Things are a bit slow in the studio this week due to a lot of outdoor work. No new paintings finished (though I’m close on one), no new article projects, and no new announcements.

In short, it seems like an ideal time to share a few basic differences between oil painting and colored pencil drawings.

If you’re no stranger to either medium, I apologize for the ground level information in this post. I invite you to check out Salt Lake in Colored Pencil – Classical Method if you work with colored pencil or Guienne Hanover in Oils – Mixed Method for the oil painters among us. To see the full list of demonstrations, click here. You’re sure to find something you like.)

But I know there are a lot of artists at one level or another who have never worked with oils, colored pencils, or both. If that describes you, then read on.

What is the Difference Between Oils and Colored Pencils?

Oil paints are a wet medium; Colored pencils are a dry medium.

Oil paints require drying time. Colored pencils do not.

Oil paints usually require a tool of some type to be used. That can include brushes, knifes, rags and, upon occasion, fingers. Pencils can be used out of the box without tools.

Oil paintings can be framed without glass. In most cases, colored pencil paintings must be framed under glass.

Oil painting requires sometimes substantial clean up. Brushes and palettes should be cleaned after each session. Painting rags or papers need to be properly disposed of and paint tubes capped so paint doesn’t dry out.

Colored pencils, on the other hand, can be simply set aside until the next work session. I often leave the pencils I’m using lying on the table top or standing in a container until the next session.

Are there similarities between oil paints and colored pencils?


Both types of color are made of a basic pigment (sometimes the same pigments) ground into a vehicle that makes them usable. Oil paints are usually ground into safflower oil, linseed oil or walnut oil. Pigment is bound either in a wax-based binder or vegetable oil binder to make colored pencils.

Oil paints and colored pencils can be used in direct painting methods or in more classical methods of under painting and layering.

A high level of detail and color saturation can be achieved with oil paints and with colored pencils.

If created properly, framed properly and displayed under proper conditions, both types of paintings will maintain freshness and color integrity for decades.

What does each type of painting look like?

How a finished painting looks depends more on the artist than on the medium. Obviously, there will be differences in surface texture, framing treatment, and other superficial details.

But oil paints and colored pencils can be used in very similar techniques for very similar appearances.

I painted both of the following paintings. One of them is an oil painting. One is a colored pencil painting. Can you tell the difference?

Difference Between Oils and Colored Pencils - Oil Painting

Difference Between Oils and Colored Pencils - Colored Pencil Drawing

How long does it take to make an oil painting versus an colored pencil painting?

It will take about the same amount of time start to finish to create a colored pencil painting or an oil painting.

The drawing phase is identical for each process. Once painting begins, oil paint can be applied more quickly, but it must dry, sometimes for three or four weeks.

Colored pencils are much more labor intensive in the application process. If oil painting was like mowing a yard with a lawn tractor, colored pencil painting would be like mowing the yard with a scissors!

But there is no drying time with colored pencils, so in the end, the time works out to about the same.


These are just a few of the basic differences and similarities. Many of them are specific to me. For example, I work almost exclusively on paper or mat board with colored pencils, so my drawings need to be framed under glass. The colored pencil artist who works on a rigid support can often frame their work without glaze.

If you’re unfamiliar with one or the other of these two fine mediums, give them a try. No matter what your favorite subject or style, you’re sure to have some fun and maybe find a new favorite medium.