People often ask me whether oil pastels and wax crayons are the same.
I get the confusion. They look very similar after all.
But both oil pastels and crayons are made with different pigments and binders. Which means that they are very different art mediums and behave very differently.
What are crayons made out of?
Crayons are made out of a combination of wax and color pigment. Typically, paraffin wax is used which functions as a binder to hold the pigment together. Different non-toxic pigments can be used to make crayons of different colors. Additionally, a small amount of additives can be mixed in to give the crayons additional hardness.
For many of us, crayons were one of the first art mediums you tried. They are popular because they are cheap, colorful, and child-friendly.
What are oil pastels made of?
Oil pastels are made out of binder, color pigment, and chalk. Soft pastels are made by using adding only a small amount of binder, while hard pastels are made by using a large amount of binder. Moreover, lighter shades of the same color can be made by mixing in additional chalk.
Originally, pastels were made by using gum arabic or gum tragacanth as the binder. But nowadays methyl cellulose is more commonly used.
Besides using a different binder, oil pastels are normally made with higher quality pigments than crayons.
Are oil pastels or crayons toxic?
Crayons are non-toxic. This medium is most commonly marketed for children, so it must be completely non-toxic. Crayons can easily end up in a child’s mouth or stomach and, because of this, they are manufactured to be as harmless as possible.
Most oil pastels are also safe for general use. However, some can be manufactured with toxic pigments, as they are intended for older artists. Breathing in oil pastel dust, or ingesting it in a concentrated form, will likely make someone feel ill. But, if used as intended, oil pastels are completely safe to use.
What are the differences between pastels and crayons?
Now that we know what both pastels and crayons are made from, let’s take a closer look at what kind of art you can make with them
Although you can use similar techniques with both, each of them will give a different result.
What kind of art can you make?
Both oil pastels and crayons can be used to create beautiful pieces of art. However, crayons will take a bit more work. Oil pastels are usually more vibrant than crayons, as they tend to have higher quality pigments mixed in with their binder.
Crayons are suitable for artists who are younger and just beginning their art journey. They will not make bold and vibrant marks, but they are perfect for sketching ideas or for casual work.
Oil pastels leave behind a smooth and painterly finish. They can be used for all types of art, including landscapes and portraits. The bold colors make for an impressive finished piece, no matter the subject of the drawing.
What are the different techniques?
Crayons consist of hard wax that only leaves a little bit of color behind on the paper. The small amount of pigment left behind means that a bit of patience can go a long way when using them. Try building up richer colors by layering crayons with light strokes to eventually create bold areas of color.
Crayons are also naturally textured. The natural roughness of the paper catches and holds on to the wax, leaving a textured finish. Use this to your advantage to create rocks, dirt, tree bark, feathers, wool, or other natural textures in your artwork.
Oil pastels are often paired with heavy paper, and many paper companies make pads specifically for use with pastels.
Pastel paper can be toned or made a different color, so there will be a base layer of color when you start to apply oil pastels to the canvas. According to Eric Greene, mixed media paper is a great place to start for those looking to try out oil pastels for the first time.
Crayons are most typically a low-quality medium, but oil pastels are available in varying quality. You can purchase student grade oil pastels to teach yourself how to use the medium, and then upgrade to higher-quality, artist-grade oil pastels when you are ready to advance your work.
Though they can be a bit of a mess to work with, artists use oil pastels in a variety of surprising ways. You can simply apply them directly to the paper and blend them together to get started. Or you can experiment with solvents and brushes, much like if you were painting with oil paints.
Which one is easier to use?
Crayons have the benefit of being easy to access, easy to purchase, and easy to clean up. They are so accessible that restaurants sometimes provide them as entertainment before the food arrives. However, when it comes to creating high-quality artwork, oil pastels are much easier to use.
Oil pastels give artists the ability to lay down a lot of colors all at once, which means it is easier to cover large spaces in rich darks and lights. High-quality oil pastels are also buttery smooth and great for blending or texturizing pieces. This versatile medium may get all over your hands and clothes, but the final result of the artwork you create will make the mess well worth it.
Do pastels melt like crayons?
Melted crayon art is a popular trend that can create vibrant works of art. Crayons heated with a hairdryer or heat gun will melt onto a canvas, and manipulating the direction of the head gun can push the melted wax around and blend it together.
However, this process may make the resultant painting very brittle and may release some fumes. And since some oil pastels contain pigments that should not be inhaled or digested, it is not recommended to melt your pastels on purpose.
Oil pastels will react much differently to heat than wax crayons. The added oil in the pastels means that melting them will release fumes that irritate the skin.