oil paint sticks

Oil Paint Sticks: What They are and How to Use Them

Oil paint sticks—they are incredibly fun to use. They’re like a crossover between oil pastels and traditional oil paint. 

They are essentially solid oil paints. So the sticks can be used in a similar way to pastel, in the sense that they are rolled into a stick shape allowing you to draw onto your surface. However, they’re similar to oil paint in that they contain much the same ingredients and therefore have the same working properties.

In this guide, discover what oil paint sticks are, how to use them and the best brands available.

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The best oil paint sticks: product pick

Sennelier Oil Sticks: Buy here.

Pure pigments ground in vegetable oil make for intense and clean colour mixes. The sticks feel smooth when applying to the canvas.

Sennelier manufactures 55 colours, with a mix of transparent and opaque pigments. All colours are perfectly lightfast and highly pigmented.

What are oil paint sticks?

Oil paint sticks, also called pigment sticks and oil bars are sticks of pigment bound in a drying oil such as linseed and coated with wax.

With oil paint sticks, you can hold them in your hand and draw onto a surface with precision and control, achieving thick, painterly effects.

How are oil paint sticks different from oil pastels?

Oil paint sticks and oil pastels are made from different ingredients. 

The sticks are made from the same ingredients as regular oil paint (pigment + drying oil), but they’re encased in wax to hold them in shape. Pastels on the other hand, are made from pigment, a non-drying oil and wax binder. The main difference then is that pastels never fully dry, but oil sticks dry like regular oil paint.

Oil pastels are really a medium in their own right and would generally be used in every layer of a drawing. However, oil paint sticks are just solid oils—they can be used with oil paint to create a variety of effects. 

Oil paint sticks offer the same advantages as thick oil paint in their handling properties. They are vibrant, soft and feel smooth applying to a canvas. Pigment sticks can be used on the same surfaces as oil paint. Use them on canvas, primed wooden panel or oil paper.

They provide the benefits of oil pastel in that they are easy to control, but look closer to oil paint in appearance when painted on a surface. Read our guide for more information about the differences between oil sticks and oil pastels.

Do oil paint sticks dry?

Oil paint sticks dry and set completely, unlike oil pastels. 

They will be dry to the touch in around 3 days, depending on how thickly the paint is applied to the surface. 

How to use oil paint sticks

As oil paint sticks are coated in wax, they have a film that needs to be removed before use. Wipe the oil stick first on a paper towel to remove the outer coating. A few days after use, the waxy skin will form again with exposure to air. 

Use pigment sticks with a variety of techniques

To paint using oil sticks, draw onto the surface, much like you would with an oil pastel. Use the pigment sticks to create texture and vibrant colour.

You also can achieve subtle colour blends with pigment sticks, due to the long drying time. Layer the paint like you would with regular oils, blending on the canvas with a brush. 

Paint wet on wet, or choose to let the layers dry before painting to create sharper edges. Alternatively, you could draw with a pigment stick on your surface, dip your brush in a little medium then thin the paint to create a wash. 

Can oil sticks be used with other mediums?

Use oil paint sticks with other mediums if you choose. You may apply pigment sticks over thinned oil paint, matte acrylic, gouache, watercolour, oil pencil. As you can see, oil bars make for a versatile medium. 

Oil paint sticks are thicker than pastels, and they can get quite messy (I’d wear gloves!). 

By incorporating oil bars into your oil paintings, you can create a variety of effects and interchange between brushing and drawing. This may be useful for the first layers of the painting where you need to quickly establish composition and structure. It can feel quite expressive and intuitive creating a drawing with pigment sticks, instead of brushing on paint.

Create texture with pigment sticks

You can be experimental with this medium and find new ways to use it. Manipulate the paint on the surface with your hands, brush or moulding tool.

The consistency is thick and paste-like, allowing you to create impasto pieces, of broken texture and colour. Apply light pressure to your surface to get thinner, more precise lines. Or apply more pressure to achieve a thicker texture. 

The best brands of oil paint sticks

Sennelier: Oil Sticks

Buy here.

Sennelier make quality, artist grade oil paint and their pigment sticks are no different. There are 55 colours in the range to choose from.

Winsor & Newton Oil Bars

Buy here.

Winsor & Newton’s sticks are slightly larger than Sennelier’s and are also cheaper. Their starter set of 6 colours comes at around £43. They are a little stiffer in consistency than the Sennelier sticks, although the consistency can vary between colours. The drying time is an average of two days. 

R&F Pigment Sticks

Buy here

The high end option, these pigment sticks are more expensive than Winsor & Newton and Sennelier. However, they are highly pigmented and milled in small batches with natural bee waxes, using the minimum amount of wax possible. They are the only brand of oil stick that use natural waxes, leading to a greater paint film strength. 

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