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Can You Use Oil Pastels on Canvas? – Beginner-friendly Ways

Written by Robert S. Brown / Fact checked by Helen B. Harris

can you use oil pastels on canvas

Oil pastels have a lot of amazing characteristics. They produce bright colors, don’t easily crumble, and don’t leave any dust. In addition, they can be applied on paper and other surfaces such as wood, cardboard, and rocks. But can you use oil pastels on canvas?

Although they’re not specifically designed for canvas, there are certain methods and techniques that you can use to make oil pastels work on canvas.

In this article, we’ll discover different ways how can oil pastels be used on canvas and more.

Can You Use Oil Pastel on Canvas

You can use oil pastels on canvas, provided that they have a rough surface that makes the pigments stick to the surface better. However, this gritty texture will require oil pastels with a creamier consistency to get better coverage and a smoother finish.

For canvas with a gesso primer, you’ll find it’s impossible to apply these wax oil crayons on such a surface. This is because this primer will prevent pastels from “gripping” onto the canvas.

Alternatively, you can use Golden Pastel Ground to give the canvas a toothy surface for better adhesive properties. Should you find the surface to be not gritty enough, simply blend Golden Pastel Ground with Golden Fine to improve the toothy texture.


Note that painting with oil pastels on canvas can be done wet or dry

  • If you want to start with a wet canvas, pick an oil pastel that is water-soluble. Simply spray a bit of water onto the canvas and apply the oil pastels on the canvas as usual. You can also pre-blend the oil pastel with oil on the palette before applying it to the canvas.
  • For the dry method, you can directly apply oil pastels on canvas and blend with your preferred blending tool. Alternatively, you can do so with your fingers. If you want it to be less messy, you can also use folded paper towels.

In either case, you need to be mentally prepared that the surface and texture will feel a lot different from drawing on papers. As such, you may want to get yourself familiarized first before trying out any ambitious oil pastel on canvas ideas.

There’s also the matter of smudging to be mindful of. As oil pastels never truly dry on the canvas, you can smear the colors all around if you’re not careful. Therefore, you must always apply fixative spray onto the finished artwork.

Ways to Use Oil Pastels on Canvas

1. Masking Tape


Masking is a great starting point for beginners. Simply use a pencil to make a layout—your sketch shouldn’t be too complicated or contain too many details. Then apply tape around the lines to cover the unpainted areas. Draw as usual and remove the tape once you’re done.

To add more details, you can use different oil pastel blending techniques on each box and produce marvelous effects on a whim.

2. Sgraffito


This is another beginner-friendly technique that anyone can use to draw with oil pastels.

To try out this technique, apply several layers of different colors to the fabric. You can choose whatever shade you want; just make sure the last layer is the darkest hue. Then, use a sharp object to gently scratch away the excess pigments.

As the colors underneath are revealed, it will make a strong contrast against your dark top layer and produce a great visual effect.

3. Layering


Layering is a great method for creating shadows on your drawings. This technique is pretty straightforward: you’re supposed to start from the lightest colors to the darkest ones. Make sure that the colors overlap as you apply them.

Tips to Blend Oil Pastels on Canvas

Blending can take your oil pastel art on canvas to the next level. Before you start blending oil pastels on canvas, take note of the following tips that could help you along the way.

  • Give Your Canvas Solid Support

Working with oil pastels on canvas involves frequent rubbing. You need a solid ground or sturdy surface to work on with to get started. Use an easel or sturdy table to lay your canvas on. If you are using a framed canvas, you put a book underneath it for additional support.

  • Consistent Pressure


To achieve even color thickness with oil pastels you have to apply an equal amount of pressure throughout. This is very important when you are color-blocking and when you are coloring large areas. It will also prevent patchy areas and blending problems.

  • Use Solvents



Another way to create a smooth blend is to use solvents, such as baby oils or mineral spirits, such as Gamsol and turpentine. However, if you are allergic to fumes and strong odors, using oils would be a better option.

  • Keep It Dry and Clean

If you are using your fingers for blending, keep your fingers and palms dry. Prepare a piece of towel or tissue to wipe your fingers and palms dry before you start blending.

To avoid the risk of color contamination, do not use a single finger to blend multiple colors. If you have sensitive fingers, you can use finger cloths or gloves for protection.

Using disposable blending tools such as paper towels and cotton buds is another option. It is also important to practice cleaning your oil pastels and blending tools before starting a new project.



Which type of canvas is best for oil pastels?

The best option is a canvas with a rough and sturdy surface. A canvas board is also ideal, as it is pre-treated to provide some surface grip for oil pastels. In any case, avoid ones primed with gesso.

Do you need to prime canvas for oil pastels?

If your canvas is too smooth, you can prime it beforehand with Golden Pastel Ground to create a toothy surface for oil pastel to grab onto. However, if the fabric is already rough in the first place, there’s no need to do so.

Can oil pastels dry on canvas?

No. Oil pastels are made with different oils and waxes that do not dry naturally, so they’ll smudge easily if you rub on them.

However, you can always protect your artwork by applying fixative spray and framing it. Remember to leave a space between the glass and the canvas to avoid destroying your artwork in the long run.

Fixatives and varnish can also help seal oil pastels on canvas.

How to seal soft pastels on canvas?

The simplest option is to apply an oil pastel fixative onto the pigments. Just make sure you text it first on a scrape piece to see if it’ll affect the vibrancy of your colors. An acrylic sealer is also suitable for the job, especially if you prefer a glossier finish.

Alternatively, you can use hairspray to seal oil pastels on canvas. Note that this is just a temporary solution, as hair spray is bound to fade eventually.

Read more: List of the top-rated soft pastels available on the market today!


Now that you know the answer to “Can you use oil pastels on canvas?”, it’s time to think of what you want to paint and practice your techniques. Even if you are a beginner, with the right technique, there are endless possibilities that you can do with oil pastels on canvas.

Once you get the hang of it, I’m certain that you’ll be able to create artwork that you can proudly hang up on the wall. I hope to hear good news from you soon.

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