Layering Oil Pastels 101 : Paint a Realistic Bird with Autumn Colors | Francoise Blayac | Skillshare

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Layering Oil Pastels 101 : Paint a Realistic Bird with Autumn Colors

teacher avatar Francoise Blayac, Professional Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

11 Lessons (1h 3m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Class Project

    • 3. Class Supplies

    • 4. Oil Pastels Layering Exercise

    • 5. Bird Part 1: Sketching and Picking Out Colors

    • 6. Bird Part 2 : Background Layer One

    • 7. Bird Part 3: Background Layer Two

    • 8. Bird Part 4: Painting the Branch

    • 9. Bird Part 5 : Bird Base Layer

    • 10. Bird Part 6 : Final Details on Bird

    • 11. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Do you think that oil pastels only make for gorgeous abstracts ? If so, think again !

In this class, I'm going to teach you my techniques and my tips to layer oil pastels and achieve realism.

Whether you are a complete beginner wanting to try something new and relaxing while having a fun time, or you have a bit more experience and want to improve your skills while learning new techniques, this class will give you the confidence to paint more of your own using oil pastels.

Come on in to learn to paint a beautiful autumn bird painting and get to know oil pastels !

Make sure to share your beautiful autumn painting to the project gallery but first, sit back, relax, and enjoy the class !

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Francoise Blayac

Professional Artist



Hello, this is Françoise !


I'm a mom of two boys and two girls, and I'm from beautiful southern France. I went back to doing art with my third child, after a 20 year pause, which is proof it is never too late to get creating again :)

I enjoy using any art medium even though I mostly use watercolors. 

Some of my other favorites are colored pencils, graphites, and pastels :)


I love to create anything from landscapes to portraits, my reads and travels being my biggest inspiration. This is why I enjoy creating magical and dreamy pieces where I can lose myself.

It's amazing what you can do and how far you can travel with Art !

