Painting and Mixing with Oil Paints

Oil paint is one of the favourite mediums of artists due to it’s many great qualities including it’s smooth consistency and slow drying time which means that you can work with the paint for a longer time. It has been used by artists for centuries and is available in a huge range of colours.

However, there is often some mystique about using oil paints and those new to the medium may be confused about how to use the paint and what to mix it with.

When you are creating an oil painting it is advisable to use a palette to set out your paints so that they are available to you immediately and you don’t have to spend time opening and closing tubes of paint whilst you are painting. You can use many things for a palette and one of the best is an inexpensive wooden palette that can be obtained from any art store. There are plenty of other options available including disposable plates, plastic palettes etc.

So, before you start, squeeze out plenty of the paint colours that you might need to use. If you need to mix colours before adding them to the painting, use a palette knife or an old brush to mix the paint colours on the palette. Do not use your actual painting brushes and this will quickly ruin them, as mixing them takes a lot of wear and tear on the brushes. When mixing two colours together, don’t always mix them fully and you will have the effect of still seeing the 2 base colours that you have used but from a distance they will still look like the mixed colour.

There are a number of mediums available to mix with the paint itself that will help you with your painting. The two basic mediums that an artist will use first are turpentine and linseed oil. There are lots of varieties of these two mediums, particularly in terms of the oils you can use and there are also other mediums like Liquin which can change the drying qualities of the oil paints.

The basic rules of using these mediums are as follows: You must follow the law of ‘fat over lean’. This means that when using layers of paint, the paint on top must contain more oil then the paint underneath. So your first layer is likely to include more turpentine in the paint mixture, then you might have a mixture of turpentine and linseed oil and then a layer with more oil in it. The reason you need to paint in this order is that paint with a lesser amount of oil in it will dry more quickly and so if the layer on top dries quicker then the layer underneath you are likely to get cracking of the paint.

Some other tips for mixing and working with oil paints are:

  • When you are working, make sure that you have a jar of turpentine ready so that you can keep the brushes clean whilst you are painting, then you do not contaminate the colours that you are using.
  • Try not to mix more than 2 or 3 colours together or else you are likely to get a muddying of the colours and a loss of vibrancy.
  • Only add mediums to the paint in small quantities at a time otherwise you are in danger of the paint becoming flaky and not binding properly.
  • If you have paint left on the palette and it has not become sticky then you can keep this and reuse it, perhaps thinned down to tint a board or canvas or use for underpainting.

You can really get great effects using oil paint if you make the best use of their qualities. You can keep working them and keep blending them and add different layers and if things go wrong, just wipe the paint off and start again!

One thought on “Painting and Mixing with Oil Paints”

  1. That’s a great tip about layering they paint with higher oil levels on top. Good to know. I look forward to more entries on this blog!

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