Oil Painting

Oil Paints

Table of Contents:

        Why Use Oil Paints?

        What Are Oil Paints?

        Essential Oil Painting Supplies

        Oil Painting Rules

        Oil Painting Techniques

        How to Clean Oil Paints

        Varnishing Oil Paintings



Why Use Oil Paints?

Oil paints are one of the most used art mediums of all times due to the following reasons:

·       Oil paint was mostly used by famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci; thus, it has been perceived as somewhat more prestigious than other types.

·       Oil colors have a distinct texture that is very hard to recreate with any other medium.

·       When executed well, oils can work with almost any style of painting.

·       It is very versatile, as you can use paint thinners and other oils to play with the drying time, which allows for a wide-range of painting techniques, such as blending, glazing, and scumbling.

·       Oil paints take a long time to dry, which allows you to blend the colors more delicately than other paints.

Note: The slow drying time of oil paints makes it harder to fix mistakes, as you have to wait for the paint to dry to add another layer.


What Are Oil Paints?











Oil paints are made of a mixture of finely ground pigments – almost the same as those used in watercolors or acrylics – and a drying oil, traditionally linseed oil. Oil paints oxidize when exposed to air through a process that can take up to days or even weeks to result in a solid surface.


Essential Oil Painting Supplies

Brushes: You need different sizes of paint brushes made specifically for oil painting. Also, you need to consider the shape and type of bristles when selecting your brushes. For example, round shape is good for linear strokes, whereas flat ones are suitable for rectangular strokes.











As for the bristles, good brushes can be made of animal hair or good quality synthetic fibers, sometimes a mixture of both. Hog hair is the most popular for brushes designed for oil colors, since it is stiff and can hold thick paint. On the other hand, synthetic bristles are easier to clean and can hold up well even after using solvents and repeated cleaning.

A surface to paint on: Canvas is the most popular surface for oil painting. It usually comes stretched on a light wooden frame or in the form of a canvas board, which is sturdier and can be used for study works and demonstrations. You may also paint on other surfaces such as smooth wooden boards, but you must prime them first to ensure latching.

Tip: Prime your canvas before starting or the oil in the paint will harm the fabric.


Easel: When painting, you will need a stand to support the canvas. There are two types of easels, a studio easel that can be sturdier and more sustainable, and an outdoor easel that is lighter and portable.

Tip: Cover your surface or easel before painting to avoid getting paint everywhere. You can do that by simply covering it with cling film or plastic sheets.


Palette: There are three kinds of palettes that can be used for oil painting:











Wooden palette: Classic, yet can be harder to clean, and they need preparing by rubbing linseed oil over them several weeks before using.

·       Disposable palettes: They are much better for quick paintings, as you can just throw the used one away when you are done.

·       Glass palettes: these are much easier to clean than wood. You can use baby wipes or damp cloths to remove wet paint, or simply let it dry and scrape it off with a glass scraper.

Odorless solvents: These can be used for thinning out the paint, or cleaning brushes.

Containers: Typically, you will need glass jars or containers for your linseed oil and solvents. However, you can also use ice cube trays to keep small amounts of the abovementioned materials, as well as to place your oil paint dabs.  

Palette knife: You will need one to mix the colors on the palette, and you can also use palette knives to paint with.

Tip: Avoid overmixing paints because it could lead to muddy and dull colors.


Rags or paper towels: To wipe your brushes or cleaning up.











Tip: Keep your old clothes to wear them while painting because you will most likely cause mess with colors. An apron can also do the job.


Oil Painting Rules


1.     Oil and Water Do Not Mix

You surely know this, but we cannot stress this enough; you cannot mix oil colors with water because these two substances repel one another.

2.      Fat over Lean

Some paint types contain more oil than others. The more oil they contain, the fatter it is, thus the slower it will dry.

Generally, the rule says that you should make sure that the top layers of paint are “fattier” than the ones at the bottom to avoid cracking. Because if you do the opposite, then the layers on top will dry faster than the ones below and cause cracks in your paint.

3.      Thick over Thin

This rule is similar to the previous one. As thick paint dries slower, it should be on the top layers to avoid cracking.











Oil Painting Techniques

Alla prima: To paint directly on the surface or canvas without an underlayer. This allows you to finish faster, and it is good for quick studies.

Impasto: To apply a thick layer of paint on the canvas to retain the texture of the brush. Visible brush marks are very beautiful and unique, and are only possible when using a brush loaded with thick paint.











Knife painting: To use a painting knife instead of a brush, which gives you a textured layered look.











Underpainting: To start your painting with a thin layer of paint to change the tone of your canvas. You can also buy a tinted surface to paint on.

Scumbling: To smear a layer of broken up paint over a dry or a semi-dry layer of paint, and allowing the bottom color to peek through. Make sure to apply the “fat over lean” rule when using this technique.

Dry-brushing: To paint lightly over a textured surface with only a small amount of paint on your brush.

How to Clean Oil Paint?

Cleaning oil paint might take some time, but it is worth it. As we mentioned before, water is not the ideal way for cleaning oil. You can use soapy water, but it is better to use solvent or turpentine to clean oil colors. For your brushes, wipe them off with a rags or paper towel to remove most of the paint, then use an odorless brush cleaner, solvents, or mild soap and warm water to thoroughly remove the paint.

Varnishing Oil Paintings

You will need to varnish your oil paintings after you are done in order to protect them from the environment. This is simply because dust particles, debris, wind, and other elements can cause damage to an unvarnished painting.

A final coat of varnish will act as a separating or protective layer between the paint and the environment around it. However, make sure that the varnish you use is removable, to allow your painting to be restored at a later time if needed, as oil colors tend to fade and turn yellow over time.

The process:

·       Step one: Wait for the painting to dry completely.  (This can take months for paintings with thick layers of paint)

·       Step two: Choose between a gloss or matte varnish, as per your personal preference.

·       Step three: Spread the varnish evenly all over by using a large brush, then allow it to dry and seal your painting.



What are alkyd oil paints and water-miscible oil paints?

As opposed to traditional oil paints, alkyd oil paints use a synthetic resin binder instead of linseed oil. This makes it dry faster, while maintaining the same properties of normal oil paints.

As for water-miscible oil paints, they are made of linseed and safflower oil, which has been chemically modified to dissolve in water instead of solvent.

Do I need to use a solvent-based medium when using oil colors?

Most of the time, you can paint with oil colors right out of the tube. If you are concerned about the health problems of using solvents, you can use linseed oil instead to thin the paint or clean your brushes.

Note that the more oil you use, the more chances of your colors turning yellow or darkening with time.











Is oil paint safe to use?

Oil paint and the other used mediums or solvents are potentially harmful and toxic. So, please handle them with care, and of course, keep them out children’s reach.

Solvents are also flammable, therefore, do not use them near open flames. It is better that you do not eat, drink, or smoke when using oil paints in order to avoid any chemicals getting into your system. If you are sensitive to the chemicals, you might want to consider using gloves, or you can use protecting hand creams, while making sure to wash your hands well after. And most obviously, these paints and chemicals emit harmful fumes, which can give you headaches, nausea, and dizziness, so you need excellent ventilation at all times.