Pigment Stick History

From One Medium to Another

While at Torch, Richard became good friends with co-worker Carl Plansky, who later developed Williamsburg oil paint. In 1989 Plansky urged Richard to start making oil sticks since the combination of the wax and oil in the oil sticks was a natural step from encaustics. 

This move represented an interesting historical match-up, for encaustic was one of the oldest of artists’ paint mediums, while the oil stick was one of the most recent. Although manufactured dry pastels can be traced back to the 15th century and oil pastels to the early 20th century, oil paint in stick form, did not come on the market until the 1960s. The reason for this could have been a fear of limited shelf life, since they employ a drying oil. Oddly, the first oil sticks were originally made for marking cattle, lumber, and metal plumbing pipe. The manufacturer was later persuaded to produce the sticks in a color range suitable for artwork.

Why R&F Sticks are the Best

R&F’s oil sticks were dubbed “Pigment Sticks.” They were intended to be as far from a crayon and as close to oil paint as possible; to be super-soft and creamy so that with little effort they could be manipulated like a lush oil paint. Bill Creevy, in his 1994 The Oil Painting Book, called them “an oil painter’s dream come true.” But it wasn’t easy getting there. The formulations were very tricky. Each color required a difficult balance of oils, waxes, and pigment.  Opaque colors had to be bright and solid, and the top tones and undertones of translucent colors had to have just the right interplay in a spontaneous stroke.

The Pigment Sticks’ soft consistency makes them problematic to mold. R&F’s first molds were made of brass plumbing pipe, fitted on top and bottom with baking pans and held together with nuts and bolts. Pouring the paint so that the sticks didn’t crack, breaking the sticks out so they didn’t crush, taking the molds apart and cleaning them made the workday a tedious and frustrating ordeal. Alternative pipe designs were easier, but still difficult to use. The company finally could afford to replace these plumbing contraptions with split molds, cast and machined for them by a manufacturer of molds for lipstick. Nevertheless, the softness of the sticks still demands that they be poured, broken out, and wrapped by hand.

Customized Pigment Sticks

Adapted materials allowed R&F to customize. When Alexander Liberman’s studio contacted them in 1991 to make giant Pigment Sticks, they developed a mold with 3” diameter cavities. These sticks are 750 ml. in volume - as large as a bottle of wine! A few years later, another sculptor, Richard Serra, began using them for his black, highly textured drawings. The late abstract expressionist painter, Michael Goldberg, gave up using brushes in his last years, relying exclusively on R&F’s large and giant size sticks.