Sunday, August 6, 2023

Messing Around with Haiya Paul Rubens Oil Pastels


8/1/23 Haiya oil pastels in Uglybook sketchbook (Earthsworld
reference photo)

And “messing” is the operative word here.

Ever since late last year when I started dabbling in Caran d’Ache pastel pencils and then in Caran d’Ache Neopastels, I’ve been trying to find a way to enjoy using pastels in general. Intrigued by opaque media while simultaneously being annoyed by the mess, I keep tiptoeing back because I love the effects that can be achieved, especially with challenging subjects like portraits. Unlike transparent media, pastels are so much more forgiving when it comes to blending and layering skin tones or refreshing lost highlights. I’m still avoiding traditional soft pastels that produce airborne pigment particles, but oil pastels seem like a good compromise between material safety and opaque fun.

My latest experiment is the result of a late-night YouTube binge a few weeks ago. I think Painting and Chocolate’s channel started appearing in my feed because this mixed-media artist seems to mix watercolor pencils with other materials more often than most colored pencil artists I’ve viewed. Ironically, this video doesn’t involve watercolor pencils at all – it’s about Haiya’s Paul Rubens Oil Pastels. I wasn’t necessarily looking for another set of oil pastels, but she managed to persuade me to put a set into my Amazon wishlist. Shortly thereafter, Prime Day happened, the price went down, and you know how that goes.

When I finally got around to trying them with this Earthsworld portrait, I was immediately surprised by how soft they are compared to the Neopastels (my only other experience with oil pastels). I had described Neopastels as smooth, creamy and lipsticky, but compared to the Haiya, they are sticks of dry chalk – that’s how truly smooth, creamy and lipsticky the Haiya are. I remember being disappointed by the Neopastels because they took more effort to blend than I had expected. The Haiya, on the other hand, can be easily pushed and smushed around with a blending stump, paper towel or finger (though not mine!).

I do like these Chinese colors!

In an Uglybook sketchbook, which has a mild tooth, I spent only 15 minutes on this roughly blended portrait. It was great fun not having to remember to reserve highlights, and I could continue pushing and playing without hitting the immediate “overworked” look I get so easily with watercolors. I enjoy both the blendability and the effects of oil pastels.

The aftermath, however, is less enjoyable. I wanted to take a photo to show you how messy my hands got, even with wrapped sticks, but I didn’t want to touch my phone (and the stuff did not wash off my hands as easily as I had expected)! I dreaded putting the sketch on my scan bed because I knew I would have to clean it afterwards. Yuck.

Messy fun!

If you are thinking about dabbling in oil pastels, this set is a terrific value. At less than one-fourth the price of Caran d’Ache Neopastels (surprise, surprise), the set of 48 is larger than most people would need, given how easy and fun they are to blend, but I couldn’t find a smaller set. (I did find this set of 50, which seemed like an odd variation, but it turns out to be an older generation with a flat end instead of tapered. I don’t know if they are different in other ways.)

If I get past the mess issue (gloves?) long enough to keep using these, I’ll do a full product review eventually.


  1. I've never had good results with my oil pastels. This look like you had fun pushing the color around. I still wouldn't like the mess.

    1. They're kind of the opposite of watercolors, aren't they? Transparent vs. opaque, clean vs. messy! ;-)

  2. I recommend using baby wipes to clean oil pastel off your hands, and keeping a pack next to you as you work. When I first got into using artist quality oil pastels, I had kids in diapers, and I reached for a wipe when I was having trouble getting the pastel off my hands, and it worked amazingly well. They’re the thing which made me feel comfortable giving toddlers oil pastels - they wipe it right off hands, faces, surfaces…. Frankly they make me more likely to pull out my oil pastels, too. In my experience pretty much any brand of wipe works well on any brand of oil pastel, but now I buy the Amazon brand unscented wipes and they’re great. As for these oil pastels - I hadn’t originally realized that they were different from the usual Paul Rubens oil pastels, but then I saw these in an art haul video and finally looked them up, and I see everyone is saying they are very similar to Sennelier. As far as I know, this is the first alternative to Sennelier - as you probably know Sennelier are often considered “the best” oil pastels because they are so soft (although what is best really depends on how you like to work) but they are quite expensive. I do like the Neopastels (and Mungyo copycats) because they are so versatile, but I have found they “dry out” (harden) over time and never return to their previous soft consistency. I haven’t noticed that with Sennelier and I am curious how similar these Haiya oil pastels are. The price is amazing!

    1. Thanks for the great tips! I've never used Sennelier, but I, too, have heard that they are the "best." I'll probably get these out again after summer is over when I'm sketching more indoors.... these are too messy to take out on the field!


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