Wet Lips – A Study in Oil Pastel Techniques

Oil Pastels Painting "Wet Lips"
"Wet Lips" - The Finished Oil Pastels Painting

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I recently posted this oil pastels piece to my personal art blog: “Wet Lips” an 8×10 Oil Pastels Painting.

What I would like to do here is talk a little more in depth about the techniques used to achieve the realism of the painting.

While I worked on the painting, I took photos of the work as it was in progress, with plans of going back and talking about the oil pastel techniques involved (and also with the hope that it would turn out alright!).

So let’s get started talking about it!



Step One

Oil Pastels Lips - Step One
Oil Pastels Lips - Step One

The first step was in simply sketching out the composition of the piece and filling in some underlying color.

I used cheaper artist quality Mungyo oil pastels for this step.  The linework and the base colors are Mungyos.

Since the piece was done on White Pastelbord, some of the brighter sections I left alone, although some areas I filled in with white oil pastels.

I took a bit of a risk by filling in the black part of the inside of the mouth here.  It seemed like a risk because I felt like it maybe wasn’t pure black and actually had shades of purple and brown.  But I figured I could go back and add in some browns and purples, which I did later.


Step Two

Oil Pastels Lips - Step Two
Oil Pastels Lips - Step Two

In Step two, I filled in more of the reds and skin tones and got a feel for how these colors were going to look in the overall composition.

I was still using Mungyo oil pastels for much of the base colors, however, here I began working in some of the higher quality Sennelier oil pastels.

The Senneliers are much smoother and work very well for both the lip color and for the skin tones.

I also established a bit more of the shadows underneath the lips, although here I started out a little bit too dark.  It was a challenge to go back later and undo this dark area, so this is something I will definitely remember for future oil pastel paintings.


Step Three

Oil Pastels Lips - Step Three
Oil Pastels Lips - Step Three

For Step three, I continued much of what began in the photo in Step two.

I build onto the skin tones, making some adjustments to the shadows, and I worked more on the skin color of the fingers.

I still hadn’t paid enough attention to the teeth, and perhaps when I look back on this, I should have.

Teeth are never exactly white, and although I knew that, and I had planned on getting to it, I let them stay white for too long, and I think this distracted from the way the piece progressed.  In the final piece, I think the teeth could have gone even darker, but I never got there, possibly because I let it get away for so long.


Step Four

Oil Pastels Lips - Step Four
Oil Pastels Lips - Step Four

In this step you can see where the teeth finally get filled in some.  I used a purple shade for the back tooth on the right, and for the front two teeth I used a light gray.  Again, I feel it could have gone darker here.

I also develop more of the faint shadow along the inside of the finger, and take time to notice how light is reflecting off the bottom lip and on the side of the cheek, just behind in that small rectangular area behind the finger.

I felt that this area was crucial to developing a sense of the realism of the piece.  You have bright light getting through, right on the cheek, reflecting in the lips, contrasted with the darker area underneath the bottom lip.  All of these values were very important to getting the piece right.


Step Five

Oil Pastels Lips - Step Five
Oil Pastels Lips - Step Five

In Step Five, I really begin filling out all the areas where color is needed.  I don’t want to have any areas left where the surface is showing where it shouldn’t be.

The lips are filled in, the fingers are rounded out, I establish more of the coloring to the teeth, and I start to pay closer attention to what exactly is going on in the colors of the tongue and lips.

The tongue and lips are the obvious focus of the piece, so I want to be careful not to overdo either the actual colors or the shadows.  If you compare this with step Four, you can see where I faded out the shadowing between the bottom of the tongue and the upper part of the bottom lip.  I also gave more attention to the second finger in the upper right corner.


Step Six

Oil Pastels Lips - Step Six
Oil Pastels Lips - Step Six

This step is where things started to come together. If you compare this with Step Five, you’ll see more blending, less of the rigid lines, and less of the flaky bits and pieces of pastels.

I have my focus here mostly on the details in the lips and tongue, but I also am more concerned with the overall look and feel of the piece.

I also finally work in the tip of the finger and fingernail, along with the shadowing and blending of the finger.

It was also at this point in the painting that I realized I wasn’t quite happy with the skin tones, and so I added more flesh and white color, particularly in the corner in the bottom left side of the piece.


Step Seven

Oil Pastels Lips - Step Seven
Oil Pastels Lips - Step Seven

In Step seven, I am mostly fine tuning, reworking details, and adjusting colors.

Here you can see in the tongue I spend some time getting the purple just right, as well as more of the reflection and color variations.

There is also more detail and reflection in the lips, both bottom and top, as well as adding in some oranges and pinks.

I add a bit more shadowing to the fingernail and in the shadow of the second finger in the upper right.

Finally, I also darkened up just a bit the shadowing from the inside of the tongue, over on the left side.


Step Eight (The finished piece)

Oil Pastels Lips - Final Step
Oil Pastels Lips - Final Step

In this final step, there was more fine tuning, tweaking and color adjustments.

I added more oranges and pinks, especially to the upper right side of the top lip, and some in the bottom lip as well.

I got more blending in of the colors in the fingers, and overall throughout the piece made sure blending was smooth where needed.

I added a bit more reflections in the lips, but I was careful not to overdo it.  It would have been tempting to add touches of white all over the lips and tongue, but I don’t think that would have felt right.

I have actually skipped over a couple of the final steps, because there was so much time spent on reworking the fine details.



I hope this post has been useful for you oil pastelists out there, and for any artists that may have interest in this type of work.  Please feel free to offer comments and suggestions in the Comments Form below.


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