Six Ways I Use Oleogel

I push Oleogel on all my friends, and I’ve even done time for selling it in a schoolyard. After using it regularly for the past year and a half, I’ve come up with a variety of uses for it, and I thought I might share them:

Oiling In

First of all, oiling in is bad. Extra oil equals extra yellowing, and layers of pure oil and no pigment are not structurally sound, so the only place where excess oil is welcome is at a cheap massage parlour. If you do oil in, you should pull your blinds so the neighbours don’t see. But sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Sometimes I just have to oil in the damn painting, take a look, and then noodle at my edges and shadows. I apply Oleogel with a makeup sponge very sparingly. When it dries, the silica in the Oleogel gives the painting surface some tooth, compared with the slick nasty surface pure oil would leave behind.

oiling in

I oiled out this head study to restore all my colours before deciding that instead of a purplish background, I really ought to have a greenish background.

Laying Down a Couche

For those who haven’t come across this term before, “couche” is French for “paint layer.” In the context of classical technique, a couche is a thin layer of oil that you spread over an area you are about to work on, usually an area you will bring to a finish with fine detail and blending. The oil makes the fresh paint flow onto the surface better (great if you’re working with tiny amounts of paint on little itty bitty brushes) and, simultaneously, saturates the old paint layer so that you can match your colours perfectly. Snort. As if anyone manages that. I used to use linseed oil cut with Gamsol in a 1:1 ratio for my couches. But now I’ve seen the light and found that Oleogel serves this purpose better because it is a gel. My paint doesn’t thin out or go runny when I paint into it. It’s not as slippery, and my brush strokes stay in place, meaning a completely new “look” for my finishing layer is at my disposal.

Something Nasty

I applied a couche to her hair before doing my final pass. Looking closely, you will see a slight halo around her head where the green background is more saturated. This is the Oleogel. The brushy quality of her hair is something that would have been difficult to accomplish with a runny couche of oil.

Cleaning a Surface

I have lousy mahl stick hygiene, meaning I rest my fat hand on my paintings a lot. Paint smears are an unpleasant fact of life. I used to clean up with a bit of OMS, but that always leaves a streak somewhere and makes the paint surface look milky and hideous, and besides, if the paint isn’t completely dry, you might ruin the area you’re trying to clean. I have been there and done that more than I care to count. I’ve found that a little Oleogel applied to a makeup sponge will clean an area perfectly without lifting off the paint, even if the area is only just barely dry to the touch. Sometimes I do one better: if I know an area will get a smear on it, I will put some Oleogel down first and then wipe it off later when I’m done.

If you can’t tell where a giant gob of flesh tint hitched a ride on the heel of my hand and landed square on my six-hour-old black coat, I’m not going to tell you. Bone Black doesn’t dry very hard, and since it was so fresh, it would have come right off if I had used OMS to clean it. Oleogel saved the day.

Softening a Penumbra

I try to paint wet into wet as much as possible, meaning that my shadows are completely worked into my lights. But sometimes you will get the job done faster and, dare I say, better by just glazing the damn shadow. Case in point, any area with texture should have a shadow glazed over the top. Oleogel, because it’s a gel, makes it easy for me to manipulate transparent colour without streaks.


See the shadow her hat casts on her hair? I painted that hair without a cast shadow, let it dry, and then Oloegeled that bastard and glazed a shadow over the top. And then, I learned Russian with all the time I had saved.

Cleaning an Edge

For when you paint outside the lines. I usually use Gamsol on a chisel-edged brush to clean up a nasty edge in the early stages of a painting. Still, in the later stages, it can be a right pain in the ass to put Gamsol down adjacent to an area of fresh, delicately modeled paint. It tends to seep farther than you want or make an edge too hard. It’s awful if you’re trying to clean an edge above the area you’re working on because then that relentless jerk gravity is working against you and that Gamsol will trickle down no matter how sparing your application. In these cases, I will use a little Oleogel on a chisel brush (or a soft or ratty brush if I want a soft edge) to clean up the edges.


Branches are one of those tricky things. You want them to be crisp, yet they look graphic if they’re too hard-edged. I used Oleogel quite a bit to clean my edges with a soft touch.

Mixing Directly with Paint

This lends the paint transparency and flow but handles like regular paint. It will make your brushstrokes longer without the paint turning runny or drying any faster than usual. I often opt to use Liquin to make my paint flow better (mostly because I have a bottle of it sitting on my taboret. If it were hidden in a drawer, I would probably forget it existed), or straight-up oil (Natural Pigments makes a bunch of different oils that are a pleasure to use), but one nice thing about the Oleogel is it doesn’t turn your palette into a runny mess when you premix it into all your paints. The paints stay put in their respective spots, thank you very much.

NOTE: Please do not use Oleogel to paint big goobery brushstrokes, a la Maroger medium. Some people see the word “gel” tacked on end and get the wrong idea. Oleogel is simply linseed oil plus fumed silica. A lot of linseed oil. (I think George said something like 95% oil and 5% silica?) So when you add it to your paints or your painting surface, you need to remember that you are adding OIL, and we all know that oil is the devil’s plaything. Be sparing. If you wouldn’t usually cut your paint 50/50 with linseed oil, don’t start now, and if you want to add it to your paints for that special occasion that you need the right effect, keep the rules of fat over lean in mind. Someone has pointed out that Oleogel will dry gummy and yellow only if you apply it like icing a cake. If you want to apply juicy fat brush strokes, there are better mediums you can try. I recommend anything with an alkyd drier, or better yet, see if some Impasto or Venetian Medium will work for you. The latter two are technically paints because they are composed of oil plus a colourless pigment. You can add as much of them to your paint as you want without upsetting the ideal pigment-to-oil ratio.

So that’s my spiel. Please consider welcoming Oleogel into your life because if we keep buying it, they’ll keep making it.

This article is reproduced with permission from Kate Stone and David Gluck’s blog, Painting Stuff to Look Like Stuff. We thank Kate for generously permitting us to reproduce here.

Also read The Artist Magazine’s Road Test of Oleogel, “Seeking Transparency.”

Where to Buy

Buy Oleogel at the Natural Pigments Online Store or from a Local Retailer.