A Light Touch with Oilbars

A Light Touch with Oilbars

Thick stubby sticks of hard edged, soft centred waxy oil, oilbars are messy, but look so attractive in the box, you just have to have them to add to your repetroire but then comes the moment you regret it.Oil bars.

Great for making one line bold marks, but otherwise quite cumbersome, strong in pigment, hard to handle and even harder to clean up and if outside on a warm day; forget it! I couldn’t take to them at all.

But persevere I did as I wasn’t about to waste £30 of art materials. I tried them on directly on canvas boards but ended up with muddy colours. A palette knife was slightly easier and managed images I was quite happy with, but this method took out the pleasure of using the sticks directly.

Then came the lightbulb moment of new discovery.

I took them on a March day to do some plein air sketches. I wanted lots of white paper to show and used my ink and bamboo pens to roughly sketch in some form and structure and found this following technique to be the most rewarding soft and subtle requiring patience and thought of where the oilbar marks were placed.

The clear mixing stick is key…. lightly drifting some colour across the paper and adding other primaries, the mixing stick allowed the colour to become soft and light and blend without creating mud. Using a cloth and finger it’s possible to take some away and also spread it across different areas. Adding directly on top with darker colour and more pressure gives great contrast and texture.

The white is indispensible too. It changes colours dramatically and brings areas together as well as adding strong dabs to put highlights back in. I discovered beautiful neutrals and adding small amounts of bright intense colour on top, the image started to pop.

I’m sure this is possible with a normal oil palette, but being able to get a little subtlety into an artwork with such large brash oilbars gives great satisfaction and great results. I think they are going to be my travel companions from now on, along with my painting dungarees too. I still haven’t worked out how to be less messy.

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