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oil painting techniques


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Oil Painting Techniques

Oil painting or painting in oils is a category of painting that quick-drying vegetable oils, like flaxseed oil, poppy oil or walnut oil etc. are used to mix pigments to paint on linen, cardboard or wooden board. The thinner used in painting is volatile turpentine and drying flaxseed oil etc. The pigment on the painting is comparatively hard, which enables the painting to stay lustrous for a long time when dried. And because of the covering power and transparency of pigment, oil painting can better exemplify the target with rich colors and strong perspective. Oil painting is one of the major categories of western painting.

1. Headstream

Oil painting history starts from Europe 600 years ago and was invented by Dutch around 15th century. They used flaxseed oil to mix pigment and painted on processed canvas or wooden board.
How to oil paint? The pigment will not change color when dried nor becomes dirty when mixed, so artists can illustrate rich and realistic colors. Its opaque feature and strong covering power enable the colors to be covered layer after layer, from light to dark; therefore it can create perspective.
Oil painting originally served religion and was an important part of religious activities. It became the main style in western painting history, so the existing western paintings are mainly oil paintings. Most of the frescos are also painted with oil painting techniques and pigment. Oil painting became closer to life as time passed by. The most famous artwork used in art lessons is Mona Lisa which represents common women and begins to win popularity. In the late 19th century, due to the scientific and technologic development, many new materials were applied to oil painting, like acrylic paints, varnish and so on.

2. Oil painting history

Oil painting experienced roughly classic, modern and contemporary periods. Controlled by artistic ideas and restricted by painting techniques of that time, oil paintings in different times display different characteristics.

The historical condition in the early development of oil painting paved the way to the realistic trend for classic oil painting. During the Renaissance in 15th century, humanism had positive requirements on criticizing the religion and concerning social reality. Many famous artists gradually shook off the single theme -- Christianity in their paintings and started to observe and paint people, landscape and objects in real life, which made the religion oil painting artworks took on an obvious realistic and secular element. Some artists even completely depicted the real view in life.

Artists in Renaissance inherited the artistic opinion in Greece and Rome, i.e. not only pay attention to depict a certain event or fact but also reveal the cause and effect of it. Therefore, the artistic method focusing on conceiving typical plot and creating typical image was formed. In the meantime, artists also respectively explored the application of anatomy and perspective method into oil painting, as well as the effect of the distribution of light and shade, therefore, the scientific theory of composition was formed. The application of anthroponomy makes people in painting have a life-like proportion, figure and structure. Focus perspective makes the landscape in oil paintings similar to the momentary visual feeling by illusionary space created by composition. The chiaroscuro puts objects in paintings under the light from a major light source, which forms clear distinction between the near and the distant. The reason why the artistic theme of humanism and the compositional idea of realism are not perfect in other types of paintings is because of the limitation of tools and materials, but the tools and materials of oil painting is the right media to fully exemplify the above two factors. Therefore, classic painting is time-consuming in production and highly realistic in themes.

Classic oil painting in whole is the result of synchronic and comprehensive application of many factors in oil painting languages, however, based on which artists in different countries and times specially focused on a single or several factors; therefore various styles were formed. Italian artists in Renaissance paid special attention to the application of chiaroscuro. The dark parts of landscape in painting are shrouded in shade and there is smooth transition between the light and the dark, which make the whole painting focused and integrated. Oil painting of Leonardo Da Vinci The Virgin of the Rocks represents this style. artists in Netherlands in the same period distinctly depicted every details of the landscape with difference of colors between objects rather than transition between the light and the dark.

Robert Campin’s three paneled altarpiece The Annunciation displays all the indoor and outdoor objects in details. Italian painter Titian is the first one paying special attention to the expressive force of colors in oil paintings. He painted on dark base and often used bright colors with similar brightness and slightly different hue to form magnificent golden hue. Multiple overlapping of transparent pigments and the combination of thickness and thinness of colors integrate colors and figures and create a tactile sensation.

17th century witnesses a rapid development of European classic oil painting. artists in different regions and countries made various explorations into oil painting languages based on their social backgrounds and national features. According to the subject, oil painting can be divided into historical painting, religious oil painting, group portrait, individual portrait painting, landscape painting, still life painting and genre painting etc. The technique of oil painting was more and more ample and induced various schools in different regions and countries.

Since 18th century, under the impact of society, culture, technology etc., oil painting has undergone dramatic changes. More schools, more thoughts, richer creations, and more profound theories with wider influence emerged. They are deconstructive, rebellious and passionate, blossoming and prosperous.

3. Color layer language of oil painting

Through the development of oil painting, it is known that the beauty of color layer is achieved by continuous exploration and creation.

The function of impasto pigments and the strong plasticity enable oil painting to have incomparable features that make them resonate with people’s feelings perceptually. Each stroke of oil painting not only shapes something but also has direct impact on the texture of painting.

Rembrandt and Rubens are both masters of textures, because texture directly conveys feelings of artists and affects infectious force of the oil painting. The so-called proper expression of texture not only includes the imitation and reproduction of the tactile sensation through texture but also the description and expression of the general mood of the whole painting.

