Oil Pencils on Gourds

This article is based on my own experience as well as input from others.  I’ve been drawing my whole life.   My sister began art classes when she was 23 – I was 5.  I sat under her arm and tried to draw everything that she drew.  I still spend most of my time drawing in my sketch books.  I am a horrible painter so I add color to my drawings on paper with pencils, ink, or pastels.  

I use Woodburning pens on gourds as if I'm drawing with heat.  I use ink, dyes, pencils, pastels, and paint to strive for the same effect as pastels on colored paper.  The Masai Child Bride portrait above was burned first, then red ink dye was added.  A fixative was sprayed then oil pencils were used to add color to the beading and clothing.  After another layer of fixative, acrylic paint highlights were added to the beading.

You can purchase oil pencils as sets or individually at  Arts & Craft stores and many Internet sites.  I watch for sales at Dick Blick and Mister Art.

The flowers on the Madam Butterfly Gourd Portrait are oil pencils

As well as
 Chinese Lady

The conch shell and wreath are colored with oil pencils as well as highlights


Panda Face with oil pencil highlights on a carved fur

On gourds the oil pencils that I use are from Walnut Hollow and Lyra-Rembrandt.   Walnut Hollow has discontinued their oil pencils, so many of us are looking for substitutes.   The remaining 10 pencil colors still in stock are listed on the Walnut Hollow Website:  http://www.walnuthollow.com/hottoolsandaccessories-2.aspx
You can still find a few sets eBay. 
Walnut Hollow, Lyra-Rembrant, and similar pencils are an oil based pastel in a wood casing.  I ordered and received 24 color sets of Koh-I-Noor and Marshall oil pencils to test.  I'll let you know the results.

Walnut Hollow pencils feel softer and smoother to apply than the Lyra-Rembrandt pencils.   I also use the Prismacolor pencils to add color and blend with the Walnut Hollow.  All three brands produce the blending and highlighting effects that I want.  (Caran d’Ache Luminance, Faber Castell, Marshall, and  Koh-I-Noor Polycolor pencils are other brands of oil pencils that I do not own yet – but they may work fine.)  

The Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Colored Pencils are made of wax, not oil - but give many of the same blending qualities of oil pencils.  (I contacted the Newell Rubermaid Company who owns Prismacolor to clarify whether the pencils contained oil.)    

As artists, we are concerned with ease of use, color fastness, and color brightness.

Oil pencils are made from pigment, wax, and oil.  They contain the advantages of both colored pencils and oil pastels.  (I do blend them with my Conte oil pastels.)  The advantage (for non-painters) is that you can use drawing techniques to create oil-like paintings.  The pencils are great for detail work and are less messy than paint.   

Oil pencils are soft and blend well using a stump (tortillon) or very carefully with a paint thinner.  They hold a good sharp point and layer easily.  Use a hand sharpener rather than an electric sharpener.  They are subject to some internal breakage.  A caution, the oil pencils are softer than lead pencils so don't bare down too hard. 

"Why Do Colors Fade?

The reason colors fade is that the colorant molecules break down when they are exposed to light, especially to the shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet light, which pack more energy.   Ultraviolet light breaks the chain-like color particles into pieces, like a hammer smashing a necklace. The molecular fragments bond with oxygen to form new molecules that no longer have the same color absorption properties"  http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2010/04/lightfastness-markers.html      

Translation – Art should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Colored Oil Pencils are as lightfast as the acrylic painted gourd art that I’ve created.  The color selections are rich and bright.  However, you may need to build up layers to achieve to get an opaque bright color on the gourd surface.  Also you may want to prepare the gourd surface with a “light” sanding.  It is best to start with a light colored gourd. 

I use the oil pencils to highlight burned figures in combination with inks, ink dye, and acrylic paint.  I’ve seen no difference or fading.  The pencils come with this advertising - “They're easily blended and overlaid for limitless hues and formulated with the highest standards of lightfastness.” 

When I’m coloring flowers, I use the pencils layered without blending media.  When I’m shading clothing or landscapes, I use a blending stick or Q-tip, and rarely blending media.   For depth, I use a fixative between layers as seen in the Panda and cub drawing on the left.

Here are links to some good articles: COLORED PENCILS ON GOURD – TIPS by Gerri Bishop  And Using oil-based colored pencils by Nedra Denison

WARNING!:  Make sure that you are ready to apply the fixative to the whole gourd.  Make sure all of your burning and carving is complete.  Also the oil pencils do not work well with carved figures.  

Here are the names of some teachers who teach the use of oil pencils in their gourd art classes.  
Angie McCall  rhinannon@hotmail.com
Karen Hundt-Brown kahb69@chartermi.net
Marianne Barnes  maribasket@charter.net

Here are some source links for further study:




(I also own several different brands of water color pencils that we’ll discuss in another article)

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