With my classes, I strive... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Oil pastels are a lot of fun to work with and one of the things I get asked about the most is how I get my paintings to look so smooth and my gradients so natural. This is why, in this class, I'm going to teach you how to lay your oil pastels to achieve this beautiful look. Hi, I'm Francoise. I'm a realism artist and I love to use oil pastels, but also watercolors and gouache. This class is going to help you get comfortable using oil pastels. If you're a beginner, you will acquire a deep understanding of how oil pastels work. If you're a more experienced artist, you will learn to paint from reference and you will learn my techniques to get a painting to look smooth and realistic even when your oil pastel sticks are quite thick like mine here. Our project is acute and pump bird painting with firebrand autumn shades and [inaudible] focus on a simple blurry background is a great place to start to learn about layering and it's a great foundation to start painting realistically with oil pastels. First, we're going to touch on the supplies that I use and that work well with this medium. Then we'll go through a short but powerful layering exercise that will help you understand oil pastels. Our project is going to be a great occasion to learn how to paint from reference, how to sketch a bird, and how to keep your autumn color palettes simple yet effective. We will proceed to paint from reference, starting with a blurry background, then the branch, and then our beautiful bird. No matter the level of skill, this class is going to be perfect for creatives looking for oil pastel fun, and a simple way to paint realistically without spending hours doing it. By the end of the class, you will gather the confidence to start painting more with oil pastels, whether you go for beautiful backgrounds, animals, or simple landscapes. Without further ado, let's get started. 2. Class Project: The class project is a beautiful autumn landscape with a blurry background and a bird in focus. I picked it from reference because I find it's a perfect one to lay the foundations for layering oil pastels and achieving great texture and smooth gradients. Layering oil pastels is key to paint realistically, and I know the way to go about it can feel pretty confusing. The layering exercise and the project itself are going to help you understand how this medium behaves. This is why I encourage you to go through each lesson and practice on a separate sheet of paper whenever you feel the need to do so. Once you complete your project, I would love to see you upload your beautiful autumn painting to the Projects and Resources section of the class. I'll be looking at how you layered and [inaudible] your oil pastels using my techniques. Feel free to ask for help or feedback if you need it. For now, let's meet in the next lesson. Take a look at the supplies we're going to use. 3. Class Supplies: Let's talk about supplies. We'll need some mixed media paper. The one that I'm using is clairefontaine. I really love this paper. It really works well with my oil pastels. Now it's going to vary depending on your oil pastels and your preferences. What I can tell you is that if your paper is pretty thick, like this, this one is 250 GSM. This is going to help when you smooth the oil pastels because we'll need a little bit of strengths to do so, and we wouldn't want the paper to start tearing. You would also want your paper to be quite smooth, but to have a little bit of tooth like this one. If it's very glossy, then is going to be hard for the oil pastels to grab, and you're going to struggle blending them. If it has a lot of tooth is going to be the same, it's going to be hard to blend them and squeeze them out. I would look at those two features, the thickness and how smooth it is. Today I'm going to be using Art Philosophy, oil pastels. I have 24 colors in this set, and I use it a lot as you can see, because I love them. They have two great qualities and they're actually artist grade. The first thing that they do is that they have great coverage. The second thing is they blend really well. They're very creamy. You can see right away when you apply them on paper, I really love them for that. Now there are a lot of other options, not all of them are equal. Once again, just like for paper, you try to find what fits you best in terms of budget and what you like to work with. To blend the oil pastels we are going to need a few paper towels. They're going to get dirty really quick. We want a few of them. For details, I'm going to be using blending stumps. These are very cheap little tools that a lot of people use for graphite, but I found that they're great for oil pastel to smoothing out and to actually get into all the nooks and crannies and take care of little details. I really love those. If you don't have any, you can try and use cue tips instead. That would be great. They'll be a little bit less precise, but they will still get the job done for smaller areas. Finally, you want to get a pencil and an eraser ready just for the sketch. Then we're going to need a white gel pen, or a Posca pen, or you can also use white [inaudible]. This is going to be for the highlights at the very end. We also need some masking tape. That's actually construction masking tape is pretty inexpensive and easy to find online or in stores. This actually helps me make sure the paper doesn't move around. It's very convenient. Before we start, make sure that the surface you're working on is not something you're afraid to get dirty. Not that all pastels are that messy. If you care to lay them on a piece of paper towel like this, then it should be okay, but accidents happen and they're pretty greasy. Just make sure you have an old cardboard underneath your work or something you can clean. We're ready to move on to the next lesson and talk about technique with how to layer oil pastels. 