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Your Guide to Working with Oil Paints

14 August 2019

Your Guide to Oil Paints

Oil paint is a form of slow-drying paint consisting of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil that forms a tough, coloured film on exposure to air. The drying oil is a vegetable oil, often made by crushing nuts or seeds. For paints, linseed oil is commonly used.

What are the advantages of oil paint?

The slow-drying quality of oil paint means an artist can develop a painting over time, making changes and corrections where necessary. Oil paints can be exposed to air for several weeks without drying and can:

  • blend well with other oil paints

  • be blended with surrounding paints to make subtle variations of colour

  • create luminous hardwearing colours that easily offer details of light and shadow

  • produce more vibrant work due to a high pigment level

  • be diluted with turpentine or other thinning agents for adjusted drying time

  • be hung straight on the wall with no need for framing

Why use mediums for oil painting? 

To adapt the consistency, drying time and finish of your painting, mediums are used. Depending on what you use you can achieve a variety of different finishes. You can mix medium directly into the paint on your palette or you can dip your brush into them as you would with water. 

Mediums are an essential part of controlling oil paint. Mediums to consider include:

  1. Turpentine

    Technically a solvent, turpentine speeds up the drying time of oil paint by diluting the paint and evaporating off it. When painting in layers, you can use turpentine for your base coat, applying a fast-drying layer first. 

  2. Refined linseed oil

    Linseed is a favourite for oil artists, slowing down the drying time of the paint, increasing gloss and transparency, and smoothing the consistency of oil paint. High quality, it blends with pigments for a professional and harder finish. 

  3. Liquin

    Liquin can halve the drying time of your oil painting and brings a silky consistency to your paint, giving the surface a glossy finish. If you love a thick application of impasto (think Van Gogh’s Starry Sky), this is the medium for you - holding the texture of the brush marks without waiting for years to dry. 

    Another advantage of liquin is that it doesn’t affect the colours of your paint. Most oil mediums are naturally tinted a slightly yellow colour, which means you need to be cautious when mixing them with lighter colours. Over time, medium can tinge your paintings yellow too, so always be mindful of how much medium you use. 

Brush and paint tips


Brush hold, orientation and pressure

There are many different grips on the paintbrush an oil artist can use but the one ‘go-to’ method for fluid and sensitive strokes is to hold the brush handle as far back as you can. This might feel uncomfortable at first, but this hold offers the greatest degree of control because it allows you to paint with your whole arm rather than just your wrist. 

Orientation will depend on the effect you are trying to achieve. Wide strokes can be achieved with the flat side of your brush, while sharper lines and strokes can be achieved by turning your brush on its side. 

In terms of pressure, the heavier you press, the more your paints will blend and create ridges along the sides of your brush strokes. Vary your pressure appropriately to achieve your desired effects. 


Layering and mixing paint

Make sure that you are using enough paint to create the type of stroke you need. Don’t hold back on the paint at the expense of your painting. If you find yourself swirling a brush around a thin pool of paint on your palette, it’s time to remake the mixture. 

When mixing colours, don’t overmix. When mixed colours bump one another, there are tiny inconsistencies that help add vividness and interest to your paint. If you overmix your colours you lose this interest, turning your colour into a flat, dull pile of paint.  

For other tips, check out our inspiration pages on the Eckersley’s website. If you’re new to oil painting, you’ll benefit from watching our video on the Winsor and Newton oil painting rules, which examines the basic rules of oil painting.

If you’re wanting to broaden on your current oil painting skills and techniques, you can watch our video on Winsor and Newton’s introduction to artisan water mixable oil colour.


Cleaning oil paint

It’s vital that you preserve the intensity of oil paint colour straight out of the tube, and this means keeping your brushes clean and using clean brushes with every new colour. You can even use clean oil brushes between strokes if necessary. Cleaning your brushes regularly will also help keep your brushes in good shape. 

If you plan on painting again within the next few days you can:

  • Give your brushes a general wipe down to remove excess paint
  • Dip the tip of your brushes in a slow-drying oil such as Winsor and Newton Safflower Oil or an artist grade poppyseed oil
  • Rest the brushes on a drying rack

When it comes time to use your brushes again, simply give them a wipe down and they’re good to go. 

If you’re not going to be using your oil brushes for a while, you’ll need to thoroughly clean your brushes. Get rid of the bulk of your paint by rinsing in warm water, wiping down and repeating. Take your brushes and then rinse them in paint thinner before individually working a lather of soap through the bristles. You should see colour bleed into the soap. Rinse until clear. 

If you have used strong oil colours (like burnt umber or phthalo blue), you may need to incorporate an oil brush cleaner into the rotation. These specialised oil painting cleaning products are amazing at breaking down the oil paint


Getting creative with oil paints

Ready to start working with oil paints? Talk to the team at Eckersley’s and make sure you get off on the right foot. We pride ourselves on delivering the world’s leading brands at the right prices, allowing you to explore your creativity with the best.