Oil Painting FAQ's

Author: Dana McGorlick-Appelman  Date Posted:14 July 2021 

Oil paints have been the medium of choice for many artists for hundreds of years. While the medium may seem intimidating to many starting out, with various chemicals and rules that need to be factored into consideration, oil painting is actually a very relaxing and enjoyable art practice that can lead to stunning results. Keep reading to discover answers to the most commonly asked questions there are when it comes to oil painting. 


What is oil paint made of?

Nowadays, oil paints are comprised of a pigment suspended in oil, typically linseed oil. They are still an incredibly popular medium, and for good reason.


Why do so many artists use oil paints?

Oil paints are fantastic for blending and creating smooth transitions between shades, with a beautiful and rich quality distinguishable from most other painting mediums. Many major iconic artworks have been created with oil, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, American Gothic by Grant Wood, Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet, Whistlers Mother by James McNeil Whistler, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, and Guernica by Pablo Picasso, to name a few.


What do I need to start out in oil painting?

There are a few things you’ll need to get started with oil painting:

  • Oil paints: Start with a basic colour palette if you are just starting out, with black, white, and the primary colours of red, blue and yellow. 
  • A range of small and large brushes (most oil painters reach for hog bristle)
  • An easel. (Easels are typically a far more comfortable way to paint than by painting on a flat surface)
  • A mixing palette
  • canvas (If you want to experiment and do some sketching, canvas boards are an option if you want a less expensive alternative to just play around with)
  • Linseed oil
  • Odourless solvent or turpentine
  • Paper towel (to wipe paint from your brush)


What oil colours should I get?

When starting out in oil painting, a good range of colours includes:

  • Titanium white
  • Ivory black or lamp black
  • Cerulean blue
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Burnt umber
  • Raw umber
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Cadmium red
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Alizarin crimson
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Greens (can be mixed by using blues and yellows, but if you are after a ready to use colour, sap green or permanent green is a good starting point)

You can also find a variety of pre-chosen sets that do colour curation for you. This Art Spectrum set or Mont Marte Set is great option.

What surfaces can I use oil paint on?

Oil paint can be used on a variety of surfaces such as canvas, wood, paper and even some metals such as aluminium and copper. Always prep your surface with gesso.


Can you paint on metal with oil paint?

Metals such as aluminium and copper can be painted on with oil paints.


What brushes should I use for oil painting?

Hog bristle brushes are most commonly used in oil painting as animal hair tends to hold its shape far better than synthetic hair. Ideally, you’ll want a good variety of sizes and shapes. If you are starting out, an oil painting brush set may also be a good way to go. You can also use palette knives to create thick textural and abstract marks.


What brush should I use for details?

To create details in your oil painting, opt for a small liner brush. You can also mix the Winsor & Newton Liquin Fine Detail with your oil paints. This is a fluid quick-drying, high-gloss medium that can also be used for fine detail, glazing, blending or to produce a smooth surface to your works, removing brush strokes and texture. It speeds up the paint drying time with a touch-dry finish in rapid time. It resists yellowing, maintaining the colour and brightness of paint over time. It is a natural approach to paint thinning and avoids the use of harsh chemicals.

How do I clean my paintbrushes after oil painting?

To clean your paintbrushes, soak your brush in a cup of solvent or turpentine in a well-ventilated room for a few minutes, and wipe them on a rag, and then clean with the Chroma Incredible Brush Cleaner, rinse with water, wipe on a rag, before laying flat to dry.

What is turpentine?

Pure Gum Turpentine is a natural, double-distilled solvent for oil painting. It can be used to help prepare your art supplies for use or it can be used as a medium.  It is a natural material derived from the distillation of sap extracted from the Pinus Massoniana tree. 


Why do artists use turpentine when oil painting?

Turpentine is by oil painters as a traditional solvent, as it is ideal for use when preparing to paint, cleaning art supplies and removing other mediums.


What is a good alternative to turpentine?

Odourless Solvent is a healthier alternative to gum or mineral turpentine. This is ideal for artists who are sensitive to the odour of turpentine. It is used for cleaning brushes and thinning/ diluting paint as an additive to mediums.


What is linseed oil?

Linseed Oil can be added to Oil Paints to increase the flow and transparency of the paint, while also slowing down the drying process. This medium is a mid-viscosity oil paint medium and is a great choice for artists looking to create glazes or to create wet on wet techniques. This also heightens the gloss level.


What is the difference between refined linseed oil and cold-pressed linseed oil?

Refined Linseed Oil is the palest of linseed oils that increase the flow and slows the drying times of oil colours. Cold Pressed Linseed Oil is a more traditional oil that will slow drying time and increase yellowing. Both refined linseed oil and cold-pressed linseed oil can be used sparingly or mixed with an equal amount of an odourless solvent such as Gamsol to create a traditional slow-drying, low-viscosity painting medium.