In the traditional realistic oil paintings, no matter the tactile sensation of objects is rough or fine, texture can reproduce it with corresponding textures. However, this is a very passive behavior. The real beauty of texture lies in those highly harmonious textures which can express the rhythm of paintings and feeling of artists.

This texture often surpasses the limitation of tactile sensation and integrates its spirit into the whole painting and viewers’ inside, becoming the beauty of color layer independent from concrete image. In this sense, it is abstract. But in the traditional oil painting, conversely it attaches itself to the realistic objects, merging into the whole atmosphere.

4. Materials and tools

Oil painting is to use transparent vegetable oil to mix pigments to paint on the processed canvas, cardboard or wooden board etc. It originated and developed in Europe and became an important type in the worldwide range in modern times. Tempera, born before 15th century, a type of European painting is the previous form of oil painting. While painting tempera, many artists continued to look for more ideal blender. It is generally recognized that the Netherland artists Jan Van Eyck brothers in the early 15th century are the founder of oil painting. On the basis of former attempt made by predecessors to use oil to dissolve pigment, they used flaxseed oil and walnut oil to mix pigment. This made the pigment smoother and it could dry in a medium amount of time, easy to cover and modify. And the pigment had richer color layers and better luster and stronger adhesion when dried, not easy to peeling off and fade. The Jan Van Eyck brothers became quite influential by using the new oil painting materials. The oil painting technique soon spread to other countries in Western Europe, gaining rapid development especially in Venice of Italy.
The major materials and tools of oil painting are pigment, brush, pallet knife, canvas, varnish, frame etc.

A, Pigment falls into two categories: mineral and synthetic ones. Most of the original pigment is mineral pigment, hand grinded when painting. Contained in tin tubes, the types of oil painting pigment are increasing with the mass production in factories. The capability of pigment is related with the contained chemical elements. When mixed, some pigments will have adverse chemical reactions. Therefore, mastering the capability of pigment help bring the oil painting techniques into full play and make the colors of paintings unfailing.

B, Brush
Brush is made of animal hair with moderate flexibility. There are round brush with pointed edge, flat brush with flat edge, flat brush with short and flat edge and fan shaped brush etc.

C, Painting knife
Painting knife is called pallet knife, which is made of flexible sheet steel and there are round knife and pointed knife. They are used to mix oil paints on palette. Many artists also use knife instead of pen, directly using knife to paint or partially paint on oil painting canvas to form special texture to strengthen expressive force of pigment.

oil painting materials

D, Canvas
Standard canvas is made by applying the mixture of whiting with glue or oil on the linen or sailcloth stretched on wooden frame. Canvas are generally made into those do not absorb oil yet have the texture of cloth. Or they are made into ones that completely absorb oil or half absorb coil according to different requirements in painting. The roughness or fineness of texture is determined by the size of oil painting and also by the requirements of painting.
Some artists use canvas applied with basic color to form unified hue and reveal the basic color unintentionally when painting. Non-oil-absorptive wooden board or cardboard processed by applying can also be used instead of canvas.

E, Gloss oil
Gloss oil is often used after the completion and dry of oil painting to keep the luster of it and prevent it from the dust and air infiltration.

F, Frame
A complete oil painting should include frame, especially those with stronger realistic characteristics. Frame form a boarder for viewers’ vision, making the painting complete and concentrated and making the objects in the painting stretch deeper. The thickness and size of frame is determined by the content of painting. Classic oil paintings often use wooden or plaster frames and modern and contemporary oil paintings often use metal materials like aluminum alloy etc.

5. Oil painting technique

The limitation of tools and materials of oil painting causes the complexity of painting techniques. For centuries, artists have innovated many techniques in practice, giving full play to the materials of oil painting. The major techniques are as follows.

A, Transparent coverage
Transparent coverage is to use megilp-diluted pigment without adding whiting to paint for multi-layers. Each layer should be painted when the last layer completely dries. Because the color of each layer is comparatively thin, the color of underneath layer can vaguely present itself, forming a hue with subtle change. For example, to apply blue on deep red layer can produce a rich effect ---- blue tinged with purple. This color cannot be mixed on palette and can make you feel some warmth in the coldness of the color. This kind of oil painting technique suits for expressing the texture and thickness of objects. And it can especially describe the subtle color change of people’s skin, making people feel the flowing blood under the skin. The drawback of it is comparatively narrow gamut, effort-consuming and time-consuming, not suitable to express the improvised feeling of artists.

B, Opaque coverage
Opaque coverage is also called multi-level coloration. A single color is used to sketch the outline of object and then multi-level colors are used to colorize it. Shadow is often painted thinner, while the middle tone and highlight is painted layer after layer, forming color comparison. Because the thickness of color differs, the richness and texture of oil painting colors can be fully exemplified. There is no distinct difference between transparent and opaque coverage, and artists often combine these two painting techniques.
To depict objects in the dark or shadow, transparent coverage is often used to generate stable and deep perspective and spatial impression. To paint those outside of dark or shadow, opaque coverage is used to strengthen the saturation of colors. The oil painting artists before 19th century for the most part used these two technique. The completion of a piece of work often takes longer time, because some paintings have to be repainted after the dryness of one layer.

