Some readers have asked for my thoughts on blending with baby oil, a process that’s being talked about all over the web.
I’ve never considered blending with baby oil or any similar substance because my primary goal in creating art is making it as archival as possible. Baby oil just didn’t seem to fit within that objective.
But I’m not above experimenting, so I decided to try blending with baby oil on something for fun. That’s what this post is all about.
The demonstration art is the sample of clear, blue sky I drew for last month’s post on that topic. I developed the drawing through multiple layers of blue, and finished by burnishing it.
Here’s the finished drawing.
Blending with Baby Oil: How I Did It
I used ordinary Johnson’s Baby Oil and a cotton swab. I poured a small amount of baby oil into a small container with a wide top, then dipped the swab into the baby oil and rubbed it lightly over the drawing as shown here.
Some color came off on the cotton swab, so I knew it was moving color around. I turned the cotton swab as I worked so that a new part of it was touching the drawing as much as possible.
I worked over every part of the color patch, working from the light area into the darker areas.
Here’s the drawing immediately after blending.
Not much difference.
I’d already burnished the drawing so much that there was nothing left for the baby oil to blend.
Another Experiment Blending with Baby Oil
Remember these? These are the color swatches I made for the clear sky demo. As you can see, I took no care in making them. I layered color quickly with medium pressure or more because the purpose was seeing how colors worked together.
They’re on the same piece of paper as the clear sky demo shown above. When I noticed them there as I was putting things away, I decided to try the baby oil experiment on them.
I used the same process—dipping a cotton swab into baby oil and rubbing the color swatch in the middle with the dampened cotton swab.
Here’s the result.
Compare the center swatch with the swatch on either side. I blended the center one, but left the other two alone. You—and I—can see the difference blending with baby oil made on those. The colors are blended much better and more smoothly after being blended with baby oil.
Color saturation is also better. No paper holes!
But what about the problems I’ve heard about with baby oil? Things like oil stains on paper and never feeling dry? I tacked these samples to a wall with the intention of updating this post in a month.
April 12, 2017—One Month Later
I conducted the above experiment four weeks ago. I wanted to give the paper time to “dry” to see what happened. My biggest concern with blending with baby oil is longevity and staining. Did the baby oil stain the paper?
Four weeks isn’t really enough time to adequately answer questions about longevity.
It may not even be enough time to determine the affects of staining on the long term. Some things simply take a long time to appear.
But I saw no evidence of oil stains on either the drawing or the paper around the drawing. Nor did either the paper or the drawing feel different to the touch. I couldn’t tell any difference between the color swatch I blended and those I didn’t when I brushed my fingertips over them.
In other words, blending with baby appeared to do no more significant damage to the paper or the drawing than blending with rubbing alcohol would have.
February 16, 2018—Eleven Months Later
It’s been almost a year since I conducted my experiment with baby oil. A reader recently asked if I’d seen any changes to color or paper in that time.
As it happens, the sample drawing has been hanging on the wall all this time, so I took it down and examined it. Here’s what I found.
No oil stains have appeared on the front of the paper, nor are there stains on the back. I used Bristol vellum for the sample, so the paper is quite thick and non-absorbent. Because of that, I can’t say with authority that baby oil will not stain a softer or lighter-weight drawing paper.
I could feel no difference between the color swatches I blended with baby oil and those I didn’t. The blended swatch feels just as dry (dare I say “waxy) as the swatches I didn’t blend with baby oil. They look no different either.
April 29, 2022–Five Years Later
It’s now been a little over five years since I conducted this experiment with baby oil. My samples are still on the wall, in plain sight. So I checked them for staining again.
After all this time, I would expect problems to appear if there are going to be any. But there is no staining on the paper (Bristol vellum).
The surface of the drawing felt the same, whether blended with baby oil, blended only with burnishing, or not blended at all.
My Thoughts on Blending with Baby Oil
Blending with baby oil is a good way to develop color saturation quickly. It’s non-toxic and it blends well.
Using it can be a bit tricky. Too much baby oil and you end up with a muddy mess. Too little, and the results are poor.
But it’s easy to use and ideal for craft uses or adult coloring books. In fact, most of the videos available on the topic are by crafters (and for crafters.)
It works best if you don’t have lots of color on the paper. If you layer a lot or burnish, you don’t need baby oil.
You also want to be careful of the type of paper you use. As mentioned, I used Bristol vellum, a heavy, somewhat slick paper. Would it perform as well on Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Tientes? I don’t know.
So has my mind been changed?
I’m of two minds.
I won’t be using baby oil for client or exhibit artwork. I much prefer the time-tested method of careful, patient layering and developing a drawing bit by bit, or using odorless mineral spirits if I must blend.
However, if I were making artwork for fun and if I knew in advance it would never be sold or exhibited, then I might use baby oil to blend.
In the end, the choice is entirely yours. I’ve proven to my satisfaction that the problems of baby oil never drying and staining the paper proved untrue.
So I can’t tell you not to use it.
But it’s always a good idea to do your own experiments with the paper and pencils you prefer. That way you’ll know for sure.