Recently I was looking for some cheap but reasonably good quality oil pastels for use in storyboard illustrations for my PhD project. Though I ended up not using oil pastels in that project (I decided to do it all in acrylics instead), I did still pick up a set of Sakura CrayPas Expressionist oil pastels.
Sakura also makes CrayPas Specialist oil pastels, which are the artist grade equivalent of the Expressionists and apparently have the same texture. The only noticeable difference is that the Specialist pastels are square while the Expressionists are round, though I’d assume the Specialists also have higher pigment concentration and better lightfastness. I got the 50 box of Expressionists (which includes 48 colours and 2 colourless blender pastels) and as far as I know, that’s the full range. Here is my colour chart:
As you can see, there’s a pretty nice range of colours to work with here, including two metallic pastels (gold and silver), which probably won’t be used that often but will still be fun to play and experiment with. Regardless of what subjects you like to draw or paint, this set provides a balanced selection. Student grade sets often seem to fall short in particular colours (eg. not enough browns or yellows), so it’s nice to see a student grade product that doesn’t have that issue.
Oil pastels are often put into categories of soft, medium and firm texture. These student grade oil pastels are definitely at the firmer end of the scale, though they still go on quite smoothly and nicely. I was actually expecting them to be a little too firm, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that they lay down well and blend smoothly without too much effort. I did find that they left a lot of ‘crumbs’ though; much more than the Mungyo Gallery Extra Soft oil pastels I have, or the Caran d’Ache Neocolor oil pastels. Still, it’s usually easy enough to squish them down or (if they’re in an area of a different colour) scrape or pick them off. They also seem to be at the higher end of student grade in terms of pigment concentration, not quite equal to artist grade oil pastels but much nicer than the Faber-Castell oil pastels. They are not as opaque as the little box of Sennelier oil pastels or Caran d’Ache oil pastels I have, but you can still put a lighter colour over a darker colour and get a decent highlight in most cases.
After I made my colour chart above, I covered half of each swatch with thick paper and stuck it in my front window. It’s been there for about 3 months now, and a number of colours (flesh colour, pink, light blue and one of the oranges) are already showing signs of fading. Given that these are student grade pastels it’s not really a surprise they’re not lightfast, but it does mean you can only use them in work that won’t be displayed out in the open (or if you do, perhaps use these only in the sketching or under-layers).
The colourless blender oil pastel was also interesting, and something I haven’t come across in oil pastels before. As the name would suggest, it’s a stick made with the same oily and waxy ingredients as normal oil pastels, but without any pigment. You can use it over one colour to achieve smoother coverage, or layer two colours and then scribble over it with the colourless blender to mix the colours more smoothly and easily than if you tried blending with your fingers (which can get very messy). These pastels can be used to do a complete piece on their own, but if you’re the sort who likes to do a large number of layers, it might be worth also buying a set of softer oil pastels to go over the top of the Expressionists, as it’s easier to layer softer oil pastels over harder layers. Alternatively, just let the bottom layers ‘set up’ overnight, and you should be able to keep layering with the same pastels.
Here is a bird of paradise flower I drew with the Sakura CrayPas Expressionist oil pastels:
There’s not a huge difference in price between the full sets of Expressionist and Specialist (the Expressionists cost me about $60 for the box, while the Specialists seem to be $15-20 more), so you may be better off just going for the Specialist if you’re already familiar with using oil pastels. That being said, Expressionist oil pastels are still good quality and will give you the bright colours and blending ability most artists want in an oil pastel, and they’re a good choice if you’re buying a gift for a young artist who is serious about oil pastels but is still refining their skills.