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Oil Painting with R and F Pigment Sticks

Oyster Creek Landscape

"Oyster Creek" painting by Robert A. Sloan from photo by halthepainter on, done with R&F Pigment Sticks on canvas board. 5" x 7"

"Oyster Creek" painting by Robert A. Sloan from photo by halthepainter on, done with R&F Pigment Sticks on canvas board. 5" x 7"

Oil Paint in Stick Form

Oil Sticks are not oil pastels or crayons or pastels. They're what I thought Oil Pastels were because you can thin oil pastels with turpentine. Oil Sticks are oil paint in stick form with some wax added to the linseed oil and pigments to make it firm enough to form a stick. You can draw directly on the canvas with them, smear them on a palette and apply with a brush or Colour Shaper or thin them with any oil painting mediums such as linseed oil, odorless turpentine substitutes, safflower oil, walnut oil, Liquin and other alkyd fast drying mediums - in short, any oil painting medium will work to dilute Oil Sticks.

My example painting is done with R&F Pigment Sticks. These are the most expensive brand of oil sticks that I have available buying online. Other brands include Winsor & Newton Oil Bars, Sennelier Oil Sticks and Shiva Paintsticks. Shiva also produces Student Paintsticks that are non toxic and popular with crafters or for letting your kids try oil painting with a stick. All of them are the same thing - oil paint mixed with enough wax in the binder to create a big stick you can draw with.

Oil sticks film over when they're exposed to air. After you unwrap them, the outside layer dries to a thin film that needs to be pulled off. This film seals in the rest of the stick so they will not dry solid like a tube of oil paint that's been left open. That's a clever trick and makes Oil Sticks a good medium for anyone who tends to be careless about putting caps back on things. You don't need to bother. Just peel off the dry film when you want to use them again and they're fine, good as new. It doesn't even waste that much paint.

They're very soft compared to wax crayons or even the softest Oil Pastels. Sennelier Oil Pastels are the softest and have a texture much like women's lipstick. Oil Sticks are even softer, they're a buttery paste you can easily move around with a brush or any tool. That makes it easy to blend them or get a soft edged look.

The sticks in all brands tend to be rather wide. These aren't little thin drawing sticks that you'll want to get fine details with. The best way to get fine details with them is to pick up color with a rubber colour shaper or painting tool like the Kemper Paint Eraser, or apply with a small bristle brush. I'd recommend using stiff nylon or bristle brushes with them because they're thick like tube oil paint with impasto medium mixed in rather than thin like poster paint or bottled acrylics.

Their biggest advantage is in portability. You don't have as much mess to clear up as you do with regular oil painting. The sticks are relatively compact and you don't need many colors because they do mix exactly like other oil paints. I bought the six color Opaque Assortment of R&F Pigment Sticks, which came packed into a cool 6 3/8" x 7 5/8" cradled Ampersand Gessobord - a gessoed smooth masonite board with wooden sides that can be hung without framing. I'm saving the Gessobord for a planned painting, didn't use that for my first try with the R&F Pigment Sticks but went with an inexpensive 5" x 7" canvas board.

You can use R&F Pigment Sticks or any oil sticks on any surface suitable for oil painting. Stretched canvas, gessoed wooden boards or masonite, gessoed heavy paper, canvas boards and other oil painting supports are all fine. What you use should be primed with acrylic or oil gesso for oil painting. If you use an unusual support like metal or something, prime it as you would to do an oil painting.

Gallery wrap canvases with deep stretchers are a good choice. You can paint the sides of the canvas either to continue the painting or create a decorative border. Then you don't need to buy a frame for it and can just hang it as it is if it's varnished. See the third section of this article for information on varnishing and framing.

Here's a photo of my starter set. This is a good limited palette for nearly any use.

R & F Pigment Sticks Opaque Assortment

Six color Opaque Assortment of R & F Pigment Sticks.

Six color Opaque Assortment of R & F Pigment Sticks.

Colors and Mixing

The price of these R & F Pigment Sticks is comparable to similar size tubes of high quality artists' oil paint, because that's what they are. The sticks are 38ml size, about 3/4" wide by 5" long. They come in convenient clear plastic tubes with stoppers that may prevent the dry paint film from forming if you do put them right back in the tube after use. Mine were quite soft without any film when I first opened them and had a clear thin plastic film rolled around the sides of the tip to keep them clean and airtight.

