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INTRODUCTION TO OIL PAINT

Don't be scared to try oil paints!

Using oil paint might seem a bit scary at first – they require the use of chemicals, they are more expensive and generally considered harder to learn the proper techniques. This general introduction to oil paint should prove useful if you’re considering making the decision and try them out – even though they require more painting knowledge, it is worth getting into!

So what really are oil paints?

Oil paint is a traditional material that has been used in Europe since the 15th century. It basically consists of one or various pigments (organic and/or metallic based - these days synthetic versions are much more common) mixed with oil - typically linseed, poppy or sunflower.

Different Solvents

The most striking feature of oil paint is that they will not dissolve in water. But don’t let it discourage you! With enough knowledge, these chemicals will become less sinister!

Turpentine

Spirits

Painting Medium

If you are not sure about what kind of brush to use with oil paint, find more information here

Curious what brand of oil paint to choose? Read our comparison here

Painting Surfaces and Preparation

 There are two main surfaces for oil painting: stretched canvases, canvas boards or wooden panels. You can prepare your own preferred painting surface, or purchase them.

Canvas stretching
canvas boards
Wooden panels

It is advised to put a layer of (rabbit skin) glue onto the surface of the canvas before the Gesso, but it is essential when you’re working with wood, as otherwise it could curl due to the moisture in the paint. After two or three layers of glue another two or three layers of Gesso (a mixture of rabbit skin glue, water, and chalk that creates a flexible and absorbent layer between the canvas or wood and oil paint) are applied. It’s not necessary to paint too many layers, as it could result in dull colours if the heavy layers absorb the oil paint. In between preparatory layers you should always use sandpaper to smooth the surface.

Oil Painting Techniques

“Fat over lean” technique

This is the basic principle of oil painting, which is the method of applying thinned down paint (high percentage of solvent) first, and gradually using less and less solvent. “Fat” refers to the oil paint that’s diluted with an oil medium (linseed or poppy seed oil) while “lean” means oil paint that’s diluted with turpentine or spirits. If the layers aren’t applied correctly, it could cause cracking.

  

  

Artwork by Meredith Milstead

“Alla Prima” / Wet on wet technique

This is a technique where layers are applied without leaving the previous one to dry.

  

  

Varnishing Your Painting

No matter what kind of varnish you use, it is important to know when to varnish oil paintings - however dry they seem, they might not be completely!
With other paints, the drying process is basically just evaporation – but not with oils. While the surface is seemingly and “physically” dry, truly it is an ongoing chemical process of oxidation, and after this stage the painting begins to age.

Therefore, oil paints are advised to be varnished after at least half a year after the work has been finished. Otherwise, the varnish will work as a seal and won’t let oxygen pass through the layers effectively. Halting the oxidisation process will leave the deeper layers still wet, which on a long run will cause the surface layer to crack.

  

Read more about varnishes here.

How Do I Clean My Brushes Properly?

Getting out of oil paint from your brushes might seem to be a struggle – but in reality, it’s not so hard! First of all, you don’t necessarily need to have completely clean brushes. It is easy to simply wipe your brush with a towel, or for a cleaner bristle, damp it with a bit of solvent, linseed oil or brush cleaner solution. Even when you’re starting a new painting, it is useful to have a bit of leftover paint in your brush, as it is perfect for sketching. As Mark Carder* demonstrates in his useful video, cleaning your brush frequently does more damage to the bristle than leaving paint in it! However, even if oil paint dries very slowly, you do have to take care of your brushes when you don’t intent to use them for a few weeks. In that case, the best way is to use some sort of spirit in a well ventilated area, and clean the brush with a (paper) towel.

*make sure to check out his tips on "easy ways to take care of oil paintbrushes"

Important!
How to dispose of turps and other chemicals?

It is essential to know how to dispose of hazardous waste properly when you’re working with such materials. It is not only illegal to pour them into the sink or on the ground, but highly dangerous to the environment. 

When you no longer intend to use your paints or solvents, make sure you either donate it to someone who would use it or take care of them properly. One way is to let the used turpentine or brush cleaner to sit in their container while the paint separates – the clear liquid can be reused, the remaining paint then poured onto an absorbent surface such as cat litter, saw dust or concrete. Let it completely dry and them put it in a fire-safe trash container.

Next step is to find your local hazardous waste collection site:

  • https://www.gov.uk/hazardous-waste-disposal
  • http://www.williamtraceygroup.com/capabilities/special_hazardous_waste
  • http://www.sepa.org.uk/regulations/waste/special-waste/
  • https://www.biffa.co.uk/business-waste/where-we-operate/scotland/

References:

http://webartacademy.com/art/free-bonuses/The-Oil-Painting-Guide.pdf
http://www.artistdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/HowToPaint_V3.pdf
http://willkempartschool.com/glossary-for-oil-painting-terms-the-essential-guide-for-beginners/
https://blog.udemy.com/oil-painting-techniques/
http://www.thisland.illinois.edu/57ways/57ways_25.html

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