During my years studying in an Art School, painting in oils was one of the mediums I explored the most, this allowed me to gain some experience and knowledge in regard to the medium. So I thought it would be nice to share some of that basic knowledge, especially for people who would like to start painting in oils but don’t know where to start. In saying that, I’m talking from a personal point of view of what works best for me and might not necessarily work so well for you, but to get a better Idea of how I use oils you can always check my Instagram *Wink Wink*. I’m also planning to divide this topic into two, in Part 1 I’ll be discussing Materials while in Part 2 I’ll be discussing Methods and Techniques.
Well…this one is pretty obvious, you can’t paint in oils…..If you don’t have oil paints. The first thing I want to advise about oil paints is to try and avoid the cheap ones or brands that aren’t the well-known, for two reasons, cheap pigment (the colour) and cheap binder (the medium which holds the pigment together). This will result in your paintings starting to fade with time. I suggest the brand I use, which is Winsor & Newton for a number of reasons, the first reason is the fact they divide their paints into series 1 and series 2. Series 1 is known as the student range which is cheaper and of a lesser quality but still of a very good quality and best for beginners. Series 2 is the Artist range which means the paint has a larger percentage of pigment then binder. This also means that their permanence is also better which is also graded from AA, A and B, AA being the most permanent.
Another good thing to know is if your paint is Transparent or Opaque, on the Winsor and Newton paints this is indicated by a little square, I have attached a table below to make it easier to understand what I’m actually talking about. What these boxes mean is pretty simple, the Transparent paints….well are more transparent, this allows for the colour underneath them to still show while opaque ones don’t…or don’t as much. You can also make an opaque transparent by adding more oil to it, but this will take longer to oxidate. This will make more sense when I discuss methods and techniques in Part 2, but for the time being, just keep this in mind.
To dilute oils paint you need turpentine and I find this the worse part of painting in oils. Turpentine has a very strong smell and can easily cause bad headaches for people who aren’t used to the smell. Even if I have been working with oil for a while now, I still use and suggest odourless turpentine, You can also get scented ones……which I really don’t suggest. You can buy turpentine from an Ironmonger or from a household hardware store. Always make sure you work in a well-ventilated room when using turpentine, this stuff can leave your hair, clothes and skin reeking of it. If you’re like me and turpentine magically affects you more than others, I would also give wearing an air mask a try, but in all honesty its pretty uncomfortable trying to work with one….so just make your life easier and buy the odourless.
I’m not going to even try and talk about adding oils to your paints as I never really bothered with them, on the other hand, I do use Liquin. Liquin is not a must have, nor is it commonly used, but what it does is speeds drying time, adds fluidity and gives you paint a slight semi-gloss. As you might know, or not, oils take a bit of time to dry depending on the climate of where you live. This is due to the fact that oils don’t dry by evaporation but by oxidation, which is a fancy word that means a chemical reaction caused by oxygen that makes the paint solidify and dry. A fun fact to know is that a painting in oils can take up to a year to completely dry, I’m not referring to touch dry here, but the layers of paint underneath the top one….again this will make more sense once I post Part 2. Going back to Liquin, I do find this medium great as it does actually help with the drying time as well as allowing for a smoother surface, which I must admit I love.
Brushes come in different sizes and shapes, but the most common ones are the round and the flat brushes. Below I attached an image to show the various styles of brushes so that you can get a better idea.
In my set of brushes, you’ll find a lot of pointed round brushes which I find great for detail, flat and bright brushes which allow you to cover a larger area but still having an amount of control by using the brush at an angle. For some reason, the most suggested paintbrushes to go with oil paints are always hog brushes……but I hate them. In fairness, they are pretty great if you want a brush that holds a good amount of paint as well as applying the paint in a thick manner, but as I said before I like my surface to stay smooth so I never really used them.
To be completely honest with you, I never stay buying recommended brushes, so much so that my favorite brush for when I’m painting in oils, are actually watercolour brushes. The best advice I can give is this, brushes are like mediums, you need to try them out and find what you like best, no blog or someone else’s experience can find that out for you. On the other hand, the brushes which I constantly buy, and work best for me, are synthetic brushes that look like the ones below
The reason why I use these brushes is this, they can hold a good amount of paint, they are great to blend with as they aren’t to hard or too soft, they are cheaper but still do what I need them to do and if you know how to take good care of them they can actually last for a long time, contrary to popular belief (I’ll explain how later).
Brush Washer with Screen and Holder:
Trust me, you need one of these but not to use it to wash your brushes but rather as the container that you will pour you turpentine into. The reason why I use this instead of a glass jar is because the screen that comes with it, allows me to properly remove the paint from my brush and completely avoid contaminating my colours on my palette and on my painting. Before I bought one of these, I only used an old piece of cloth but this usually meant that I would waste a lot of time making sure that I cleaned my brush properly before applying a different colour, which used to effect my flow. Constantly rubbing the brush against the screen can also damage your brush, to avoid this I usually make sure to rub the brush against the screen in one direction. By doing this it reduces the chance of opening up the bristles and ruining the shape of your brush.
Taking care of your brushes:
I discovered the soap above while I was working in Austraila and it has made clean up a lot easier. This soap can remove oil paint from any surface, as a matter of fact, I use it to wash the paint off my hands and also from my bushes and it makes them look brand new. To wash my brushes I don’t use the screen but the palm of my hand with a bit of the above-mentioned soap, like its shown in the image below, and repeat the processes until no colour comes out of the brush. The next step is just as important, I then take a normal soap bar and rub some of the soap into the brush, then using my finger, I try to compact the hairs together and remove the extra soap . Once the soap dries, the bush hairs become stuck together and frozen in place, and tada, good as when bought. Instead of soap one can also use gum arabic diluted in some water, the only thing to remember in both cases is to wash the brush before using it.
Palette and palette knives:
When using oil paints, finding the right palette can be difficult but the best material I found out which works best is …..a piece of glass, yep a piece of glass. I own two pieces of glass, one around the size of an A3 piece of paper, while the other around the size of A2 which I alternate depending on the number of colours I’m using. The reason I use glass is because it is easy to clean after each use as well as providing a smooth surface on which to mix the paint. Palette knives, you need them! And don’t bother with the plastic ones which I used to constantly break. I understand they might be a little expensive but a good pair of metal palette knives are an investment. As they are made of metal, and they give you enough flexibility to properly mix the paint, especially when colour matching (which I will explain what that is in the next blog). Also, the pointed end allows you to add paint to the mixture in small quantities, which you’ll probably need to do for every colour you mixing.