“Painting is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see.” - Philip Guston

The number of people visiting museums and art galleries is increasing. Art is still popular. Would you like to stop looking at it and start making your own?

Learning to paint with oil paints requires a lot of practice. Impasto, undercoat, first coat, craquelure, when it comes to oil paintings, you can’t skip a step.

The History of Oil Painting

Oil painting techniques are used by the most experienced artists. These techniques aren't always easy to do.

So what are they exactly?

Oil painting involves mixing pigments and drying oil (linseed or poppyseed oil) to make a slow-drying paste. The drying time allows the artist to work on the colours and shapes for longer.

How do you clean paintbrushes?
You should always take care of your brushes. (Source: evondue)

It’s a great technique for artists who need to experiment a bit before reaching the final result.

Where does the technique come from?

Oil painting is said to have been invented by the Van Eyck brothers in the 15th century. However, this is still subject to debate because several painters had already tried mixing paints and oils together.

However, the Van Eyck brothers had the idea of mixing nut, linseed, and turpentine oil with pigments. This is how they made water-resistant paint that dried slowly.

The fact that oil paint takes a while to dry became its greatest strength. Though perhaps we should the word “harden” because the paints don’t actually dry. The thicker the paste, the longer it takes to harden. This can take anywhere between several weeks, months, or even years for some of the thickest paints. In some instances, they never dry.

It’s recommended that you paint fine layers. If you don’t, the previous layer won’t harden while the surface will. This is why some pieces crack over time. You can even see this occurring on works from some of the world’s greatest artists.

One of the other noticeable characteristics of oil paints is how bright the paint can be. The brightness of oil paintings varies according to the oil used.

Oil paints are often used for landscape painting, still lifes, and portrait painting. They’re used on both synthetic and natural canvasses. It’s often used for time-consuming compositions.

Artists paint several layers and come back to finish off the finer details. This is a technique for patient and meticulous artists.

Find out if the technique for painting with acrylics is similar to painting with oils!

How Do You Paint with Oil Paints?

Have you studied art for a few years and want to start painting with oil paints?

Or have you just started learning about art?

Are you sick of coloured pencils, Indian ink, watercolours, poster paints, acrylics, pastels, and pencils?

When you paint with oil paints, you have to follow several precise steps to ensure your painting doesn’t crack.

Here’s what you need to know about painting with oils. Whether you’re painting abstract or impressionist pieces, this advice should help.

The “Fat over Lean” Rule for Oil Painting

Have you ever heard of oil painting’s most important rules?

What is it?

Fat over lean is a way of painting with oils that focuses on putting thicker layers (those with more oil) over thinner ones. If you don’t, you run the risk of your work ageing terribly.

How do you paint layers of oil paints?
When painting with oils, you have to build up the layers slowly over time. (Source: Nietjuh)

The surface dries more quickly than the other layers because it’s in contact with the air. This means your work will look like it’s dried even though it hasn’t dried on the lower layers. You have to respect this rule if you want your masterpieces to stand the test of time.

Respect the Drying Time

In order for the “fat over lean” concept to work, you have to give your canvas enough time to dry.

As we explained before, even if the surface is dry, the layers underneath may not be ready yet. It’s important to leave between 2 and 3 weeks between each layer.

This is not a technique for impatient people! If you want to paint quickly, you'd be better with an acrylic painting. Acrylic paint dries very quickly, after all.

How much drying time is required when painting with watercolours?

Follow the Traditional Method

The traditional oil painting method can take weeks to do.

Art teachers will stress how important it is to wait between painting each layer of your work. If you don’t, you can expect to see your work start to crack, giving your composition an awful texture.

Find painting courses near me here.

How long does it take to paint an oil painting?
The traditional methods of painting with oils can take absolutely ages. (Source: freephotocc)

When you start, you should outline what you’re going to paint in charcoal, for example.

Once the drawing is on the canvas, you need to use a single colour diluted with turpentine oil to go back over the charcoal marks. This helps to anchor the pattern into the canvas. You can also use this to play around with the lighting.

Other colours and layers can then be added as long as you respect the “fat over lean” principle and necessary drying times. You can paint over it as many times as you want.

3 colour layers is a good rule of thumb. The first layer can be used to lay down the primary colours. The second layer allows you to get as close to finishing the painting as possible. The final layer can be used to add details and perfect the piece.

Some people then add a glaze to improve the colours. Try it yourself!

How to Paint Alla Prima

Over time, painters got sick of waiting for their canvas to dry. This is why they decided to paint it all at once (alla prima).

However, the artist needs to be sure of themselves because once they’re done, they won’t be able to paint back over their work without it cracking.

What Equipment Do You Need for Oil Painting?

If you’re studying art, you’ll need some equipment.

But what equipment do you need for oil painting?

If you’re doing an art class, private tutorials, or attending a workshop, your teacher might decide to loan you the right materials. However, if you want to regularly practise oil painting, you should invest in some of the essentials.

Buy a Support

What are you going to paint on?

While Canson paper is generally recommended for drawing, what should you use oil paints on?

You won’t be using paper, that’s for sure!

You can find painting classes near me here.

Do you need an easel to paint with oils?
If you're painting with oils, you'll probably need to get an easel. (Source: bridgesward)

While there is paper that can be used with oil paints, they change shape as the oil paints dry.

You should use a canvas when painting with oil paints. It’s common to use a stretched canvas. While this means you can easily hang your work when it’s done, it also holds its shape well.

Getting Oil Paints

If you’re just starting out with oil paints, it’s a good idea to opt for pre-mixed paints. This is good for getting to grips with the paint and what you can do with it.

Keep in mind that there are plenty of different types of oil paints available. There are different concentrations available. Keep in mind that extra-fine paints have more pigment in them than fine paints.

Make sure to ask for advice from those working in your local art shop.

Buying Brushes for Oil Paints

If you think that just one brush will do the trick, you’re wrong. A brush’s quality depends on both its bristles and its handle.

There are a lot of different types of brushes available and choosing the right one is almost as important as how well you can paint. You can get natural bristles, synthetic bristles, badger hair, camel hair, etc.

Start by testing out a few brushes with short bristles and long handles. This helps you to paint while taking a step back, which is really useful if you’re working with a large canvas.

Don’t forget to get yourself a solvent (turpentine or white spirit) in order to dilute or remove the oil from the brush. Clean your brushes with soap and water.

Find out whether you need brushes to paint with pastels!

Using an Easel

While we often forget about it, an easel is an essential tool for painting. It allows you to stand or sit while painting on canvas. There are plenty of different ones available. Make sure to check them all out!

While some artists prefer realism, like a photo-realistic landscape oil painting, others prefer applying the paint in more expressive ways in order to create an abstract oil painting. In fact, some artists made it so you could see every single brushstroke on their canvases while others were applying oil paints with a palette knife rather than a brush!

If you're looking for inspiration, then make sure to visit a fine art museum and check out the artistic talent on display! Artists like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Monet all used oil paints in different ways.

If you don't have a clue where to begin, how the artists painted like they did, or how to use a palette, then you should get in touch with a private painting tutor or online art tutor to help you.

Now discover the difference between the many painting media available to you!

Need a Painting teacher?

Did you like this article?

5.00/5 - 1 vote(s)


Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.