4. Oil Pastels Layering Exercise: In this lesson, we're going to learn how to layer oil pastels. The first thing we're going to do is block in the main colors first. To do this, we need to observe the reference photo. Here, for instance, I see green, but also a light green, a dark green, and white. Then before we block in all the colors, we need to simplify what we see. By simplify, I mean we are going to pick a minimum of colors from our set. This would avoid the overwhelm of too many colors. Also if you don't own all those shades of green, for instance, it will help you make do with what you have. Here, for instance, I have just a few greens and I can pick the one that fits me best and go from there. Here I could pick green, I could pick a light green, a dark green, and white, but instead, I'm going to keep it simple with green, black, and white. Let me show you what we can do. This is just plain green I'm going to smooth it out. Now I'm going to add black to that green. A little bit of it. I smooth it out. I have something darker and I can keep making it darker if I want to. In the same way, I can make it lighter with white. Here it's obvious that with a minimum of colors you can get several shades. Now, in your art, you can always count on white and black or brown to make a color lighter or darker. But if you don't want to rely on white or black or brown, you can also have a very light color and a very dark color in your palettes and everything in between. This will be great enough to build contrast in your painting. Now I want to show you something else, something to remember when you layer oil pastels is that a light shade can be made to look darker, like we did here, by adding any darker color. But a dark shade will not look much lighter at all if you add white or anything light to it. What do we do in this case? For instance, in the photo we're going to work on today, if you look at the branch and the bird, there are some areas there that are very light. We want to preserve that, so I'm going to keep showing you what it looks like using white and green. Here I apply white first this time, and then I add a little bit of green. When I smooth it out, it's very light and I can make it darker if I want to. Here you see the difference is very clear. Remember to layer with oil pastels, blocking the main colors first by observing the photo, by picking the main colors including some light and dark ones, and by preserving the light areas, even if it means adding a darker shade onto it later. Then smooth it all out and keep adjusting if you need to. Now we've covered the layering part, we're ready to move on and start sketching the bird. 5. Bird Part 1: Sketching and Picking Out Colors: In this lesson, we're going to draw our sketch and also pick our colors. First you want to tape that sheet firmly onto the surface you're working out with a masking tape and make sure you take some of the stickiness off of your masking tape just to make sure that it doesn't tear off your paper once you remove it later. What I do is rub it on my arm like this. Or you can do that on your jeans too if you want. You do it a few times until you feel that it's not that sticky anymore. Then you can put it on. You can pull up the reference photo from the resources section of the class if you want to look at it while you're drawing. What I'm seeing is the branch is starting here in the lower third of the page, and then it curves upwards and it's very thin. I'm going to make sure and keep that. All those tweaks that we can see on the reference, we can paint them later. No worries about that. Now that we have a branch it's going to be much easier to locate the bird. The bird would be in this part of the sheet here. If you don't know how to draw very well, what you can do is just break down what you seeing into shapes. The bird is pretty much a series of oval shapes if you look at it. Here we can start drawing an oval for the body and we can refine it later. No worries if it's not perfect yet, then we'd have another one for the head here. Then the tail would come somewhere around here. This is a very rough drawing, but I'm going to refine it, now I have the placement. For instance, the body is quite plump. I'm seeing that in this area, it's curving inwards more than here. Now I'm looking at the neck and I see it's quite thick, so maybe I could stop the body here. I'm just going to make a line there to situate where to draw that neck. Then it comes like that. It goes this way. The top of the head is like a half circle. I have that. I keep checking and refining my drawing. We can erase. The feather comes here. My drawing is not a 100 percent like the reference because I'm not trying to do photo realism, but it's pretty accurate and that's all we need. I'm really happy so far with how the top is looking. Now I'm just going to go with the tail. We don't have to draw the beak and the eye now because they're very dark and they can cover up the other colors very easily, so we'll keep them for the end. But for the purpose of just checking that the bird looks right, we can do it just to see. That's how it's going to look like. Same thing for the paws, we don't have to draw them now, we can wait for that later. Because these areas here are going to be pretty light, I'm going to erase my lines a little bit just so I can see them so but they are not that strong. Now we're ready to pick our colors and we're going to start with the background first. In the background, remember we want to block in our colors. To do that first we have to observe the reference photo and really pick the main colors that we see. What I'm seeing here is a yellow, green, orange. Those are the three most obvious colors in my background. We can do with those three. But remember that it's even better if we do have a dark color because we already have a light one, that's yellow. I'm seeing when I look at the reference, there are some darker parts. How can I