What is stand oil?

Stand Oil is a thickened version of Refined Linseed Oil that increases flow and gloss and slows dry time. Colours mixed with Stand Oil will dry to a smooth, enamel-like finish with a tough elastic film. Use sparingly or mix with an equal amount of a solvent such as Gamsol to create a traditional, slow drying, high-viscosity painting medium.


What is the difference between oil paints and water-mixable oils?

Water Soluble Oil Paint has been developed to appear, apply and feel like traditional oil paint – with the special quality of being water mixable. These Oil Paints have been developed to allow artists to use them without the addition of nasty solvents and thinners. They can simply and happily be thinned down and cleaned up with water. A great option for use in shared studios, or for the classroom, they are a genuine oil colour made from modified linseed oil.

What are some good oil paint brands for beginners?

Art Prism Oil Paint: Art Prism 40ml Oil Paints (often referred to as AP paints) are developed and manufactured by Art Spectrum, and are regarded as one of the best quality student oil paints available. With a comparable smooth consistency and mix ability to higher quality equivalents such as the Art Spectrum Professional range. This range of oils is a perfect level to start at for a beginner or student painter made with quality and price in mind, all colours in this range are a series one level and therefore are the same price – at the same time they still utilise the high-quality pigments Art Spectrum has come to be known for. The 26 colour range offers all the hues and colours one needs to get started with oil painting.

Mont Marte Oil Paints: The affordability of the Mont Marte Oil Paints makes them great for beginners or artists working on a large scale. Available in a range of beautiful and vibrant colours, they feature high-quality lightfast pigments and a smooth, buttery consistency. These premium oil paints boast excellent covering power, tinting strength and are great for colour mixing. 


Mont Marte H20 Water Mixable Oil Paints: Water mixable oil paint (also called "water soluble") is a modern variety of oil paint engineered to be thinned and cleaned up with water, thus making it possible to avoid using chemicals such as turpentine, whose fumes may be harmful if inhaled (making it necessary to take precautions, such as using the solvent in a ventilated environment). Water mixable oil paint can be mixed and applied using the same techniques as traditional oil-based paint, but while still wet it can be effectively removed from brushes, palettes, and rags with ordinary soap and water.

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Paint: Winton Oil colours have been developed by Winsor and Newton to be able to offer a reasonably priced oil paint at a high quality. Each tube of Winton Oil Paint has a high level of pigmentation to provide solid coverage and mixability. These Oil colours can be effectively mixed to create a wide spectrum of colour options, and can be safely intermixed with Winsor and Newton Artists Oil Paint among other oil paints.


What are some good oil paint brands for professional artists?

Art Spectrum:  Art Spectrum is Australia's most respected oil paints because they conform to the classic tradition. To make a permanent artists' paint, it is of the utmost importance to not only have lightfast pigments and pure linseed oil (safflower oil in whites) but to ensure they are thoroughly milled as well. All colours are triple-milled to ensure that every pigment particle is completely coated with the vehicle, and evenly dispersed. This results in a stable paint film that has even surface tensions. The finest pigments are used in the maximum working strength to impart the best colour quality.

Winsor & Newton Artists Oil Colour: Internationally renowned by professional artists, Winsor & Newton’s Artists’ Oil Colours are trusted for their reliability, quality and excellent tinting strength. Winsor & Newton only use the finest and purest pigments, ensuring the cleanest, brightest colours, which in turn produce the best colour mixtures. The quantity of pigment used provides excellent covering power and tinting strength. Each oil colour is individually formulated to optimise its drying rate, which helps artists to avoid the problems of slow drying underlayers. So that you can trust in the longevity of your work and leave a lasting impression, Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colours have been tested for lightfastness and permanence, and boast some of the best ratings (at least AA or A) of any oil paints on the market – truly retaining their brilliance over time.

Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Paint: Winsor and Newton Artisan Water Soluble Oil Paint have been developed to appear, apply and feel like traditional oil paint – with the special quality of being water mixable. These Oil Paints have been developed to allow artists to use them without the addition of nasty solvents and thinners. They can simply and happily be thinned down and cleaned up with water. A great option for use in shared studios, or for the classroom.

I want texture in my oil painting, what should I use?

 Impasto is a painting style in which paint is laid on canvas in thick layers creating an almost three-dimensional effect. Take Vincent Van Gogh's very famous 'Starry Night' for example. You can achieve this my using oil paints with a palette knife. Avoid mixing any mediums with your paint to retain this thick texture. 


What does Fat over Lean mean in oil painting?

