Art Blog

Mini Art Lesson #4: Oil Pastels for Beginners

Waiting, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper, 16 x 12 inches by Susan E. Brooks, based on a photo from the archives of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, with their permission.

I discovered oil pastels while studying art in college.  I don’t know why I picked them up in the first place, and I remember being frustrated with in the beginning.  One of my early attempts was a ballerina whose face looked like that of an ape, sending my professors into spasms of laughter.  It’s a painful memory I’ve rarely shared publicly.

In spite of that failure, I kept at it, and I discovered if I used a textured board and kept my work large, striking portraits began to emerge from the background.  The pastels were so intense I had to mix the colors on the surface of the painting.  I found that not having the exact skin colors of pastels forced me to used a mixture of colors. Those mixtures became magic for me, and I developed my own style using oil pastels.  I’ll share a few oil pastel techniques below:

  1. Use a medium to dark color of textured pastel paper or mat board. The bright colors of the pastels will glow against a dark background.
  2. Try crosshatching layers of colors, allowing the background color to show through in some areas.
  3. Build up thick, buttery layers of oil pastel color, adding unique textures to the artwork. It’s almost like you are painting with oil pastels. Better brands such as Van Gogh or Cray-Pas Specialist artist quality oil pastels work best for building layers of color. I have found these at Preston Arts Center.
  4. For more on using color, see my post on the color wheel.

That’s enough for now. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. Experiment and enjoy!

Art Blog

Monday’s Mini Art Lesson #3: The Color Wheel

Beauty in Darkness, Oil Pastel on Paper, 12 x 12 inches, by Susan E. Brooks, available at KORE Gallery, 942 E. Kentucky St., Louisville, KY and online at

I love color! Some may think the color wheel is only for children, but there is much more to understanding the use of color than placing the colors correctly on the wheel. The color wheel is a good jumping off place for color theory, so I do use it early on in my teaching. I use color wheel complements constantly in my artwork, such as the pairs of complements used above: orange with blue, and yellow with purple. I’ll explain later, but for now, let’s look at the color wheel.

You can make a simple color wheel with color pencils, paints or pastels.

Color theory can be intense, but I’ll boil it down to a few practical points you need to know as a beginner.

The three primary colors are blue, red, and yellow.

That means you cannot mix those colors from other colors. In theory, and mostly in practice, all of the other colors can be mixed from those three colors (except white, and we could argue about whether or not it’s a color, but I’m not going there). The colors in between those three colors on the wheel, can be mixed by combining the primaries. Yellow and blue make green, red and blue make purple, and red and yellow make orange. All other variations are achieved by adding white or black and varying amounts of different colors. (I’m not arguing about black either.)

The oranges are intensified by the dark blue background. This is an example of complementary contrast. Also at KORE Gallery or online at

Color wheel complements are opposites on the color wheel.

The colors directly across from each other on the wheel are called complementary colors or opposite colors. The main pairs are green and red, yellow and purple, and orange and blue. Using these colors adjacent to one another can create intense eye-popping contrast! On the other hand, mixing or layering these opposites creates various neutral tones such as grays and tans. I use these principles constantly and never tire of experimenting with color combinations.

That’s enough for today. Create your color wheel and start experimenting with color wheel complements in your drawing and painting!

Bonus for teachers: I found a couple of fun activities on Pinterest you can use to create a color wheel while also introducing perspective drawing! Follow the links below for more creative activities: and