History of Oil Pastels
May 25, 2017
At the end of World War I, Kanae Yamamoto proposed an overhaul of the Japanese education system. He thought that it had been geared too much towards uncritical absorption of information by imitation and wanted to promote a less restraining system, a vision he expounded in his book Theory of self-expression which described the Jiyu-ga method, “learning without a teacher”. Teachers Rinzo Satake and his brother-in-law Shuku Sasaki read Yamamoto’s work and became fanatical supporters. They became keen to implement his ideas by replacing the many hours Japanese children had to spend drawing ideograms with black Indian ink with free drawing hours, filled with as much color as possible. For this, they decided to produce an improved wax crayon and in 1921 founded the Sakura Cray-Pas Company and began production. The new product wasn’t completely satisfactory, pigment concentration was low and blending or impasto was impossible, so in 1924 they decided to develop a high viscosity crayon: the oil pastel. This used a mixture of mashed paraffin, stearic acid and coconut oil as a binder. Designed as a relatively cheap, easily applied, colorful medium, oil pastels granted younger artists and students a greater freedom of expression than the expensive chalk-like pastels normally associated with the fine arts. Until the addition of a stabiliser in 1927, oil pastels came in two types: winter pastels with additional oil to prevent hardening and summer pastels with little oil to avoid melting. State schools simply couldn’t afford the medium and, suspicious of the very idea of “self-expression” in general, favoured the coloured pencil, a cheaper German invention then widely promoted in Europe as a means to instill work discipline in young children.
Oil pastels were an immediate commercial success and other manufacturers were quick to take up the idea, such as Dutch company Talens, who began to produce Panda Pastels in 1930. However, none of these were comparable to the professional quality oil pastels produced today. These early products were intended to introduce western art education to Japanese children, and not as a fine arts medium, although Sakura managed to persuade some avant-garde artists to acquaint themselves with the technique, among them Pablo Picasso. In 1947 Picasso, who for many years had been unable to procure oil pastels because of the war conditions, convinced Henri Sennelier, a French manufacturer who specialized in high quality art products, to develop a fine arts version. In 1949 Sennelier produced the first oil pastels intended for professionals and experienced artists. These were superior in wax viscosity, texture and pigment quality and capable of producing more consistent and attractive work. The Japanese Holbein brand of oil pastel appeared in the mid-1980s with both student and professional grades; the latter with a range of 225 colours. Another brand, Caran d’Ache, introduced Neocolor wax crayons onto the market in 1965, using a patented polyethylene wax with superior lubrication; in the nineties these were developed into an oil pastel, Neopastel.
from the Oil Pastel Society