Oil Paint

Or simply called "Oil," it is the process of painting where pigments are suspended in oil. Oil may also be used as a medium to apply the paint. Light passes through the rich tone-enhancing glazes of an oil painting to the canvas and is refracted back to the viewer's eye.

Oil Paints

Oil paint sold in tubes consists of pigment particles mixed with oil. Pigments are created from chosen or developed materials that change the color of reflected or transmitted light due to wavelength absorption. Unlike chalk (a natural resource directly from porous sedimentary rock), materials used to make pigments usually have unique properties that make them ideal for coloring.


Includes the following.

Oil paint sold in tubes consists of pigment particles mixed with oil. Pigments are created from chosen or developed materials that change the color of reflected or transmitted light due to wavelength absorption. Unlike chalk (a natural resource directly from porous sedimentary rock), materials used to make pigments usually have unique properties that make them ideal for coloring.

Oil Paints

Pigments consist of molecules that are cross-linked with one another as crystals, they always require a vehicle or binder to fix them to a substrate. Only around 10% of the molecules absorb light and have a wide absorbption band. Pigments that disperse light are opaque. /p>

Pigments and paint grinding equipment are believed to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old. Naturally occurring pigments such as ochres and iron oxides have been used as colorants since prehistoric times; however, before the industrial revolution, the range of color was technically limited, and during the Middle Ages, mineral pigments were traded over long distances. After the industrial revolution, synthetic pigments became available.

Raw Pigments

The practice of oil painting was first pioneered by the Buddhists in India, China, and western Afghanistan. These early paintings date between the fifth and ninth century A.D.

The practice was then used in Europe as early as the 12th century and may have migrated westward during the Middle Ages. However, it gained popularity in Western culture during the Renaissance in the 15th century.

Jan Van Eyck. The Arnolfini Marriage. 1434.

The Flemish painter Jan van Eyck is usually accredited with the invention of oil painting in Western culture. Even though it is not a proven fact, he was able to master the medium and therefore influenced more artists to switch to oil. As its advantages became widely known, oil paint eventually replaced egg tempura, became popular during the Byzantine Empire, and became the principal medium for creating artwork in Europe.

This set the stage for the Renaissance titans such as Raphel, Michelangelo, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci, who would all make the oil medium famous for their talent!

Oil paintings are varnished because they need protection from dirt, dust, grease, pollution, or any other harmful environmental elements. Varnish is also used to achieve a consistent sheen or gloss over the final appearance of the painting, which makes it all equally glossy or matte.

Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing or furniture, but it is also used as a final protective layer on original oil paintings. Varnish does not contain any pigment, so it is transparent and is traditionally made from a combination of a drying oil, resin, and a thinner or solvent.

Varnish can be purchased in a spray can or a bottle, then applied with a brush. It may only be applied over a painting after it completely dries, which usually takes three to six months. If the coat of varnish has become discolored or dirty, it may be removed using a solvent, and a fresh coat may be reapplied to protect the piece. Please contact the artist if you need help applying varnish to a painting.


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What is Viscosity?

It refers to the state of paint being thick, sticky, semi-fluid, or fluid in consistency. For example, honey has a higher viscosity than water.

How to work with Viscosity?

Viscosity affects the value or tone of paint. The more the paint is thinned down with water or mineral spirits, the less viscose it will be, i.e., if working on a toned paper or canvas, the more the paper or canvas will show through.

Opacity or Semi-Opaque

What is it?

Opacity in painting is defined as a pigment or paint that one cannot see through. Opacity describes hiding strength or whether the paint will cover what it has been painted over.

When light waves strike a surface coated with paint, it affects the pigment's degree of opaqueness or transparency. Each pigment has specific attributes that affect how it interacts with light waves. A pigment's degree of opacity directly correlates to its particle's ability to scatter light waves.

Note that watercolor does not use additives (such as chalk or white) and always allows previous layers of paint to show through.

What is Semi-Opaque?

Paints that are not fully clear or transparent

How to Work with Opacity or Semi-opacity?

Use a black magic marker to find out the opacity of your paint in any medium. Draw a line on the paper or canvas with a black Sharpie, paint over the line, then you can tell the opacity of the paint. You can check the tube to see if it is opaque; however, different manufacturers vary even if it is the same pigment.

Transparent or Semi-transparent

What is it?

It refers to transparent paints that allow light to pass through them so that the objects underneath can be distinctively seen.

What is Semi-transparent?

It refers to pigments that are partially or imperfectly transparent. These pigments allow light to pass through so that the objects underneath may be seen.

How to Work with Transparency or Semi-transparency?