render that? A brown shade like this one would be awesome to maximize the contrast and really bring the dark tones out. But if you have more choice, you can go for something a little more fun. For instance, in my set I have that one that's more like a burnt sienna, reddish brown shade. I think that's going to be great to bring that awesome feeling to the paintings. I'm going to use that. Remember if you don't have it, you can make do with those three and you can add a brown if you want to. When I look at the branch, I see that it's mostly brown. I'm going to pick that plain brown shade. Then I see there's a dark brown underneath, so black will be great for that. It will help bring that out. White on top will be great for the highlights. When I look at the bird now, I see that I have all the colors that I need. We're going to use the yellow, orange. We'll also need a black and white and brown. Then we can just leave those two aside for the background. These will actually helps spice up the whole painting with a little bit more color than what we see everywhere else. We're ready to move on. You can lay your oil pastel on a piece of paper towel just to make sure to not dirty anything, and meet me in the next lesson to paint the background. 6. Bird Part 2 : Background Layer One: Welcome back. We're ready to paint the background. Make sure first that you do have some paper towels ready because here we are going to use them to smudge everything out. Then make sure your oil pastels are ready. We just need those four for the background. Remember, you can substitute that one for red if you want or even brown. We did a great job observing the photo, picking the colors, and now the next step is to block the colors in and for that, we're going to start with the light colors. The one here that's going to bring a little contrast is this one. I'm going to use this one for last once I applied everything else just to make adjustments. Here we go. Let's start blocking in our colors. I'm going to start with yellow. I pretty much applied everywhere that I see it in my reference. At this stage, we don't need to be very precise, we can be pretty messy. Just have fun. The only thing you want to be careful about is to avoid the branch and the bird. You also want to make sure there is enough pigment on the page so don't be afraid to really add a lot of oil pastels there. When you have just a little bit of the paper showing still, it's good enough. You can use the edge of your oil pastels to go around those areas we don't want to spoil. Don't worry if you can't get too close because we can still use a blending stump later to fix that. Notice that I'm adding a lot of yellow because in all those areas that are orange but they're pretty light, I prefer to have first my yellow shade and then add orange on top of it to make it a light orange. Now I have that, I'm going to start overlapping orange onto the yellow and in those areas where I see just bright orange spots. These areas here are a lighter orange. This is why I'm adding some there. Now we've narrowed that down we can apply green. Now we're ready to blend, so we're going to grab our paper towel. We're going to make sure we have a very thick bundle here around our finger. Because the paper towel is going to get dirty really quick, I would advise you to start with the yellows first, then the oranges, and then the greens to make sure not to have to change sides in between or to spoil the colors with one other color. I like to blend my oil pastels with circular motions. It really helps get them smooth and it helps me make sure that I get into all the nooks and crannies of the paper. You see how yellow and orange turn into that very light orange, which is very nice. If the oil pastel seem hard to blend, what you can do is either add more oil pastels if there wasn't enough or maybe your oil pastels are a little dry or maybe not as creamy as mine and maybe your finger, which is oilier than the paper towel would help or you could add a little bit of baby oil onto your paper towel. Just a tad. Just to make it a little oilier. You might want to try that on a separate piece of paper first just to see how that behaves. Now we're ready to blend the greens. Right away I can feel that I don't have enough pigment here, so I'm just adding some, that's fine. You can do that at any point in the painting whenever you need to. Don't be afraid to start overlapping even when you blend and that's going to help us start a gradient. Just overlap a little bit for now and then I'll show you how to make that gradient even better. Now you see that the gradient is far from great here. It's too strong, so what I find works well, let's just take a clean side of your paper towel and then very gently you keep going with the circular motions. That will make the blend a little lighter, a little better. Now looking at this, you can clearly see there's a big difference between the light colors and this darker green color here. That's when this shade is going to add some balance to all of that and we're going to add it now. 7. Bird Part 3: Background Layer Two: I'm going to apply this now and it's going to help the orange and the yellow shade to look less bright and flashy. It's going to bounce the whole thing. I overlap it on top. I'm not afraid to add lots because if you look at the reference, there are not that many very bright barriers. What I like is that because it's dark, if you use your brown it's going to be the same. The brown here that's much lighter is going to come out even better. I keep overlapping because SVD was going to give us those gradients. They're going to look very smooth and natural. I like this so now I'm going to blend it. Same thing, make sure you don't blend yellow and then right after that green with the same side of the paper towel because then your greens are going to spoil the yellow. Just be careful with that. I can already see looking at this area right