Review: Sennelier Oil Pastel

This review was written by Beth Barnett, an artist in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.

What can I say about Sennelier oil pastels that hasn’t already been said? These oil sticks have been around for decades since Henri Sennelier custom-created them for Picasso in 1949. Picasso essentially said he wanted pigments you could hold in your hand, that would cover anything – not just the traditional paper or canvas. He wanted an oil pastel that could go over wood, glass, ceramic, metal, and even over oil and acrylic paintings.

Here is the frustrating part about oil pastels, especially the creamy, lush Sennelier pastels, which are pure pigments with very little filler – they do not dry on their own; not without the help of a drying agent. There is a fixative for these pastels by Sennelier, which has mixed reviews.

Because these lipstick-like colors are so luscious, they make a bit of a mess all over your hands, especially if your method of application does not involve a light touch.

And yes, as it warns on the box, many of the oil pastels are toxic, especially the cadmium colors. Do not ingest or inhale, if you use them in a spray vehicle, for instance. It’s okay if it gets on your hands or skin, as long as you clean up soon after using them. This list of negative aspects is the price you pay for luxurious, full coverage color.

As a painter, I have always loved incorporating the use of oil pastels into my pieces. I also love using them directly onto fine paper or illustration board.

This review covers the Sennelier 12 piece set, which contains the rainbow of colors, along with earth colors:

  • Black
  • Burnt Umber
  • Permanent Intense Red
  • Mandarin
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Green Medium
  • Cinnabar Green Yellow
  • Delft Blue
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Pale Blue
  • White

The 12 piece set.

At first glance, the colors look rich, bright and true. Using them on paper, the consistency is buttery and when applied, they are easily opaque on the surface. To get a transparent wash, only a light touch and your favorite oil soluble medium works well.

There’s a nice feature to the pastel wrapper, where sections are perforated. You can tear off a section to reveal more pastel, for easy application, although when I tried to tear off at the perforation, the wrapper tore just above the line. I found that it tore off like any other wrapper that does not have the perforated feature. It’s a thoughtful addition, though. Sennelier does focus on the details.

Perforated wrapper – a nice detail.

Swatches – coverage and mixing results.

Beginning drawing stages. The pit of the avocado looks brown, but brown was not used! Mixing and scumbling works well with these pastels. Notice the pastel piece in the upper right corner. They break with a little pressure.

There are loads of opportunities to experiment and play with these pastels. Try marking, layering and mixing them on printed, pulp medium, such as on a page out of a free magazine you get in the mail, per se. Interesting things appear.

I believe Picasso got his order filled well when he said he wanted an oil stick with superior color and coverage. There are many pros to them, and depending on the artist’s viewpoint, there are cons.

Breaking down the pros and cons:

• Beautiful, rich and true colors
• Superior coverage
• Time-tested, as in, these pastels have an important history behind them

• Can be messy
• They never truly dry, unless you mix with drying agents or use a fixative, or frame the piece behind glass
• Some colors are toxic, making them not totally safe for use

Over all, knowing both the pitfalls and the triumphs of Sennelier oil pastels, I am a fan and would recommend them to any artist, particularly oil and mixed media painters.

Final result.


Find more reviews at Dick Blick Art Materials (US) | Jackson's Art Supplies (UK)


1 Comment

Hi there! Thank you for your

Hi there! Thank you for your thoughtful review. I noticed you said you are a painter and that you use oil pastels in your paintings. I am in the midst of experimenting with just that. When you have used oil pastels, how do you go about varnishing your painting? Do you spray the oil pastel fixative and then varnish?

Thank you for your help!


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