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.
This was so helpful as I have, also, seen this blending technique and wasn’t sure I wanted to “ruin” something that had taken hours. Of course, I could have done swatches like you did. Liked your thoughts and how it was presented. Thank you.
Thank you and you’re welcome! I’m glad to have answered some of your questions.
Experimenting on small pieces of paper is something I had to learn the hard way (usually by ruining or seriously setting back a good drawing)! I recommend keeping the scraps of good paper for testing everything from color combinations to unusual strokes to solvents.
I agree. I even tried it with some “Cra-Z-Art” pencils that I started out with years ago and couldn’t see a big difference. I don’t believe I’ll be using baby oil much either. I’m afraid I’d spill it on something and really mess it up. Thanks!
Ah, yes. Spills. There is always that risk.
I’m not sure that just spilling baby oil on something would ruin it if you were quick about mopping up the spill. So far, I’ve seen no staining on my test sample, but I didn’t use a lot of baby oil, either. Maybe I’ll have to experiment with a spill and see what happens!
Baby Oil does stain if you use too much. I tried it and had it ruin a piece I was working on. A little bit is fine, especially for non-archival crafts, but for coloured pencil artists planning to sell their work, I would advise against it. Not discrediting your test though.
I recommend the same thing. Baby oil and other similar blending tools are great for craft uses, but are not designed for fine art. For any artist planning to sell fine art, it’s best to stick with products designed for fine art uses.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Interesting article thanks for your article’s I enjoy them.
Just my 2 cents. Faber Castell actually suggests in their paphlets to blend their Polychromos with baby oil. I personally don’t like it too much. It takes away the personality of colored pencils and pushes it too much into the direction of brush work.
I had heard that Faber Castell recommends blending with baby oil. The question I would have to have answered is “to whom are they speaking?” If they’re making that recommendation to fine artists, it carries a lot more weight (with me) than if they were recommending baby oil blending for crafters or coloring book artists. It would be worthwhile to know.
I agree with you about blending with any kind of solvent changing the personality of the finished work. That’s why I prefer dry blends (burnishing, paper towel, etc.).
Thank you for reading and joining the discussion.
Carrie, it is in their recommenations for Polychromos. That was even before the trend to colouring books.
That’s interesting to know. Then again the polychromos are oil-based so I don’t know if it would be different with wax-based pencils. Food for thought.
Carrie, they still recomend this for their “artist grade” pencils. So I take it they mean ‘real’ artists. I just checked.
Thanks for looking that up. I guess that settles the issue on archival qualities, doesn’t it?
One more thought and then I promise to go to bed. I have filled a Copic marker (empty) with baby oil and use the fine tip for tight lines and
difficult to reach areas. Works really great.
Now there’s an interesting idea! Thanks for the suggestion.
One more thingy. For a period of time, drawing on an ‘baby-oiled’ area, Polychromos pencils go on really soft and rich. Or try dipping the tip in baby oil (on a cotton swab). Another possibility.
Good idea, Reinhard. Thank you!
I use F-C Polychronos pencils so baby oil seemed like a good choice. I dipped the q-tip in the oil and then dabbed it a few times on a paper towel. That took most of the oil off and left just a moistened q-tip. I am very pleased with the results.
Excellent! What type of art are you doing and on what kind of paper?
You asked what kind of paper I use – Bristol Vellum and I am starting out after doing watercolors for a long time. I will switch to better paper as soon as I feel more confident
Bristol vellum is an excellent paper for colored pencil. It’s the favorite paper of a lot of colored pencil artists and I use it quite often, too. The baby oil experiment I conducted was on Bristol.
Thank you for the lesson! Ever sence i signed up for these, the timing of them has been perfect & relevent for where i am at & what im trying to do with my art, & even if there not, always love learning new tricks!
I have also learned the hard way, to make the color swatches, by ruining my beautiful art. I have now crafted a little booklet, made of hole punched index cards & a binder ring. I have glued my swatches i have made with all my coloring tools, & the techniques i can use for them onto the index cards. It can take some time to complete, but it sure is handy when i am choosing my next color, in the coloring groove, & want to see how the color looks dry, or how that colour matches with the colours i have already used. I just flip to the right page. I have it sectioned by brand/type first: sharpies, crayola, sakura, etc. Then i have a section that is sorted by colour, all the reds on one card, all the blues etc each color labled & placed around the edges of the index card to make it east to compare against the page your coloring.