here, how much more sophisticated it looks to have another shade, a darker shade, and it brings out those light areas even more. Remember that to fix the gradient here and make it a little smoother, you just go with a clean side of your paper towel once more. You keep going with circular motions and there we go. Now to tie it altogether and make those areas a little less harsh, I'm just going to add a little bit of yellow on top in places. I'm going to keep adjusting my colors and you can keep adjusting until you're happy with what you have. I am darkening those areas I find are still too light. Keep adjusting if the transition seems too harsh to you. Notice that the only parts that stayed very light and flashy are those yellow ones that are the very light parts that we did not touch with any other color. This all comes back to what I was telling you in the exercise is that when you want to keep something light, make sure to start light and leave it untouched. I don't like how flashy the green is in my own paintings, so I'm just adding a little bit of yellow, but you don't have to do that. Of course it all depends on what you'd like your preferences. When you are happy with the way your background looks, your colors, your gradient, we can move on to the next step, and I'll see you in the next lesson, then we'll draw the branch. 8. Bird Part 4: Painting the Branch: In this lesson, we're going to draw the branch and we're going to need brown, white and black. We're going to make sure our white pastel is pretty clean, and then we're going to add a line up here on top of the branch. Don't be afraid to press. You want a lot of pigment there. If you've got a little bit of color from the background onto the branch it's not a big deal. It doesn't need to be perfect anyways, it will still look nice at the end. Once you have that, you can add brown then you can edit everywhere else to finish that branch, we'll add black later. Make sure not to cover up the white part though. We already have a nice shape. Now we're going to grab a blending stump and we're going to blend that first. I'm just checking my blending surface is not too dirty. Am going to start with the white part up here. Now I have that. I'm going to blend the brown part. I can feel I'm lacking a little bit of pigment here, so I'm just going to add more white and more brown. I'm going to overlap them to a little bit. Here I'm already overlapping that white pastel onto the brown part. I add a little bit of brown too at the bottom. Make sure to wipe your blending stump otherwise you use one side for the white and one side for the brown. Now we have a nice gradient forming. As better with layers with oil pastel I find, at least when you want to go realistic. Don't be afraid to go over it again, just to smooth it out a little more, make the gradient a little better. It looks great honestly. Now, I'm going to add those little twigs style I was talking about when we did the sketch. Just add little lines here and there. Try not to space them out too evenly, it wouldn't look too natural. Here Here have one that's very light up here so I'm going to do it with whites right away. At least I'm sure it's not too dark, and same actually for those top ones here. Go with white right away, we can still add a little bit of something dark afterwards. Now again, let's smooth that out a little, a tiny bit. Just so it doesn't look like it's separate from the branch pretty much, but we don't need to smooth it out really well, like what did the branch. Now to make it look even better we just need to add black and you see how much difference that makes, it's going to be awesome. I'm really careful to add just a little bit. We don't need a lot of black and I'm adding it at the very edge of that bottom part here. We can even add some here on one side of the twigs. This way they'll show even more. We can even add a little bit of brown here on the top twigs. Let's move that out first. You just make some nice little shadow and it just outlines those twigs more. Now I'll just blend that black pigment into the rest nicely. You can add pure brown and even black in places, here I see it's darker, so I'm just going to make it a bit darker. I'm just adding another bit of pigment. But it already looks great the way it is now so you could also leave it that way if you like it. To finish the branch, you want to grab your white pastel again, clean it up. Then we're going to smash it really hard in places to create strong highlights. Here just smash it. We don't do that everywhere, just in places creating texture. Then we can just brush over it really lightly and that creates even better texture. You can even do that with black if you want, just create a few streaks here and there. Don't make too much. And then you brush that blending stump over it. Just leave the line is not quite blended in there but it really looks like texture now. We did a great job the branch is looking fabulous, so now we're going to move on and finish this with the bird. Will see you in the next lesson. 9. Bird Part 5 : Bird Base Layer: We are ready to paint a bird in this lesson. We're going to need yellow, orange, black, white, and brown. We're also going to need a blending stump. We're not going to be using a paper towel here, because it will be quite hard. This area here is not that big. I think the blending stump, or a cue tip, or your finger will be great here. I'm spawning quite a few whitish parts here, so we're going to start laying that white pigment and then we'll add onto it. If you cover too much ground with white, it's really not a big deal because again, it's very light, so you can cover it up very easily with anything else. I'm really not worried about that myself. I'm even going to paint the feathers. White first, because I'm seeing there very light brown. This way, when we add brown afterwards, we make sure it stays a light brown. This is a great step also because we can redefine