Make Your Oil Paintings to Last!

I am painting in oils right now so I was inspired to write a little bit about this fabulous medium, from a technical perspective of course.  Here is a picture of one of the paintings that I just completed:

-rundle @ dawn 12x48 op+

“Rundle at Dawn” – 12×48 oil on panel.

I spent years studying the materials and techniques of the Old Masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  Among the many remarkable things I learned was that they were very concerned about making their creative expressions to last and so the methods they used to put their paintings together was very influenced by this goal.

Much of the information on how to ensure that their paintings would remain in good condition for centuries – yes, they actually did think in these terms – was gradually lost starting around the end of the 18th century.  This knowledge has been revived almost entirely by the work of conservationists in museums who have spent more time in the last century or so working to restore works of contemporary artists than that of the great painters of the past.  This is not the kind of stuff you learn in Fine Arts programs, or in workshops for that matter; unless you take one of mine of course.

As most of you are aware, my teaching and writing on art is focused on all things technical.  Most of the workshops I have been doing in recent years have been in acrylics, however, this fall I will be doing a workshop for oil painters over two weekends in October and November, here in Kamloops.  I will even spend some time reviewing the history of oil painting techniques and looking at how some of my favorite painters, like Raphael and Caravaggio, created their masterpieces.  I will post again in August or September with more details when the information is available.

Below are some guidelines you can follow to help you make sure that your paintings will last for future generations to enjoy:

If you want to learn more techy stuff about oils and acrylics, their properties and working characteristics, check out my blog called:  Oils vs Acrylics.

Guidelines for Permanent Painting in Oils

  1. Paint on a good quality ground.  If you are using acrylic gesso, make sure that it is thick enough to prevent oil seeping through to the support.
  2. Paint on a rigid support, like hardboard, rather than a flexible support whenever possible (see #19).  You can prepare cotton canvas for painting in oils by applying a layer of Golden’s GAC 400 (fabric stiffening medium) on the back, and Golden’t GAC 100 medium on the front to prevent oil from seaping thru to the fabric.
  3. Paint fast dryers under slow dryers.
  4. Paint ‘lean’ (low oil content) pigments under ‘fat’ (high oil content) ones.
  5. When painting in layers keep the under layers thinner and leaner.
  6. Paint oils over acrylics, if you must, but not the other way around, and on a rigid rather than a flexible support.
  7. Do not paint over a layer that has a dry skin but is soft and wet underneath.
  8. Oil paint can be thinned with only very small amounts of solvent.
  9. Do not add extra oil to your paint.
  10. Use a good painting medium (Alkyd) to thin paint and make glazes and veils.
  11. Use Retouch varnish sparingly.
  12. Keep the underpainting light and bright (see # 17&18).
  13. Do not apply the paint too thick.
  14. Heavy texture, thick paint layers, and collage effects are best done with acrylic paints and mediums.
  15. Do not use old paint that has begun to dry and is stiff and rubbery, it will not adhere well.
  16. Paint around things rather than over top unless you want the underpainting to show (see # 17&18).
  17. Remember that oil paint darkens and becomes more yellow/brown with age.
  18. Remember that oil paint becomes more transparent with age.
  19. Remember that oil paint becomes more hard and brittle with age.
  20. Use soap to clean hands and brushes, not solvents.
  21. Use the best quality paints you can afford.
  22. Do not mix low grade and professional grade paints in the same painting.
  23. Wait between 3-12 months before applying picture varnish, depending on the thickness of the paint.
  24. Do not hang or store oil paintings where they will be exposed to humidity or large temperature fluctuations.
  25. Never use water to clean an oil painting.


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