Oil painting has remained one of the most popular artistic mediums ever since the 1400s when it was developed. Artists love the versatility of oil paints — the way that you’re able to produce an endless number of colors, textures, and effects simply by mixing a few oils together.
At the same time, though, a lot of artists are intimidated by it. Many painters stick to painting with tempera and acrylics because they’re afraid that oils are too toxic or take too long to dry. Similarly, a lot of painters avoid experimenting with them because they think that the medium will be too challenging.
In reality, painting with oils is not that dissimilar from using other types of paint. Yes, there are a certain number of precautions you need to take when working in this medium. However, if you understand what and what not to do ahead of time, you’ll find that oil painting is not only fun and safe but that it also opens a whole new world of artistic opportunities.
We’ve outlined a few do’s and don’ts to help you get started:
DO embrace the potential of mediums
The biggest difference between oil paints and acrylics is that they need to be diluted with solvents. Because oil and water don’t mix, after all, adding water to your oils won’t make them thinner in the way it does with acrylic paints.
There are a variety of different solvent mediums and paint-thinners out there that you can use to dilute your paints. Whether you just want to soften up your paints a little bit or thin them out like watercolors, these mediums will help you to use your oils to their highest potential.
DO experiment with wetness
One of the reasons why oils continue to be a popular medium is that they can do what many other paints simply can’t. Oil painters have been able to produce dazzling effects through experimenting with “wet-on-wet” techniques, where the artist applies wet paint to an already wet surface.
There is endless potential when it comes to experimenting with wetness and drying times. The nice thing about oil paints is that they take longer to dry than acrylics, which leaves you more time to make decisions and push the paint around.
DO use a palette knife
A palette knife is a must-have for any expert oil painter. It not only makes mixing colors much easier but can also be used to apply paint to the canvas. By using your palette knife to push your paint around, you’ll be able to produce thick, flat swatches of color that are hard to achieve with a brush.
Not every painter buys a professional palette knife. Some prefer to use a butter knife or a spatula to do the job.
DON’T paint too sparsely
A great thing about oils is that they allow you to achieve all kinds of strange textures. Some of the best oil paintings use both thin washes that soak into the canvas and thick gobs of paint that comes off the surface.
If you’re new to the medium, don’t be afraid to experiment with textures. Your paintings will be much richer and more dynamic when you use paint generously.
DON’T forget about drying time
As we’ve pointed out above, oil paintings can take a long time to dry, depending on how much paint you use. This is generally why painters love them because it gives you extra time to look at your paintings and decide how to change them, ergo helping you become more patient (a quality every artist must have).
Just be careful that your kids and your pets stay away from the painting while it’s drying (don’t want any paw prints on your landscape painting). As long as your piece is well-ventilated and out of reach, the drying time shouldn’t be much of an issue.
DON’T neglect your brushes
As a painter, your brush is like your magic wand. It’s the tool that enables you to create all of the beautiful artworks you make. Therefore, you need to make sure that you take care of your brushes.
The nice part is that solvent mediums break down oil paints pretty easily, so a quick scrub should do the trick. By cleaning them on a regular basis and following the other guidelines we’ve discussed above, you’ll find that oil paints allow you to make works of art you never know you were capable of creating.