Exercise Drawing using oil pastel

Aim of the exercise: To use textured coloured paper in A3 size with oil pastels to draw a colourful group of fruit or vegetables or a combination of both, creating a group of contrasting colour, shape and texture.

What I experienced and what I learnt from that:

Completed 18/09/12. This exercise proved to be an interesting challenge and took longer than I expected, and I worked on it over the space of 4 days.

In previous exercises I have had difficulty in drawing my thumbnails to the same proportions as the size of paper I wanted to use. While looking through the course folder, in the section for part 3, I found instructions for making a viewfinder that would be in the same proportions as A4. Having made that, which makes quite a large viewfinder, I used the cut out section to make a smaller viewfinder which proved to be perfect for indoor use and will presumably be in the same proportions for the various A size papers. It was also great for drawing round the aperture of it to give me a box  in proportion for my thumbnails.

After drawing thumbnails of various setups, A4 sketch book p.88 (please see figure 1) I chose to further develop two of the designs. I used the larger viewfinder aperture to draw two boxes and drew the setups in colour pencil which I found very helpful in giving a better idea which design to go with, A4 sketch book p.89 (please see figure 2), deciding to go with the cropped in closer portrait version. I felt that the shapes and colours worked well together and it filled the paper more than I normally manage to as well as giving me experience of drawing the objects larger (rather than trying to fill the paper with lots of smaller objects).

Figure 1
Thumbnails of possible setups

Figure 2
Colour thumbnails of possible setups










I started the drawing the next day. I tested out various colours of paper and chose a royal blue as it was the complementary colour to the oranges and the colours of the oil pastels appeared to work well with it. I used an acetate grid over my thumbnail and drew a grid in pastel pencil on my A3 paper and was pleased to find that proportions between the thumbnail and the paper were correct and this made transferring reasonably straight forward. Unfortunately, having finished that, the large squash then slid down and knocked everything off the table, decimating the courgette and damaging the pomegranate, as they both managed to hit the only sharp thing within a ten mile radius (slight exageration but definitely you know who’s law). It meant a delay while I acquired new ones. I then found it surprisingly difficult to get things back in the same positions and needed to do a certain amount of redrawing.  Having finished the redraw I took a break, which proved to be a mistake as I lost my balance, crashed into the table and knocked everything off again. Finding it difficult again to get them back in the same positions I learnt my lesson and used bluetak to ensure the large squash couldn’t slide, marked the positions of the items on the table (including shadow shapes with a pastel pencil) so that it would be easier to put them back in place if needed and then adjusted the drawing as needed.

My previous experience of using oil pastels is extremely limited. I had some Gallery oil pastels, which I had used previously for a couple of small sketch book drawings, but  I found that they did not cover the blue paper well, the colours appearing very dull. I had some Senneilier oil pastels, which I hadn’t used before, and I found these were much softer than the Gallery and the colours appeared to be brighter. We were to block in the darkest areas first using sketchy hatching or cross hatching techniques, then doing the same with the lighter areas. I found this quite useful as it gave a good indication of the main tonal areas. We were then to work back over them to strengthen tone and also use a related but different colour to overlay the first colours to create richness, interest and an optical zing. I was quite clumsy with this but it did help me to give more variety and interest in the colours than I normally achieve. Care needed to be taken not to create a muddy colour though.

Building up the layers took me an incrediably long time, although my choice of a dark colour paper might have made this more difficult. As well as hatching I smoothed some of the areas with my finger to increase coverage, but found this could lift areas if I was too heavy handed, also it was easy to over smooth and make the area look very bland. I tried a Q-tip for smoothing more intricate areas but found that it tended to lift the oil pastel. I found that I could only put so much pastel onto the paper before trying to apply more would result in lifting or digging into what was previously applied. I did find that some extra colour could be applied over these areas the next day, as it appeared the paper absorbed some of the oil overnight making the surface ‘dryer’. As the pastels were very soft it could be difficult to get sharp edges, or fine details, and the edges also tended to break up with the texture of the paper. I found that a sharper edge to the pastel helped, although blunted very rapidly. Some of the pastels appeared to be slightly harder than others and these could be more prone to lifting or digging into previous layers.

In the previous exercise I had been uncertain how to tackle shadow colours so prior to this exercise I did a search on the internet for information on shadows and came across a very helpful article by Jackie Simmonds at www.wetcanvas.com which helped me to realise the importance of local colour of the objects and how important the contrast of lights and darks are. She also explained that the complementary of the local colour is often found in the shadow colour. I did continue to find shadow colours for yellows quite difficult as the complementary of yellow still appears to make a dirty brown when added. I will need to look further into how to tackle shadows on yellows.

Figure 3
Completed drawing. Exercise Drawing using oil pastel

I left the drawing overnight before adding the shadows as this helped them go over the top of the previous layers better. (Please see figure 3). I was trying to make the shadows dark enough but feel that I have been too heavy handed in places and have not shown reflected light well enough, and also reflected colours tended to blend with the background colour and look quite grubby.


I am quite pleased with the spread of tonal values as I feel that the drawing has a better range than I normally manage. The oil pastels have given nice rich colours, although I found building these up a long and quite difficult process. I think that the blue paper was a good choice for complementing the colours but it was hard to cover, particularly for the yellow squash. I found it hard to get enough layers to cover without blending but if I overblended the area could look very bland and I lost the contrast of the blue paper showing through. I feel I have done really badly with the pomegranate, it looks more like a christmas decoration, hard, too even and man made rather than natural and is very clumsily done. I tried to improve it but was only managing to make it look worse so decided to leave it. I will have a practise with one of those to see where I have gone wrong. I am not sure on the composition, I feel that the pomegranate and the courgette could have done with not being in a straight line in relation to each other. The top left hand negative space is very similar to the bottom right hand one  and they could have done with more variation, although I am pleased to have filled the paper as much as I have. The exercise has been good experience in using a new media but I will need to look into how to use them better as I found the amount of time taken to build layers quite difficult, both time wise and in keeping the flow and continuity of the drawing going.


Simmonds, Jackie  Painting Shadows, www.wetcanvas.com

This entry was posted in Part 2 Observation in nature, Project 4 Drawing fruit and vegetables in colour. Bookmark the permalink.

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