the shape of the bird really well here, and actually bridge the gaps in these areas here where we were having a hard time blending the color because it was so close. Try to use the edge of your pastel as much as possible when you do this, it will give you more precision. Now, we have that. Our next color is going to be yellow. You can start overlapping a little bit. The fact that we are going to be blending the whole thing with the blending stump is going to give us more control than if we were using the paper towels. So don't worry if you make mistakes as to where you layer the colors. I'm going to add a little bit of brown in those darkest areas. Now, a little bit of orange. You can add pastels where the beak is. We'll just cover it up later with black, anyways. Before we get carried away and add too much color and spoil the light colors, we're just going to blend that. Have a clean blending stump here, so I'm going to use this. It's going to be so much better for the whites. I'm going to start with that. Here, I'm defining the edges so much better. Even if it turns out a little orange in places, it's okay, don't worry about that. It's more important on the bird and the branch to have texture, because you see on the photo the background is very blurry and smooth. But we need to bring that life to the branch and the bird, and we do that with texture also. Right now our bird is shaped. It doesn't look quite exciting yet, but that's normal because we're just going to layer a little bit more on top and add a texture. We're going to need to add a little bit of brown onto the top of the head here. Now again, add some here on the belly. We can even draw some little lines like this. Because in the end that's what's going to create that impression of fur or feathers, whatever you call it for a bird. I could have picked a gray for this part, but I wanted to stay simple with the colors, so I went with brown. It's up to you and the painting to decide which colors are going to fit you best. Here, I'm going to add a tad of brown, just to add a little bit of contrast, show that there is a hollow area here, maybe underneath the beak also. I'm going to start blending that and see how it's going. I'm not afraid to overlap those colors to make them look natural. I'm just going to intensify the colors in places. For instance, more oranges there. Now, I want to make sure to intensify this white area here, so I'm just going to add a lot of white oil pastels. 10. Bird Part 6 : Final Details on Bird: Welcome back. In this last lesson, we're going to finish this bird with more layers and a few details. Now we're going to pay into beak and to do that, you can use a pencil if you want. That way you are sure to not go off course with the pastel or you can do with the pencil first and add the pastel afterwards on top of it, it's up to you. We're going to add a little bit of that pastel elsewhere too because this bird is very blunt for now. It needs a little bit of contrast, a little bit of color to it. This area here is important to show that that feather is right behind the body. Here too we can define the tail a little better. We also want to add a little bit of black there. Not too much. Now we're smoothing it out very slightly with a blending stump. Here, you can touch this up with a little mark color if you need to overlap in places. Now I'm going to add some highlights. If you want to make sure the highlights are visible, you can press hard like we did on the branch. That also creates some texture when you do that. Try to add a little bit of white on the edges. I'm making lines to shape the feathers. Here, I want to make it a little darker, for instance. See how that reinforces the shape of the bird here, the shape of the tummy. That's going to be more rounded here in this area just because it's lighter. If you want, you can highlight the posture with your oil pastels. It's up to you. Now we're almost done. Now that our bird is shaped, we're going to take that jelly roll. Same here in the eye and you can tap on top of it with your finger or two if you want to make it less visible. A little great here on the posture to define them really well. Make sure they stand out from the body and the branch. You can add a small touch here on the feathers, on the tail. Redefine the top of the head, not too much, don't over do it. The [inaudible] is going to look very odd if you add too much. You just want to add some in places around the bird just to make sure that the shape comes out really well. Also, add a little bit of texture while we add it. Highlight those very white areas. Then you can add a few here like we see on the reference. A few lines here. You could also add a few dots on the branch if you want. I'm adding a few here. It looks pretty good. We're done so now we're going to remove the tape. When you do that, just make sure to do it horizontally to the sheets and very slowly as to not tear it off. zit should be pretty easy if you took the stickiness out on the masking tape. We are done. Look at this beautiful bird. Before we meet for the conclusion, make sure to post your projects in the project section of the class so we can have a look and give you some feedback if you'd like it. 11. Final Thoughts: Congratulations for completing this class. I hope you had a fun time learning about layering and my techniques. Before you go, don't forget to upload your project to the projects and resources section of this class and I'll be happy to give you some feedback and help you out if you need the guidance. You may also leave a review down here to let me know what you thought of the class. If you enjoy the experience, follow me on Skillshare to get notified each time I upload a new class. I'm active on Instagram and YouTube with loads of seasonal inspiration, so you can follow me there as well and connect with #createwithfrancoise. Thank you so much for taking this class with me today and see you in the next one.