The colors are similar to other high quality artist grade oil paints. Most of my favorite pigments are represented like the Cadmiums and Quinacridones, Cobalt Blue and so on. Cobalt Blue, Chromium Oxide Green, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Cadmium Red Medium are included in this set along with Titanium White and Ivory Black. The cost per stick is significantly lower in sets and the sets available also include a gorgeous Metallic Set with various metal colors from copper to silver plus a Translucent Set with violet, orange, another green, Alizarin Crimson and a couple of other useful colors included that would fill out the Opaque Assortment nicely. Also there's a Figure Drawing set that's got black, white, sepia and several sanguine earth colors which would fill out the set well while giving you an extra white. I plan on getting these other sets plus a Quinacridone Magenta and a couple of other favorite colors to fill out my collection but that's because I like having a wide range of colors to choose from. Others may find the first six colors in the basic set all that you need.

I've made a mixing chart of all six of these colors first thing, just to see what I'd get in combinations and how important it would be to get tints and shades of the basic colors. In pastels it's vital to purchase different tints because it's so hard to mix different colors with white consistently. Not with these, they mix like paint. R&F does provide some tints and light colors but they're more for convenience than necessity.

Below is my mixing chatr. It didn't make as big a difference which color went on top as it does usually with dry mediums. These mixtures were made just by smearing the stick into the puddle left by the other stick, mixing with a palette knife would make a more even mixture easily applied with knife or brush.

Mixing chart for six color Opaque Assortment of R & F Pigment Sticks by Robert A. Sloan, on 9" x 12" Fredrix canvas pad.

Mixing chart for six color Opaque Assortment of R & F Pigment Sticks by Robert A. Sloan, on 9" x 12" Fredrix canvas pad.

Drying Time, Varnishing and Framing

This is oil painting.

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Drying time ranges from a couple of days for some fast-drying colors to five days for the average ones and more than five days for some slow drying colors. That can be pretty frustrating. Four days after I made the mixing chart, the black and white mix seemed nearly touch dry and didn't smear off on my finger. The three-color combination brown colors on the right side are still as moist as when I first mixed them and it's about five days since I made the chart.

So don't expect any painting done with R & F Pigment Sticks to dry quickly. It's an oil painting. Find a safe place to set it aside on a shelf or hang it on the wall out of the way where no person or animal will bump into it. Give it plenty of time.

Do not varnish it until the painting has "cured" for six months to a year, longer if you use impasto mediums and build up very thick applications. Let it dry completely solid all the way through. R & F Pigment Sticks create a strong, flexible paint film that may be less prone to cracking than some oil paints but they have two stages of drying - the first when it gets to touch dry and then the oxidation process that makes them extremely permanent.

Once it's been cured for six months to a year, you can use a removable oil painting varnish over the painting. Removable oil painting varnishes are designed so that when they turn brown, you can use paint thinner to take it off without damaging the painting under the varnish. Never varnish any oil painting with a non removable varnish. Conservators will hate you, because it'll turn brown just as fast as the normal varnishes in 20 years or so but they won't be able to clean it and replace the varnish the way you can with removable varnishes.

Oil paintings are something that takes a bit of patience to let them dry, but well rewarded by their lasting beauty. They also have the cool advantage that if you varnish them, you can hang them without a frame or put them in a frame without glass. People can touch the art.

If you ever had trouble oil painting, as I have in the past, try the R & F Pigment Sticks or another brand of oil sticks. To me at least, they were a lot easier to handle!

Books on Oil Painting


Veenoo from India on August 19, 2014:

Sir your hubs are simply awesome.....i will learn a lot from these.

Tad Coffin from San Diego on June 13, 2013:

Wow, I've been an artist a long time and never heard of oil sticks. Thanks for the information - I'm going to have to try them out.

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on February 21, 2011:

Really like the painting and especially the colors. Your hubs are always worth bookmarking! thank you for sharing you knowledge

Wayne Tully from United Kingdom on February 20, 2011:

I've always wanted to try my hand at any other type of drawing or art with oil pastels and these sticks sound like they might be better. Like any art material you get what you pay for and seeing as these won't totally dry up when leaving them, I'm going to give these a go.

Currently doing some experimental drawings with oil pastels which might make an interseting hubpage, just need to get something tangible on video.

Nice and informative review of oil pigment sticks, cheers!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 20, 2011:

I just LOVE this painting, Robert. I had no idea you could achieve this effect with pigment sticks. I am learning quite a bit with reading your hubs. Voted up and beautiful.

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