About Oil Painting

Oil painting has a long and illustrious history. It has been the favoured medium for painters, painting for kings, emperors, queens, princes, popes to portray people, places, objects, stories, histories, and ideologies.
Explore Art School

Oil Painting Explored

Oil painting has a long and illustrious history. It has been the favoured medium for painters, painting for kings, emperors, queens, princes, popes to portray people, places, objects, stories, histories, and ideologies.

Firs used in central and western Afghanistan around the 5th and 10th centuries by Buddhist monks. However, it gained more popularity in the 15th century when knowledge of its abilities and advantages were recognized and used by the Netherland/Flemish painters in the early 15th century in Northern Europe.
Oil Paint is a slow drying paint that consists of finely ground particles of natural pigment of mineral salts such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, cadmiums and earth pigments such as sienna or umber suspended in a drying oil, commonly linseed or sunflower oil. Today synthetic pigments have greatly increased safety and colour range of paint.

Oil Paints are an amazing medium to work with, the more you use them the more you appreciate their qualities. 


    Oil Painting benefits


    • long lasting durable properties. If paint is  applied with a good technique it will not fade and can be cleaned.
    • slow drying paint traditionally consisting of natural pigments (often toxic) mixed with a carrier, the oil. 
    • today, the use of synthetic organic pigments make them safer and more colour fast.
    • versatile applications.
    • its viscosity can be modified, either built up in layers using thin glazes (using gum turpentine) or thick impasto paint (using oil medium of varying thicknesses) to create either transparency or a sculptured effect thus creating dimension.
    • ability to hold its shape makes it the only medium to truly create expressive brush strokes.
    • ability to hold different colours on a brush and then apply to canvas in one brush stroke makes it magic an unpredictable with each stroke.
    • drying process is slow and can also be regulated making it perfect to continue working for a longer or shorter time, according to the effect required.
    • rich and durable colour fastness
    • can be used on glass and timber as well as canvas.

    Oil Paint Brushes

    Oil Paint brushes  vary a lot in quality and shape however they are all made from bristle (a strong tough fibre either synthetic or hogs hair) unlike watercolour brushes which are made with a much softer sable hair.   

    The most common brush shapes are filbert, flat and round. They also come in other shapes like fan and angular chisel. I’m very reluctant to use these because I consider them a bit of a gimmick although some of my students sneak one in occasionally.     

    I like to use Filbert brushes, which are flat brushes with rounded and tapered corners shaped something like a fingernail.  My general range of sizes are No’s 2, 4, 6 8 10,12  

    Filberts generally do not come in the range of cheap brushes, as do flats, which have a chiseled straight cut edge or round brushes, which are in the round like a mop. 

    Brush size depends on the size of the shapes required in the painting for example. A No. 2 would be used for a relatively small area and a No. 10 on a much bigger area. 

    With a good quality filbert brush it is possible to do very fine lines even with a No. 6 or 8  

    For very fine detail I would sometimes use a 0 or 00 round brush.   

    I use large flat brushes for the preliminary washes   these are relatively cheap around $8 for size 10 and do the job quite well.  

    To clean the brushes I use Mineral Turpentine and sometimes Petroleum Jelly and Baby Oil for especially stubborn grim hardened at the base of the brush.  I use a trades paint cleaning tray, which is a metal box about 30x40cms with a sturdy wire grate, which sits on an angle with one end resting in the mineral turpentine.  When I paint outdoors, I use a glass jar with a stainless steel pot scourer in the bottom.

    The number of brush required for a painting varies according to the complexity of the painting with different colours on each brush, although sometimes one brush can hold more than one colour and can be utilized to scumble (turning the brush over and over taking the paint off as it turns) and mix the paint on the canvas.

    Holding the brush.   This is a very important part of painting.   The relationship between the painter and the brush. The idea is not the strangle the brush by holding it too tightly nor hold it like a pencil.  It is not a pencil and the painting strangely  will  always look like a drawing in paint.    Drawing is not our aim.   Hold the brush as if it is an extension of your hand with the hand over brush held between the thumb and the index finger.

    For straight lines press the brush firmly on the canvas until the hand is steady and not shaking. Pressing down make a mark at the beginning of the line now lift the brush and make a mark at the end of the line in the same firm way, now mark another mark about 5cm long in the middle between the two marks. Each time holding the breath. 

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