Do Oil Pastels Ever Dry?

Last Updated on May 3, 2024 by Masha Eretnova

Oil pastels combine painting and drawing on the go and are such a simple, fun, and versatile medium for beginners and pro artists.

But, if you ever tried them, you probably ran into a slight problem… They don’t seem to be drying out… Is it something normal or a mistake you made?

In fact, oil pastels never completely dry because they contain non-drying mineral oil and wax.


It makes them different from paints. Oil paint does dry, just slowly, because it contains linseed oil. But oil pastels are made of mineral oil which doesn’t dry.

Acrylic paints dry because they have water and polymer binder and the latter becomes hard and rigid while water evaporates.

Note that oil sticks and oil bars that contain linseed oil WILL dry! That’s also what makes a difference between them and oil pastels.

pentel oil pastels
Little scenery drawing with Pentel oil pastels.

Will the top layer of oil pastels dry?

While oil pastel drawing will never fully dry, the top layer may seem drier and harder over the years just as the layer of oils and wax solidifies.

But warm temperature causes melting, and mechanical rubbing, or scraping and touching will still smudge the oil pastels even after years and years to come!

Also, we can use oil pastels as a drawing medium and it produces a thinner layer, or like an impasto – and then the layer is really thick.

If you choose not to seal the oil pastel artwork, you need to carefully store it, wrapped in parchment paper, and avoid scratching it.

Without a wax/parchment paper protection, the top layer will leave marks on whatever it is touching and color it.

How to make the oil pastel dry to protect it?

All of this doesn’t sound good for us, right?

How do we protect the drawing then, if the oil pastels won’t dry?

The easiest way is to frame it and put the drawing under the glass to protect it from UV, dust (as it will stick to a wet oily surface), and smudging.

But I’m not a fan of glass, and if you’re not as well, you need an alternative.

The answer is a professional spray varnish or fixative. It will cover the oil pastels and the fixative coating will dry.

Such fixatives are usually labeled as fixative for drawing mediums (from charcoal and colored pencils to oil pastels).

I used both a local brand (Eureka) and a professional artist fixative like Winsor & Newton. I think both tiers have great quality, but local brands will always be cheaper.

Do Oil Pastels Dry
The fixative I use to dry and seal oil pastels

To be completely honest, I even use a regular Winsor Newton acrylic varnish spray to protect oil pastel drawing, but it is not the best-recommended route (even though I didn’t have any issues)

So if you want to protect a painting made with oil pastels and you don’t want to frame it behind the glass it is really necessary to seal oil pastels with a spray.

Make sure to not “over” spray the surface, so that nothing drips – otherwise, it will make oil pastels runny.

Also, don’t place the nozzle directly against the paper/canvas because such powerful spraying may destroy the soft and wet oil pastel layer.

Professional fixatives do not change the colors of the drawing, so do not be afraid to use them. However, I can assure you they smell! Please, either wear a mask and open windows or spray it outside.

You can apply a few protective layers, but make sure to wait at least 1 hour in between.

Recommended products:

  • Pro level – Sennelier fixative (Best for professional artists and works for sale)
  • Beginner to Advanced level – Professional Winsor Newton Fixative (My optimal choice: value for money)
  • Craft/Hobby level – any locally made fixative (My choice for works on paper)

Fixatives work for all surfaces we can use oil pastels (from paper to wood and beyond!).

Drying Oil Pastels As Underpainting

If you use oil pastels to sketch or for underpainting for oil paintings, you will need to fix the sketch/underpainting layer before you apply oil paints.

You can do it the same way – using a fixative spray!

Advantages non-drying offers

It may seem like a loss, but the non-drying nature of oil pastels is also a positive because it means that even if you leave them in a box for 3 years they won’t dry out and you will be able to use them again and again!

Another bonus is that it makes it easier to correct mistakes or reuse paper/canvas.

If you don’t like the drawing anymore, you can simply scratch it with a tool or even your fingers. This is truly unique because there is no other medium you’d be able to do that.

Have you tried to make oil pastels dry? What questions you have left?

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