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Wrinkling in your Oil Painting?

What causes winkling in Oil Paints?

wrinking of oil paint Oh Dear!

It’s not a pretty sight. Usually we associate wrinkling with age, but if you have found your oil paintings wrinkling, age is not the cause! It is the drying process that is top of the list, with possible combinations of paint quality, colour, and your technique also contributing to the issue. If you want to know how to avoid it, then read on!

Wrinkling is caused during the drying process when the surface of the paint layer dries faster than the body of the layer itself. As oils (linseed, poppy, safflower etc.) have a chemical drying process by oxidation and obviously the oxygen from the air reaches the surface of the paint quicker and more easily than the paint underneath. If the surface then dries to a closed film, this effectively blocks the oxygen to the paint underneath. As the oil is expanding by the addition of oxygen molecules, the surface of the paint layer tends to expand faster than the paint on the inside, especially when the surface does dry to a closed film. Then the difference in expansion causes wrinkling.

slight oil wrinking Not a nice sight!
oil wrinkling in thick paint Give some thought to the colours you use









The surface of a paint layer can dry to a closed film for several reasons:

  1. First of all when the paint contains a relatively high percentage of oil, which is the case with very fine (transparent) pigments. Pigments in oil colours are surrounded by oil, and if the pigment particles are (relatively) very small, the collective surface of the pigments is huge and a significant quantity of oil is needed. The more oil (or put another way, the less volume of dry “breathing” ingredients), the more closed the superficial film and the higher the risk of wrinkling.
  2. The second reason can be the chemical composition of the pigment. Some pigments, such as cobalt and earth colours, contain elements that catalyse the accessibility of oxygen and therefore act as siccatives (speeding up the drying), with the same result as mentioned above. Also traditional lake pigments (e.g. traditional madder lakes, not used in the Rembrandt Oil Paints, here the “Permanent” madder lake is based on a modern replacement) tend to cause wrinkling.
wrinking of oil paint Thick or thin, certain colours and additives like linseed oil or poppy oil can increase the wrinkling risk.

This also explains why the risk of wrinkling with Van Gogh Student Oil paint is less than with the artist quality Rembrandt range of oil colour. In Van Gogh Oil the quality of pigment is partly replaced by extenders. The particle size of these chalk kinds of products is relatively big when compared with the pigment itself (so relatively less oil is needed), the particles themselves “open” and therefore give access to oxygen, also to the oil within.

How can I reduce the risk of my oil painting wrinkling?

By adding oil to the paint, the risk of wrinkling is increased, especially with metal and pearlescent colours. It is advisable to thin the paint with a painting medium, not with pure oil. Although mediums do contain oil the wrinkling is different and therefore reduced.

Although Royal Talens (makers of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Cobra and Amsterdam paints) do try to avoid wrinkling as much as possible by adjusting their recipes, for some colours wrinkling cannot be eliminated without decreasing other quality aspects of the paint. If these kinds of colours are applied thickly, it is advisable to mix them with Painting Paste. This “painting butter” gives oxygen access to the oil within the paint as well, without changing the hue of the colour.

So in summary you can avoid wrinkling in the following ways

  1. Give careful thought to the colours you use, as well as the paint quality.
  2. If you have the time, try out some tests first to be sure
  3. Don't add oil to your oil paint. You do not need to do this. You should only add a "medium"
  4. If you are using a “risky colour” in a high quality paint then think about
    1. How thickly you are going to be painting
    2. Can you thin it out a little with white spirit and make the paint leaner?
    3. Can you make the paint fatter and add some painting medium?
  5. If you want to paint thickly, with a high quality (high pigment content) and/or “risky colour” then think about adding some filler like painting paste.
painting with wrinkling I am slightly wrinkled here and there, but I am not old yet!
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