Its a bit tediouse, but i am OCD & crafty & i actualy enjoyed making it. The binder ring makes it easy to open and take a page out for easy access, or to add more in as my collection grows. It sure comes in handy, i use it many, many times when coloring anything!
Now onto the baby oil…
I have a question for you. Have you tried blending with baby oil on watercolor pencil? I tried a similar way, had to improvise, using a home made lip balm that contains calendula, olive oil, beeswax, orange oil & coconut oil Instead of the baby oil(its all i had nearby at the time..when your in the groove, your in the groove, didnt wanna go out to buy baby oil lol)It actualy worked quite nicely, i imagine baby oil would work better tho.
Also i wonder about the different watercolor techniques with the oil. The way i used it, was on a thicky layered watercolor pencil base, where i had dipped the actual pencil tip in the water, dotted off the excess water and colored with it like that, using it like a pencil crayon. It went on as a thick creamy layer & was easy to blend as it was.
I found using a q-tip wiped in the lipbalm (used my fingers to evenly distibute the lipbalm on the q-tip & removed the excess) instead of a q-tip dipped in water, after finishing with the watercolor pencil, I got a much deeper, more vibrant color result, wich looks wonderful as the water, for the piece i am coloring ( a johanna basford lost ocean coloring page) where as the result from just using the qtip and water would have left me with a thinned out, watercolor-y looking, much less vibrant result, (wich would still have looked ok as water, but i needed a deeper result. I wish i could post pics it looks wonderfull)
What are your thoughts on the baby oil vs watercolor pencil, & the watercolor pencil techniques vs the baby oil? Have you tried this method? (Sorry for the long post)
The experiment with baby oil is the only blending I’ve ever done with baby oil. It involved traditional colored pencils applied in a traditional fashion, so I can’t speak on baby oil blending with water soluble colored pencils.
However, I have used water soluble colored pencils (and watercolors) with traditional colored pencils, so can offer a couple of opinions.
Baby oil is probably not going to do you much good with watercolors. It’s likely one of two things will happen: If you’re using inexpensive watercolors such as the Crayola brand, they may form a seal when they dry that makes them difficult to change after they dry. Baby oil isn’t going to affect them at all.
Artist grade watercolors are quite likely to be smeared or totally removed with any kind of solvent blending. Even using water over them again will reactivate them, so be careful and do a test swatch first!
Water soluble colored pencils dry and behave pretty much like traditional colored pencils if you have a higher quality pencil. I can’t speak for the inexpensive water soluble pencils.
I’m not surprised you got richer color blending water soluble pencils with oil rather than water because water dilutes the pigment to spread it out. That’s why the color is thinner, even after it dries. Baby oil (or lip balm in your case), doesn’t dilute the pigment, so the result is richer color.
I won’t be using baby oil for any art I expect to sell because it doesn’t fit in with my methods. I prefer no solvent blending at all, truth be told, but use rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, or rubber cement thinner depending on the type of blend I want. For everything else, I prefer blending by layering or by using paper (tissue or paper towel or sometimes strips of drawing paper.)
I may try some of your methods on experimental pieces as time allows. It does sound interesting.
Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment, and don’t worry about the long comment!
Hi new here and I am really a novice to colored pencil, so I have been researching everywhere to get as much info as possible about the medium. I am a tad o.c.d. when it comes to starting with new things. Fear sets in for the fail…lol. But that is me. I appreciate the time you take with the trials. I have done many myself and I have found that petroleum jelly in the minutest amount with a small brush seems to work well. I was skeptical at first but it is a lot less messy than baby oil, which I found lifts the color a bit too much. Other say alcohol, but I don’t have any at my disposal at this time, which is my next experiment…thanks so much
You might check out Jennifer’s comment (above), especially the part about how she made cards to test colors. Making color swatches is a great way to learn what you can do with colored pencils and setting up a system like she has is also a great way to create a color chart that you can refer to time and time again.
I’ve heard petroleum jelly is a great blending tool, but I haven’t yet tried it. Maybe I’ll have to.
I prefer no solvent blending at all, instead blending by layering colors one after another, or by burnishing toward the end. If I do need to do a solvent blend, I prefer rubbing alcohol. If I need a deep blend, I use paint thinner (for oil paints) or rubber cement thinner. All three work best with lots of color on the paper.
Thanks for sharing. I do use baby oil/Q-tips on color pastel blending (easier for students to use than the stumps or blending with your thumb). I didn’t even think of using it on colored pencils. Which was my major problem. That’s why i avoid using colored pencils if I could. Thanks to your post, you gave me hope. Colored pencils and I would be friends very soon.
