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Red Rule


Working With Paint Sticks

Paintstiks, pigment sticks, oil sticks--all names for the same type of product--are actually oil paint in easy to use stick form. Formulated from a combination of highly refined pigments and linseed oil in a pure wax, they do not emit offensive odors nor do they require long drying times. Most colors dry in approximately 72 hours and attain a non-smudge stage after an uncovered, overnight cure. The sticks are covered with a paper wrapper, so they are neat to use and are both non-toxic and hypoallergenic.

Before using for the first time, and after storage between uses, peel the "skin" off the top of the oil stick. This skin develops to protect the remaining paint from becoming hard and unusable. Once this layer is peeled away, the stick is ready for immediate use.

Oil sticks are remarkable in their scope of artistic application. They can be used successfully by any level of artist and are even safe for children (when supervised). Paint sticks are easily applied and can be blended with brushes, knives, and paint wedgies--virtually any tool. Immediately after application they can be scribed and etched with any pointed object. They are smooth, creamy and vibrant and have a velvety appearance when dry.

To diminish the tone of any stick, use white over or blended with the color. To darken a color, add a bit of its complement. For a smooth, blendable surface and to maintain the same texture throughout the entire work, first apply a layer of white to the selected ground material. Homogeneous blending is achieved with the use of turpentine. Apply the turpentine a drop at a time to the surface as you work, or use a turp-dampened brush to blend an applied surface.

Speaking of surface, nearly any will accept oil stick decoration. Cardboard, mat board, canvas, painting papers and illustration board are perfect ground surfaces for oil sticks. Absorbent surfaces help hold the paint in place, but you can use acrylic sheeting or glass for a base if it will be sheltered after completion. (The lack of absorbency offers less "grip" for the oil sticks.) Metal such as copper or aluminum is a great substrate for oil sticks as are sculptural supports, Masonite panels and all wood surfaces.

Never hesitate to paint directly into a color layer with a brush or to draw in the material to achieve highlights. When used like a pen, you can create details where none existed or create an impasto by trying different texture applications. Because of its thick, pasty consistency, you can combine oil sticks with other oil media (like tube oil paints) to achieve a more fluid, workable compound. Dried tube oil paintings can also be enhanced with oil sticks. All oil painting mediums and solvents work with oil sticks, too. That means if you are already working in oil, you may simply add oil sticks to your paint box and use them for detail, design or drama in your work. Their rich, thick consistency will offer you new possibilities.

Oil sticks can easily be applied to lean paint. For instance, you may use them to embellish and enhance a watercolor or gouache work. Their lean surface willingly accepts the thick, opaque line of an oil stick. Color sticks are often used like pens or pencils to add surface embellishment to other art media. They can also be used to add detail to a monoprint or photo reproduced print.

Acrylic surfaces can be enhanced by using oil stick diluted with baby oil. The oil takes time to dry, but the resulting stain is unique. The surface can be blotted with paper towels or rags, can be scraped with tools and can be rubbed to soften the look and blend with the surrounding areas. Thick applications are sometimes desirable. Apply carefully and allow to dry thoroughly before exhibit.

Many artists dip the oil sticks directly into a medium or solvent to achieve a quick and smooth stroke. Alkyd dryers can also be used and dry faster than the oil mediums. The sticks can be used by oil painters to establish an initial sketch and then be worked right into the subsequently applied oil paints. The wax content of the sticks allows rich buildup of texture.

Oil sticks may be purchased in sets that contain primary colors or sets that have special applications such as landscape. Perhaps the best way to buy them, however, is individually. This allows the artist to select and use the tones best suited to his/her work. Individual metallic colors are especially useful for highlights and enhancement of nearly any style of work. When pre-thinned with turpentine or medium, oil stick pigments can be stamped onto paper art for added texture and appeal.

With all the positive and exciting qualities of oil sticks, it is surprising that more artists don't use them. And once an artist does experiment with them, oil sticks become a part of his or her permanently maintained materials. They are not costly, are easy to transport and can be used almost anywhere. See

Red Rule

ARTtalk's Manufacturer Art Materials/Product Info. Center

Copyright ARTtalk Vol. 15 No. 4 -- February 2005