An Overview of Oil Painting

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Painting with oil paint can be rewarding and enjoyable. The results of oil paints are unlike paintings produced by any other paints because oil is especially unique in its ability produce a sense of depth, light, and movement all at once.

In order to produce a quality oil painting, one needs to understand how all the components and aspects of this type of painting come together to make a good work of art. One needs to learn the techniques that are needed to produce desired colors, or the proper choices of brushes and techniques relating to brushes that one would need to know in order to properly utilize them. Painting with oils requires general knowledge of painting such as types of environments to work in, easel settings. and the types of clothes to wear. Everything involving oil painting can assist or hinder production of good work.

History and characteristics of oils

Traditional paints (and ones used today as well) are slow drying paints where the pigment is suspended in the oil for the purpose of adding certain refined effects. The first recorded use of oils for painting dates all the way back in 650 AD in the ancient caves of Afghanistan. This paint became common for Western Europe in the middle ages and beyond. Today it is used by artists just as often as any other paints, and some even prefer it over all other ways of painting.

Traditionally, oil paint takes a long time to dry and once it hardens it becomes impermeable and difficult to alter or paint over. These are called drying oils and are made up of poly saturated fatty acids. This allows for the paint to polymerize instead of vaporize (as water based paints do). One advantage of this is that certain painting techniques can be applied to the paint before it dries. The artist has significantly longer periods of time before the paint hardens.

Oil paints can be modified (even after drying) with the addition of turpentine. To add shine and gloss to the matte look of a painting, varnish may also be used before the final touches.

Colors of Oils

Colors mixed within the oils in oil painting are usually made up of mineral salts, zinc, titanium and cadmium (for more vivid color effects). These colors are all mixed within the oil which keeps the pigment molecules intact and in closer association to producing a saturated color effect. Today, synthetic colors are also available and the chemistry of their making is beyond the scope of this article.

Painting Brushes

Brushes used for oil painting are different than ones used for all other forms of painting. They are certainly the most important part of producing a high quality painting. Good brushes for oil painting need to be harsh and durable. In other words, they can be soaked in thick paint and retain their shape once washed. There are typically two types of brushes used for this kind of painting. Bristle hair brushes, which are good for starting out with an oil painting and painting over large areas. Sables are better for detailing areas of a painting and needing to saturate small or thin spots with colors. These various types of brushes are also used for different techniques that can be applied throughout the painting process.


There are some important techniques that everyone painting with oils needs to know about.

First, before getting into the actual process, the drawings of large objects desired in the painting must be blocked out with charcoal or pencil. A substance that is easily erased or painted over. Next, sketches with the oils must be done to experiment with various colors and thicknesses of the paint. The canvas must be carefully prepared before any painting can begin. A canvas can be made in several ways, depending on the kind of effect a painter wants to have. The design of the canvas is also beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to know that different techniques can be applied to different types of canvases.

Oil Painting improves with practice and trial and error. Ultimately it is a combination of all of the above mentioned things that makes for the most successful and effective products. Painting with oil is one of the most unique and rewarding experiences for a painter and some fantastic work has been and continues to be produced in this way.

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