Use a black magic marker to find out the transparency of your paint in any medium. Draw a line on the paper or canvas with a black Sharpie, paint over the line, then you can tell the transparency of the paint. You can check the tube to see the opacity; however, different manufacturers vary.


What is it?

It is the process or technique of laying paint on thick to physically stand out from the surface. 'Impasto' (n.) is Italian for 'dough' or 'mixture.' 'Impastare' (v.) means to 'to paste.'

How to Impasto?

Use a brush (with little to no medium) or a palette knife. Apply the paint thickly to the surface.


What is it?

To modify (a painting or color) by applying a very thin coat of opaque paint over it to give it a softer or duller effect. This creates a 'veil' of color over the previous layer.

What is Staining?

When finely ground, pigments adhere to paper or canvas and cannot be removed with lifting or scrubbing. These are known as staining paints or pigments.

How to Scumble?

Use a DRY brush (without water or medium). Apply a small amount of paint on the brush, and use a paper towel to remove the extra paint. It's not good to have a mass amount. Lightly "dust" the surface with the brush.


What is it?

It is a layer of semi-transparent paint laid over another painted surface, so the original colors still show through.

How to Glaze?

Practice only when the paint is dry. Use a THIN wash with color and a soft brush. Drag the brush over another color once or twice, then let it dry.


What is it?

Veiling involves the build-up of color with several thin layers of transparent paint. It is primarily used in watercolor and maybe also referred to as "Illuminism." 

How to Veil?

A transparent watercolor wash or an extremely thin layer of paint is "veiled" or laid over another. Each paint layer must be completely dry before applying the next layer. The layers of paint may be applied with or without using a pattern.


What is it?

A technique primarily used in watercolor, where pigment is applied with a lot of water. In oil painting, a wash refers to the initial toning of the canvas or diluting the paint with mineral spirits.

How to create a Wash?

The most basic watercolor technique is the flat wash. It is produced by wetting the area of paper covered by the wash, then mixing sufficient pigment to fill the entire area quickly. The pigment is applied to a sloping surface (i.e., the drips or water will run down the page) in slightly overlapping horizontal bands from the top down.


What is it?

In painting, it refers to a change in value from lighter to darker (or darker to lighter), i.e., a change in tint or shade. It may also refer to a change in color or hue (from one color to another color) or a change in temperature from warm to cool or vice versa.

Four Types of Edges
  • Sharp, crisp, or hard edges have a lot of contrast and demand attention. Sharp edges separate one tone from another. It's usually what's in focus when we look at something. With regard to soft edges, hard edges create the illusion of depth. Tones with sharp edges appear to come forward, whereas tones with soft edges appear to recede in space. 
  • Firm edges grab less attention than sharp. It is where two contrasting values have a slight or some transition from one to the other. For example, in a dramatic lighting situation, cast shadows are dark next to light areas on the same plane. However, they have softer edges as the shadow recedes into space. 
  • Soft - Edges may appear fuzzy or out of focus. These are the types of edges that we see in our peripheral vision. They do not draw the viewer's attention and may fade or blur one tone into another. 
  • Lost - Lost edges are where two tones or colors create a gradual or smooth gradation and transition from one tone into another tone.


What is it?

It refers to a change in value from lighter to darker (or darker to lighter), i.e., a change in tint or shade. It may also refer to a change in color or hue (from one color gradually to the next) or a change in temperature from warm to cool or vice versa. Space, distance, atmosphere, volume, and curved or rounded forms are visual effects created using a gradation.

How to create a Gradation?

Gradation is the technique of gradually transitioning from one hue to another, shade to another, or texture to another. Create a wash in watercolor. Add in other colors while it is still wet from left to right or vice versa. In oil painting, leave openings to see through to different colors, especially in the beginning stages of the painting.

Fat Over Lean Rule

What is it?

It is a painting approach to building layers of paint that will stay flexible after the paint is dry. The painting will then have fewer cracks in the paint over time.

What's the Rule?

The "fat over lean" rule states that any bottom layers of paint are thinner or "leaner" than the top layers.


What is it?

It's an oil painting technique that lifts excess paint or pigments and produces a workable surface.

How to Perform Tonking

If too much paint has been applied with a thick application, lay an absorbent paper over the area while it is wet. Smooth it down with the palm of your hand and then gently peel it away. This will lift the excess pigment and produce a workable surface. You can then repaint the area using the "ghosted" image remaining on the canvas as a guideline.


What is it?

'Color' is all around us. It adds excitement and emotion to our lives. Everything revolves around color, the clothes we wear, the pictures we paint, and our environment. Without color, the world would be a much less attractive place.