I don’t recommend baby oil as a blending tool if you’re making art for sale, or for clients. It’s not a proven medium for fine art.
But it is a great way to blend if you’re doing crafts, adult coloring books, or similar things.
You might want to try odorless mineral spirits for fine art applications. It blends much the same, and is tested for use with fine art.
Thanks again for reading, and best wishes,
I was wondering how these pieces are looking a year later? Any yellowing? I use colorless blenders but would like to use a solvent on some pieces. Unfortunately, i have not found anything that has no odor & is completely safe/non-toxic. I dont want to start using baby oil only to have my artwork yellow in a few years. I read the comments about polychromos, I think i’ll contact Faber-Castell & see what their recommendation is based on. Thanks! Enjoyed the post!
I just checked the samples I blended with baby oil and they look the same as the samples I didn’t blend with baby oil. They feel the same to the touch, too.
There was no staining of the paper on the front and nothing had bled through to the back, but I used a heavy Bristol for that experiment, so results might be different with a lighter-weight drawing paper.
I would be very interested in what you learn from Faber-Castell, since they do recommend baby oil. It would be worthwhile to know whether they did any long-term tests and who they’re marketing to (crafters or fine artists.)
I don’t plan to use baby oil for my work because most of it is “fine art,” which means it’s meant to be sold and I want it to be a good investment for my collectors. But it’s a personal choice, really.
You might do your own testing by blending part of a drawing with baby oil, then keeping it where you can observe it for a year or two and see what happens. If you use more than one type of paper, it would be a good idea to do a test with each type.
Thank you again for your question.
I am a professional coloured pencil artist and came to using baby oil through recommendation when I visited the Faber-Castell factory in Stein. Baby ‘oil’ is not an oil, it’s liquid paraffin wax. I have also met with someone from Johnson and Johnson and ‘Baby Oil’ is a lost leader, they just keep the product going for nostalgia. The reason being, it keeps forever in our cupboards. It doesn’t degrade as it’s a wax. Therefore I have no worries using it for archival work.
I apply it usually in an empty marker pen so it just dispenses a very small amount exactly where I need it. I use it to brighten colours and to cover larger areas with an underpainting over which I can then apply all my dry colour layering but more speedily.
I also use an alcohol based solvent for the same purpose and for underpainting graphite drawings with some colour.
I also love to just work dry layering.
I keep a small pot containing a small piece of dense make up sponge with some baby oil so I can apply a minuscule amount to very small areas of dry work that need that bit of blending without applying additional binder user a blender pencil.
Thank you for your comments and for sharing how you use baby oil.
There are a lot of artists who swear by it.
I don’t use a lot of solvents of any kind, and prefer to use those made for art when I do reach for a solvent. My test sample from a couple of years ago still doesn’t show signs of yellowing or any other such discoloration or damage, but it’s still not my preferred blending tool.
But each artist should do what works for them. If baby oil is working for you, great!
Thank you again for your comments!
Ann, I understand that baby oil is the same as mineral oil and vaseline. You can buy it at drugstores. Have you tried vaseline?
Carrie, how can one be absolutely sure that solvents (or mineral spirits), won’t affect the qualities of both paper and colors? For example, do solvents affect the lightfastness lf colored pencils?
Lightfast issues involve the pigments themselves, so nothing you add to them or use on them will change that. The only possible exception is with watercolor pencils. Lightfast ratings on those are for dry use. The more water you use, the more fugitive some colors may become (or that’s my understanding.)
The pigments used in colored pencils are, for the most part, the same base pigments used in oil paints and most other art mediums. Oil painters have been using solvents for centuries and oil paints have remained lightfast.
As for paper, if you’re using artist’s quality paper, solvent is not likely to damage it unless you use an excessive amount of solvent. Even then, the most likely damage will be buckling if you’re not using paper made for wet media.
Most artist quality materials are tested for a number of things and have earn their place as artist quality materials. They are, therefore, pretty reliable.
However, if you have questions, the best thing you can do if you have questions is to test various materials. Experiment with them then keep them around for an extended period of time and see if there are any changes. For example, I still have my baby oil sample hanging on the wall and it’s been a couple of years since I conducted that experiment.
I hope that helps!
Carrie, thanks for the interesting and useful informacion about pigments and solvents. I had reservations about their use. I´ll try them, though the assortmente here is very limited. Mineral oil is a lot easier to find.
Thanks again, Silvia
I must say i never thought of it either but trying ….amazing . much brighter
But like yoursrlf i rather just color