a lot of space. The house thing didn't happen so I'll have big space once they build my house. Currently just living in my daughter's house in a compact but comfortable space. Small water soluble oils may be possible.

One other thing you may enjoy is oil sticks. They can be used by themselves or with other oils. The sticks are huge and you can also easily work them with palette knives. Only trouble I have with them is the same as other oils of all kinds - slow drying time. Pastels are done when they're done but setting wet paintings aside in a safe space to dry takes some spaces that aren't disturbed by cats!

jytte said...

Dear Karen,

I don't know how many colours you have in oil but a good idea is to have alizarin crimson and cadmium red, ultramarine and cobalt blue, lemmon yellow and cadmium yellow. Looking forward to see more of your oil paintings.
Jytte :o)

Wendy F said...

Hi Karen - really enjoying your oil / pastel challenge. I want to buy some of the water mix able oil paints. Do you recommend a brand? I am tossing up between W&N and W Oils from Blick

Karen said...

Thanks Wendy!
I am using Cobra water soluable oils and I love them. I don't have experience with the other brands so I can't really compare but I am really enjoying these.