Oil Painting Tips and Tricks

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When something has been around as long as oil painting, there are more tips, tricks and guidelines than would be possible to catalogue in a mere article.

That being said, this will be some common sense bits of advice for the beginning art student. As with most techniques, the key is in practicing until the act becomes second nature. Then move on and incorporate a new idea to the ever-growing bag of artistic tricks.

Using Oil Paint As A Glaze

Some colors are more translucent than others, but any paint can be made less opaque through the addition of oil. Care must be taken, however, to use an oil that will not yellow over time.

It was not uncommon for the Old Masters to apply ten to twenty layers of glazing. Modern artists may not be that fanatic, but several layers can add a depth and luminosity that mixing on the palette can never match.

Fat Over Lean

This concept ties into the glazing technique, described above. Fat being the oil and Lean being the pigment, each layer painted will have an increasing amount of oil than the prior one.

The reason for this is that oil has a more flexible characteristic. This will tend to minimize the chance for cracking and promotes solid adhesion between layers.

Taking this further and adding another component, there are additives such as paint thinners and turpentine. Adding one of these to oil paint makes it leaner and speeds drying time.

An artist should generally never paint lean over fat as the differences in drying times can lead to cracks or wrinkles in the paint.

Laying Out Your Painting

After the composition has been planned, it is time to interpret it on that bare, white canvas. This can be a very stressful thing, but just go ahead and begin.

Using the concept of Fat Over Lean, the student can begin with a rough pencil sketch. This is followed by an underlayment of the basic shapes in oil paint, thinned to a watery consistency with turpentine.

If there is a specific color theme, use some of those colors now so the color will build as layers are added.

If there is no general color theme, use a neutral such as burnt umber or burnt sienna, which will work well as a base for shadows. The general shape is all that is required here. At this point, the artist can evaluate the overall composition and make corrections, if necessary.

It is at this point that the artist moves on to paint that may contain little or no thinner. After the initial layers, subsequent layers will have oil added to them to improve consistency or allow translucency.

Oil Paint Drying Time

An oil painting will be dry when it is dry.

There are no hard and fast rules. The amount of oil or thinner used, as well as ambient temperature and humidity, will dictate how long it takes the piece to dry. It may take up to 6 months for a painting to dry completely. Impasto painting, with very heavy layers of paint may take longer.

A painting can be considered dry if there is no elasticity when pressure is applied to the thickest application of paint.

Using Varnish

A painting may be varnished after it is thoroughly dried. It may be matte, high gloss, or a satin finish.

Modern technology has added specialty finishes that may be of interest to the artist looking for something different.

When a painting is completed, the artist may see areas that are dull, some that appear shiny, and generally have an uneven finish. This is when the artist will decide what type of varnish to apply.

There are two types of varnish: synthetic and organic.

Organic Varnish

Organic Varnish such as dammar varnish, is made from organic resin.

Synthetic Varnish

Synthetic Varnish has a number of different advantages over organic, such as ease in application and negligible darkening with age.

I am an Oil Painter!

Becoming an oil painter is the quintessence of the word “Artist” to many. This, of course, is not true. The craft is held in highest esteem worldwide and is the standard to which many aspire.

That being said, it is a craft with which a student can find great joy and pride. Personal preference, physical space limitations and a big dollop of patience are factors that make oil painting either high on an artist’s “achievement wish list,” or down near the bottom.

Toting wet paintings around from home to class and back again is nearly impossible.

Families with small children can be a nightmare for the safety of both the artwork and the wee ones whose fingers may daub onto a new creation.

Patience is required while awaiting the paint to cure so varnish can be applied.

However, when asked what media you use, there is nothing like being able to reply, “Oh, I work in oils.” Yes, it is worth the angst.

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