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oil painting for beginnersUnlike acrylic paints and watercolors, oil paints are complicated and can be difficult to work with. They take forever to dry, and knowing the chemistry is almost essential to achieving the proper effects and finish for your work. This complexity also makes oil paints a fun, challenging, and awesome medium to work with, and every new painter needs to try their hand at it at least once. Oil painting for beginners doesn’t have to be impossible. With this guide, we’ll go over some of the essential information you need to know to get started, and some tips and tricks to get you going. Also check out this overview of 25 must-know oil painting techniques. You’ll be painting beautiful landscapes in no time!

Types of Oil in Oil Paint

Oil paint is a mixture of pigment particles and a drying oil. The type of oil used varies, and can change the way your oil paints feel as you paint, and look as they dry. Linseed oil is made from flax seed. While it has a strong resistance to cracking, it can yellow over time. It is one of the most commonly used oils in oil paints. Other types of oil include safflower, walnut, and poppy oil, which crack easily, but are more resistant to yellowing with age.

Oil Painting Resins and Solvents

It’s important to note, when working with solvents and resins, that these materials are flammable, and are not healthy to breathe in. When working with oil paints, it’s best to stay in a well-ventilated room. Solvents dilute the oil in your paint and thin out the color. They can be used during painting, and afterwards to clean up brushes and paint palettes. Artistic solvents are usually not as noxious as industrial solvents, and should be favored. They are also designed to evaporate completely, and won’t affect your paints negatively when they dry. Turpentine: Turpentine is a commonly used oil painting solvent, made from pine tree resin. Mineral Spirits: A strong, petroleum based solvent, also called white spirits.

Varnishing An Oil Painting

It’s important to varnish an oil painting to protect it from becoming damaged over time, due to dust and other harsh elements in the atmosphere. However, there are rules and precautions to take when varnishing an oil painting, first and foremost giving the painting enough time to dry. Oil paints dry very slowly compared to acrylics and watercolors, and may take months – sometimes just short of a year, depending on how thick the painting is – to dry fully. Step 1 – Again… make sure your painting is fully dry! Step 2 – Lightly dust the painting. If it’s been in storage for a while, it might have collected some dust or dirt from the atmosphere. Step 3 – With a slightly damp cotton ball, dab the painting to remove the dust stuck in the small texture pockets of your painting, if necessary. Step 4 – Let your painting dry from the damp cotton ball treatment – yes, again. Step 5 – Lay your painting on a flat surface, and use a large brush with flat bristles to apply the varnish. Make sure to paint consistently in the same direction, in parallel strokes to avoid applying unevenly. Step 6 – Leave it to dry, then apply a second coat of varnish. This time, paint the varnish at a 90 degree angle from your original layer. For instance, if you were painting up or down, now paint to the left or right. For a glossy finish, use a gloss varnish. To prevent a shiny, glossy finish, use a matte varnish instead.

Oil Painting For Beginners – Important Tips

#1 – Prime your canvas Canvases are a thin, fragile material that the acidic oils in oil paint can deteriorate over time. This is why it’s important to prime your canvas before starting to paint on it. That, and it will help the paint better adhere. Mix your primer before you start, then use a large brush and spread it as thinly and evenly across the canvas as possible, making sure to stroke across the length of the board. After the first layer dries, paint a second layer on in the same direction. Once the second coat is dry, sand it lightly, pat the dust off completely, and paint a third and final coat and let it dry. No more sanding or coating necessary. #2 – Follow the “fat over lean” rule for layering paint When painting with oil paints, you want to be wary of the ratio of oil to solvent. This means making sure that as you’re mixing and layering paints on your canvas, new layers won’t dry faster than the ones at the bottom. If the top layer dries before the bottom layer does, it can shrink and cause cracking. To prevent this, you would use the “fat over lean” rule, using leaner paints that dry faster for lower layers, and adding more oil to the paint you use for upper layers. To make paint “fatter,” you add more oil to it. To make paint “leaner,” you would mix it with a solvent like turpentine, or use a faster-drying oil. Each layer of paint will absorb oils from the one above it, so you want to make sure you add more and more oil so that it evenly distributes. Too much oil may cause wrinkling. #3 – Use paints that accelerate drying for the bottom layer In addition to following the “fat over lean” rule, it’s also important to pick oil paint with pigments that contain quicker drying agents. Paints containing cobalt, manganese, and lead can be added to other paints to speed up the drying process. Similarly, you’ll want to avoid using paints that dry particularly slow for bottom layers.

And there you have it! Remember some of the key points we’ve learned in this guide: be wary of how oily your paints are, don’t let the top layer dry before the bottom layer, and be cautious around dangerous chemicals like solvents. Always prime your canvas, and varnish if you want to prevent environmental damage! Take care of your paintings, your paints, and let your creative side flow.

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Page Last Updated: February 2020

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