Oil Pastels & Water-Soluble Crayons

What’s the difference between pastels, oil pastels, and water-soluble crayons and oil pastels? Pastels are chalky. Oil pastels are oily. Water-soluble crayons are waxy. When using water-soluble crayons, they feel a bit like a cross between oil pastels and regular old kids’ crayons, only they’re water soluble. Water-soluble oil pastels are softer and creamier. You can blend water-soluble oil pastels and wax crayons with a wet paint brush, wet fingertips (my favorite!), moistened Q-tips, moistened paper towels, baby wipes, etc.

oil pastels

Oil Pastels
Also called cray pas. If you are unfamiliar with oil pastels and don’t know where to start, I suggest purchasing a mid-range brand. The super cheap ones are likely to be hard and difficult to manipulate. You can warm them up in your hand or under a light bulb, to make them more pliable, but I would recommend making the investment in a decent set to start with. The good news is that even the mid-priced ones are pretty good, so you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg.

Tending Medusa, oil, oil pastel, and oil pencil on newspaper adhered to 90lb Stonehenge paper, with mirror and braided dress patterns and tissue paper
11 1/4 x 15 inches

You can get oil pastels from any art supply shop and from the big box craft stores. You can also get them on-line from Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. I like Caran d’Ache Neopastels. They’re slightly less expensive than Sennelier oil pastels, but the quality is still quite good.

Faber-Castell and Sakura both make are student grade oil pastels that are much less expensive, but they’re also cheaper quality. They’re perfectly usable, though some of the crayons may be harder than ideal. You’d need to warm them to soften them up. The pigment is also not as intense.

Water-Soluble Crayons & Water-Soluble Oil Pastels
I’m a huge fan of Caran d’Ache Neocolors II. You may be able to find them at your local art supply store, or you can get them online from Jerry’s Artarama and Dick Blick.

Caran d’Ache Neocolors II

D'Anjou Pear
collage with Neocolors II and eraser stamp on 90lb Stonehenge paper

Two other brands of water-soluble crayons/pastels are Lyra and Portfolio. Lyras are less expensive than Neocolors II, and Portfolios (made by Crayola) are even cheaper. Portfolios are also softer and creamier in texture, so while they are good for thin, intense color washes, I find them unsatisfactory for thicker applications. If you’re just wanting to give water-soluble crayons/pastels a try and don’t want to make an investment in something you may not like, I’d recommend picking up a set of Portfolios first. Portfolio crayons are easier to find, too. I’ve bought them at Staples, of all places.

The Witnesses
collage with Portfolio water-soluble crayon and found poem in altered book