Fat over lean: The more oil in the paint, the “fatter” it is and the longer it will take to dry. To avoid cracking, make sure the lower layers of your artwork are leaner and the top layers are oilier.


What does Thick over Thin mean in oil painting?

Thick over thin: Make sure that the top layers of paint are also thicker than the base layers, as thicker paint applications will also take longer to dry than thin ones. You can thin oil paints with odourless solvent or turpentine.


How do I prime my canvas?

Prime your canvas with gesso to create a smooth base, and to prevent your oil paint from seeping into the surface.


How do I protect my finished artwork?

Once your work is finished, be sure to store your work out of direct sunlight, in a space that is somewhat temperature controlled. Once your work is fully dried, you’ll also want to varnish your work to protect it. For this you can use:

Damar varnish

Damar Varnish is a traditional varnish that can be used to finish oil paintings. Damar varnish gives a gloss finish and is applied as a permanent final coat to protect artwork from dust and other harmful residues. Damar can all be used in the process of mixing your own painting mediums.

Krylon Spray - Kamar Varnish Spray 311g

Krylon Spray Kamar Varnish can be used to provide a clear, long-lasting protective coat for oil, acrylic and other water-based mediums. The synthetic acrylic formulation of this varnish has been designed to protect like traditional damar varnish without the impurities, and therefore will not yellow over time. Dries to touch in 15 minutes and is fully dry in 2 hours. Coverage: 15 – 20 sq ft


How do I prevent my oil painting from yellowing?

To prevent yellowing, you can use different oils to linseed oil, such as Safflower oil, however, these will take slightly longer to dry.


How do I blend my oil painting?

Oil paints are naturally easier to blend than water-based paints like acrylics or watercolours. To blend, start by blocking in colours, and use a clean and dry flat brush to drag and blend the regions of paint together, creating a gradient between the colours.


What does glazing mean in oil painting?

Glazing is a technique that uses linseed oil to make the paint more transparent, and add thin layers to create beautiful multi-coloured hues. Glazes are used over paint layers to build depth and add colour in a painting. A glaze must be completely dry before another is applied on top. A glaze layer should contain at least 10% oil colour.

What is wet on wet oil painting?

Wet on wet oil painting involves painting directly on to wet paint, without allowing the bottom layer to dry, allowing you to complete a painting in one sitting.  


What is Grisaille?

Grisaille was a popular Renaissance technique that involves using neutral colours and shades of grey.


How long does it take for oil paint to dry?

Oil paint does not have a fixed drying time, and is dependent on the thickness of paint application, the environment around it, and the pigment itself. Typically, oils are dry to the touch within 3 to 12 days, however this does not mean that the paint has fully cured. The curing process can take months, and very thick impasto strokes of oil paint can take up to 2 years to fully cure.  


How do I speed up the drying time of oil paint?

To speed up the drying time of oil paint, it is recommended to apply paint in thin layers and to use Liquin. Liquin is a general-purpose semi-gloss medium that speeds drying, improves flow and reduces brush stroke retention. Liquin halves the drying time of conventional oil colour (touch dry in 1-6 days depending on colour & film thickness), and resists yellowing. You can also thin your oil paint to speed up drying time by using odourless solvent or turpentine.


How do I slow the drying time of oil paint?

You can also slow the curing process by exposing oils to the cold. You can even store unused oil paint in the freeze.


When can I varnish my oil painting?

You can varnish your oil painting once it has fully cured.


How do I mix paint colours?

Use a palette knife and easy clean palette to mix your paint colours. To help you learn colour theory and mixing, a colour dial or colour wheel is also a useful tool.


Can I mix oil and acrylic paint?

You should avoid mixing oil paints and acrylic paints together, however, you can paint your base with acrylic paints, wait for them to dry, and paint over them with oils.


Can I mix oil paint and watercolour?

Watercolour and oil paints do not mix well and are not advised to be combined. Watercolours mixed or painted on top of oil paints will not dry properly.


Can I remove dried oil paint?

Once oil paint has dried, it is very difficult to remove. You can try to remove oil paints by using solvents or a chemical stripper to dissolve the paint, and scrubbing.


Is oil paint toxic?

Solvents can be harmful when used in enclosed studios with no ventilation. Some pigments can also be toxic, such as cadmium and cobalt if ingested or breathed in. When working with oils, always work in a well-ventilated area, and wear protective clothing to avoid contact with skin.


How do I get inspiration?

There are so many places to find inspiration for oil painting. If you’re feeling creative block and need some inspo, check out our InstagramPinterest and TikTok for more.


Don't forget to show us your Oil Painting by tagging us on Instagram @artshedonline for your chance to be featured!

Got questions? Send us an email at customerservice@artshedonline.com.au and our friendly team of artists will do their best to assist you. 

Happy creating!


Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up