How to Navigate Color Space?

There's a whole section on how to navigate color and color space. Click to learn more.

Materials or Supplies

Includes unique types or brands.

Oil Paints

Oil paint develops a particular consistency depending on the medium used to apply the paint. It has a slow drying time unless a medium is used to speed up the drying time. The viscosity or consistency of the paint may be modified by adding a solvent such as turpentine or white spirits, and varnish may be added to increase the glossiness of the dried oil paint film.

Preferred Brands

Water miscible oil paint (also called water soluble oil paint or water mixable oil paint) is oil paint, either engineered or an emulsifier, that has been added to be thinned and cleaned up with water. These paints make it possible to avoid using volatile organic compounds such as turpentine which may be harmful if inhaled.

Preferred Brands

  • Holbein

Gamblin Oil Mediums

Painters often use mediums for oil or different types in the same painting depending on specific pigments and desired effects. Other used oils include poppy seed, walnut, and safflower. These oils confer with the various properties of the oil paint and have unique qualities, such as less yellowing or different drying times. The types of oil create specific differences in the sheen of the painting as well.

Most oil paints contain driers in some colors to bring the drying times closer to the range between 2 and 10 days. This helps to prevent problems with slow-drying colors and is perfectly safe for the paint film when controlled by experienced chemists.

Fortunately, the drying rates of colors are rarely a problem because colors are almost always mixed on the palette, so the drying times tend to equalize greatly.


All the Liquin mediums will halve the drying time of oil colors from 2- 12 days to 1-6 days.

Gesso Primer

It may seem odd to start the oil painting mediums section with what is, in fact, an acrylic medium. However, it's widely used as a base coat for art canvasses when oil painting. Comments for gesso regarding acrylic paint mediums apply equally to oil painting mediums.


The best-known thinner and cleaner for oil paints and brushes. Use the distilled artist's version rather than the household version for the best finishes on your painting. Traditionally mixed 50/50 with linseed oil for an excellent medium. However, its powerful odor is never welcome in the house and may be an irritant for some artists.

Low Odor Thinners

An excellent substitute for turpentine in all the areas mentioned above - without the smell!

Linseed Oil

After turps, probably the best known of the oil painting mediums. On its own gives colors a high gloss. Added to colors, it produces a glaze effect. Used 50/50 with turpentine or low-odor thinners, it provides a suitable, general-purpose paint medium for oil painting. Slows down drying time. It can go a little more yellow over some time than some oils.

White spirit

A cheaper version of low-odor thinners and turps. Ok, for thinning paints for under-painting, but not for quality work. Fine for cleaning brushes.

Prepared Oil Painting Mediums

Varying from one manufacturer to another, a combination of white spirit and other oils provides a ready-mixed, user-friendly paint diluent. A beginner could use this instead of mixing their own combination of oils and other additives.

Stand Oil

A faster-drying version of linseed oil. Reduces consistency of paint and brush marks.

Poppy Oil

For adding lighter colors and white. It is less inclined to be yellow than linseed oil. However, it is a slower drying medium.

Gold size

Although primarily intended for applying gold leaf, it provides a relatively fast-drying oil-based paint medium.

Alkyd Gel & Liquid Oil Painting Mediums

Alkyd oil paints are known for their faster-drying properties than traditional oil colors. Alkyd paint mediums can be added to conventional oil paints to speed up to 50% of drying time. It can also be used as a glazing medium. Like acrylics, the glazing technique is where a translucent color is painted over another dry color. The lower one glows through but is affected by the density of the top glaze. Creating misty or smoky backgrounds is an excellent example of a glaze.

White Alkyd Paint 

Strictly speaking, this isn't a painting medium, but I use this a lot to speed the drying of conventional oils where I want a lighter tint or a highlight instead of a glaze. When mixed with other colors, the white alkyd paint acts in the same way as the alkyd gel but doesn't lose the opacity of the color.

Gloss or Matt Picture Varnish

A spirit-based varnish, equally at home on acrylics as well as oils. Dries to a gloss finish and will not yellow or bloom. Gloss and matt varnishes can be mixed to give a satin finish. It can be removed with turpentine or white spirit.

Retouching Varnish

A thin varnish can be painted over a touch-dry painting to 'lift' areas where the oil has sunk into the canvas, leaving dull spots. It can also be used as a temporary varnish for exhibitions, where thicker paint on a recently completed painting may take many months to dry through completely. It can be removed before, or left underneath, the final varnish coat.

Damar Varnish 

Dries in a few hours with a satin-medium gloss. Removable.


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