UPDATED (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 28, 2020 7:20 PM)
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Like oil paint in a convenient, easy-to-hold form, oil sticks consist of a blend of pigmented drying oil and wax. These chunky tools are softer than oil pastels, so using them feels more like painting than drawing. And, unlike oil pastels, oil sticks will dry completely with time. Oil sticks are great to try out if oil paint strikes you as an intimidating medium. Easier to mix and control, they can be used to create effects similar to those of traditional oils and require the same drying and curing processes. They can also be applied wet-on-wet, whether to blend with oil paint or to emphasize details in a painted scene. Because oil sticks can be very costly, it’s important to do your research to ensure that you’re buying a good-quality set that feels comfortable and satisfying.
1. Jack Richeson Oil Paintstik Professional Set
These oil sticks, sold in a set of 12, have a nice firmness to them, which makes them easy to control when adding lines and details to paintings. While they are not as creamy as some of our other picks, they are professional-level tools that blend well; the Shiva line also offers a colorless blender Paintstik to ease the process. These are self-sealing sticks, developing a skin over time to keep the interior fresh. Artists might also be drawn to their relatively fast drying time: in most cases, the paint is dry to the touch in one day.
2. R&F Oil Pigment Stick Set
R&F’s oil sticks are often likened to lipstick. Indeed, like the best lip moisturizer, these boast a creamy consistency that yields a soothing glide—they are even softer than the Senneliers product below. This pleasing pliability stems from R&F’s ingredients: pure pigment, natural wax (beeswax and plant) and linseed oil come together in sticks that are carefully milled and molded in small batches. Each stick deposits rich colors that blend easily and can be manipulated with a brush or palette knife. Because these pastels are made without additives, they do have a longer drying time than our other options, and drying times vary by color, but R&F provides a handy chart you can consult to plan ahead.
3. Jack Richeson Oil Paintstik Student Set
If you are a newcomer to oil sticks, consider Jack Richeson’s student-grade set, which provides a range of 12 standard colors. Like the professional product, these are firm and fast-drying sticks that can help you learn the basics of oil paints without dealing with a lot of tools (and subsequent messes). Although they contain less pigment than their pro counterparts, the colors are still very vibrant and opaque. They are easy to blend when used alone, and they integrate well with oil paints, too.
4. Van Gogh Oil Pastels
If you aren’t quite ready to commit to oil sticks, oil pastels are a great alternative. Made with a much lower oil content than oil sticks, they are non-drying and are particularly useful tools for sketching. This product from Van Gogh is a high-quality, student-grade set, with pastels that feel firm and perform beautifully, mixing easily and going on smoothly without flaking. They have high pigment-to-binder ratio, which results in deep and intense colors whether applied alone, over acrylics, or blended with oils. With 12 to 60 sticks in a set, you also get an excellent range of hues to work with.
5. Sennelier Artist Oil Sticks
Sennelier, which developed artist-grade oil pastels for Pablo Picasso in 1949, has long been known for its professional-quality and premium products. The brand’s oil sticks are among the industry’s best. With a smooth feel and saturated colors, they are a worthwhile investment that will last a long time. The sticks are made of pure pigment, safflower oil, and high-quality mineral wax, and while they spread smoothly, they have just the right amount of drag and aren’t so soft that they crumble under pressure. This set of six will start you off with red, yellow, and blue, plus green, black, and white, and if you like them you can purchase other colors individually as needed.