Oil Painting Tips

Here are some oil painting tips on materials, with links to tips on landscape, portraiture, underpainting and handling your creative process. Oil painting materials are more complicated than acrylic materials, but oil paint really is a beautiful paint. Fumes can be prevented by taking the right thinning agent, and with the right layering, your first layers will dry in 24 hours. Scroll down for more.

oil painting by evelien nijeboer

Tips on colors and art supplies

Here are some oil painting tips on materials and supplies:

A guide in materials

There's a lot to know about oil painting materials - not only for durability and preservation: also because oil paint is a very versatile medium. It can be matte or shiny, hiding or transparent, 'rich' or 'poor'. I've put up an 58-page oil painting guide that contains information on al the painting materials, and tips on how to use them, how to layer them, what they're for etc. It also has over ten recipes for oil paint, different primers and (quick drying) underpainting materials

Of course there's more to it than just paint. Further down you'll find oil painting tips that focus on the creative process. Click here for more on beginner oil painting.

Oil painting tips for realism

Oil painting is great for creating a certain realism: a look-and-feel as if everything on the painting is actually 'real'. You don't have to work really fine: the layering and the material itself do the trick. Even if you create phantasy-scenery, abstract work or landscapes with impossible colors. The trick for creating this 'real' look is: layering. Instead of making one closed surface of paint, build up your painting in layers. Click here for more on imprimature and underpainting colors. Here you'll also find info on classical realistic oil painting techniques.

Creative oil painting tips

Here you'll find some beginner oil painting tips, with a list of beginners' traps to avoid (like: literally painting the photo, using too many colors, not defining a subject etc).

The first thing you do is usually right

When you make a stroke, look at it first. Don’t change it right away. One of the charms of painting these days: painting is a direct recording of the act of an actual human. Everybody knows humans aren't perfect. So, painting is not about perfection.

Don't underestimate the power of purity... I've seen beginner oil paintings from a 66-year old (in a commercial art gallery!), that were very beautiful because you could actually see the first painting strokes of a ripened soul.

Think of HOW to paint your subject

If you paint a after photograph, pick elements that you like and leave others out. And ask yourself: what do I find interesting or beautiful about this subject? These are the aspects you want to bring out. You can emphasize things by using color, perspective, changes in the background. The place on the canvas where you put your subject, alreaday says a lot. If you place it in the middle, make sure you create a background that is just as interesting as your subject. Consider what background elements will be helpful, and what size of canvas or panel would be ideal.

Make scetches, but only VERY rough ones

Scetches are meant to create some certainty, about what it is you want to do. Don’t go further than that – the actual work will be done on the canvas.

While you work, avoid emotional extremes and stay in the middle

When you paint: be there, with your full quiet attention. Eliminate everything that distracts you. Most of us have things like music, chatting or a computer to avoid feeling empty. But when you want to paint: eliminate those fillers. Feel empty for a little while, and then the best things will come.

Staying in the middle is what keeps you on your track. Recognizing emotional extremes and returning to the quiet middle is a key skill that will help you advance really quickly. Don’t be too critical or too excited, don’t make impulsive, radical decisions. Don’t work too slow, or too fast. In the middle, there’s a silent but constant flow of decision – follow it and you can’t go wrong.

What if your work doesn’t feel right?

We all have been in a situation, where we were unhappy with a painting, and couldn't find out about the cause. Sometimes even professional artists can’t see it when their work is really good.
When you worked on a painting for hours, you lack the distance to judge what you see. In time you’ll get to know yourself in this aspect. Is your perfectionism or a set of expectations in the way, or is there really a way to improve your work? Take your time for this process, and look at it while you work. Don’t “do” things to your work, untill you’ve located the problem, or found a way to proceed

Tips for creating a fresh look on your work:

  • Place your painting in a different environment. Maybe just anther place in the same room.
  • Place it upside down, and regard it as an abstract work. How is the balance, the colors, are there dead spots?
  • Trace dead spots, by blocking parts of your painting with your hand (stretched somewhere in front of you). Does you work improve by blocking out a spot? Then you've located the problem.
  • Place it next to another painting, your own or someone else's. In this way, you can learn about the meaning of your painting.
  • Do you have good light? If you don't have direct daylight, invest in a good daylight lamp. Then you can see what you're doing.
  • Frame it as if it's finished, eventually hang it up in an exhibition (or somewhere in the house).

Oil painting tips on reducing drying times

The quickest way to reduce drying times is liquin. Add some to your paint, and it will be dry the next day (providing that you make thin layers). There is a downside: liquin neutralizes the specific features (sheen) of lean or fat oil paint. Lean oil paint is matte, fat paint is shiny, and with liquin everything turns into a lardy, greasy halfshine. But for the underlayers, it's OK. Liquin isn't fat: it shouldn't be added before applying the rule 'fat over lean'

Another way to reduce drying times is, to have a semi-absorbent ground, and to work with a fast drying underpaint, like egg-tempera paint. Also a lead- or foundation white can do miracles for drying.

Other oil painting tips

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