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Oil pastel is a painting and drawing medium formed into a stick that consists of pigment mixed with a binder mixture of non-drying oil and wax, in contrast to other pastel sticks, which remain made with a gum or methylcellulose binder, and in comparison to wax crayons which are made without oil. The surface of an oil pastel painting is less powdery than one made from gum pastels but more difficult to protect with a fixative. Oil pastels are bold and bright. They can remain blended easily, but they can break easily too.

Oil pastels can be used directly in dry form; when done lightly, the effects are similar to oil paints. However, heavy build-ups can create an almost impact of impasto. Once applied to a surface, the oil pastel pigment can remain manipulated with a brush moistened in white spirit, turpentine, linseed oil, or another vegetable oil or solvent. Alternatively, the drawing surface can remain oiled before drawing, or the pastel can remain dipped in oil. Unfortunately, some of these solvents pose serious health concerns.

Oil pastels remain considered a fast-medium because they are easy to paint with and convenient to carry; for this reason, they are often used for sketching but can also remain used for sustained works. Because oil pastels never dry out completely, they need to be protected somehow, often by applying a special fixative to the painting or placing it in a sleeve and then inside a frame.

There are some known durability problems: firstly, it keeps permeating the paper as the oil doesn’t dry. This process degrades both the form and the color layer, reducing the latter’s flexibility. The second problem is that the stearic acid makes the paper brittle. Lastly, both the stearic acid and the wax will be prone to efflorescence or “wax bloom,” the building-up of fatty acids and resin on the surface into an opaque white layer.

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