Three Basic Rules for Oil Painting

I love painting in oils. Oils have a brilliant ability to capture colour due to their ability to hold a high level of pigment. Oils are forgiving - they dry slowly and allow the artist time to blend the paint for a few hours (great for a slow painter like me or a beginner) and although this is not a technical point they just have a fantastic buttery consistency.

So you have bought your paints, brushes, canvas and solvents and now you are faced with applying paint on to the canvas. So for a beginner what are the simple basic rules for oil painting?

Basic Rules For Oil Painting


Firstly make sure your room is well ventilated, solvents give off fumes.

‘Fat over Lean’ rule

This sounds complicated but is in fact simple common sense. I start the painting (usually the underpainting which I will discuss in another article) with some paint squeezed from the tube (usually Burnt Umber for an underpainting) onto the palette. I then mix up my own medium from Zest It (80%) and a small amount of linseed oil (20%). I add this to the paint with a brush, thinning it out but not so thin that it runs off the Palette. The first thin layers of paint will dry quickly and as I work through the painting over time I slowly increase the proportions of linseed oil in the Zest It mixture to around 50/50. Why would I do this? If you paint lean over fat the thin/lean layer will dry quickly over the top of the slower drying fat layer. Tension will be placed on the lower layer and it will slowly be pulled apart causing cracking over time.

Paint from the darks through to the lights.

This means simply that I paint the shadow parts of the painting first, the mid and lighter colours afterwards. Oil painting has an aura of complexity that can put many people off, there are three simple rules but these should not in any way remove the joy and spononanirty of painting with these brilliantly colourful paints.

Date Published:

December 05, 2016


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