C, Once-off opaque coloration
Once-off opaque coloration is also called direct coloration. After sketching the outline on canvas oil painting, based on the feeling towards the colors of object or the conception of colors, artists begin the once-off painting. Incorrect part will be scraped by palette knife and some further adjustment will be made. This oil painting technique requires thickness of pigment for every brush and can create high saturation and distinct stroke, easy to express the vivid feeling of painters.

Many artists after the middle of 19th century most adopt this art painting techniques. To achieve the saturation in only once-off oil painting, application of brushes should be paid attention to. Frequently used methods are flat painting, scattering painting and impasto painting. Flat painting is to apply large area of colors by single-directional and even-powered force, proper for creating static object in stable composition. Scattering painting is to flexibly and casually paint objects based on the natural curves of objects. Impasto painting is to wholly or partially apply pigment layer after layer on oil painting canvas. Some even have color layers or color lumps as thick as several millimeters. This can express the interest of texture and strengthen the image of object.

As an artistic language, oil painting includes many factors like color, light and shade, line, texture, brush, light perception, spatial perception, composition etc. The role of painting techniques art lies in the embodiment of various factors either comprehensively or partially. The performance of oil painting materials makes the full application of art techniques painting on two-dimensional canvas possible. The producing process of oil painting is the process of spontaneously and skillfully manipulating the materials, choosing and applying expressive thoughts and forming artistic images. Not only can oil painting express the thoughts endowed by artists, but it can also display the developing process of oil painting language, which experiences classic, modern and contemporary periods and due to the control of artistic thoughts in different times and restriction of watercolor painting techniques in different periods, the oil painting presents different features.

6. Status quo of oil painting history

Oil painting is one of the noblest decorative paintings. Handmade and copy painted according to customers’ requirements, oil painting have unique style. The relatively popular themes of oil painting in the existing market are landscape painting, figure painting and still life painting.
Having developed to contemporary times, oil painting wins more and more popularity among people. Among modern decorative paintings, one type of plain oil painting without frames, also called frameless decorative painting, is making its inroads into modern housing market with prosperous momentum. It shakes off tradition restriction of frames for oil painting and is the latest trend for modern housing decoration.

7. Oil painting preservation

A well preserved oil painting will not discolor after several hundred of years, or else its color might chap, fade or discolor. Then, this art lesson tells you how to preserve your oil painting.

A. Thinly smear two layers of natural bees wax dissolved in turpentine in advance over the back of canvas. This can prevent the damage caused by the infiltration of damp air.

B. Oil paintings should not be exposed to the sun for a long time, because the ultraviolet ray can cause the color fade or change.

C. The room for storage of oil paintings should be well ventilated and damp proof. It should be far from bathroom and kitchen as much as possible. Dust, oil and smoke should also be prevented. The storage room should be kept at a certain temperature and humidity. Wet painting should be left dry in the shade instead of exposure to the sun, or else the surface of it will likely to come off.

D. Oil paintings cannot be put face to face. In case the temperature rises, paintings would be adhered to each other and the color would go off and surface would be damaged.

E. When rolled an oil painting, the canvas should be rolled inward and the surface outward. And the surface should be covered with cardboard, which should be wrapped with plastic cloth to prevent the chap of painting.

F. If there is any dust on the oil painting hung on the wall, slightly wet and clean cloth should be used to lightly clean it. If there is any oil or smoke on the surface, light soap water should be used to softly clean it and sponge to absorb the water on the surface and then an air blower to dry it. Should the oil painting be age-long and chapped, remember to use less water and partially scrubbing it is enough. If professional gloss oil is used for the maintenance of oil painting, before glossed, the surface should be cleaned by clean cloth.

G. Generally speaking, oil painting can be reserved as long as two or three hundred years. With time passing by, some oil paintings can chap after several decades. If collections are of comparatively large quantity, after wrapped up in plastic cloth, oil paintings should be put in wooden boxes in case of damage.

8. Schools of oil painting

Oil painting can be divided into two categories. One is re-creative artworks base on objective world and the other is expressive artworks based on subjective world.

Among the first category of oil painting, those appearing after Renaissance, like Baroque, Rococo, classism, academism, romanticism, realism, factualism, photorealism, and impressionism are all based on the re-creation of nature to express painters’ different thoughts and objectives.

Baroque oil painting gained popularity from 17th century to 18th century. The word “baroque” originally means untidiness, twisting and wackiness. It values the twisting of movement, plumpness and weightiness of body. Its artistic language is intense, exaggerating, and luxurious. This is the features of Baroque oil painting. Its representative painter is Rubens.

The original meaning of “rococo” refers to the shape of shells. Its artistic style is complicated, exquisite, delicate and sweet. It began to win popularity in 18th century and its representative artists are Watteau and François Boucher etc.

Classicism and academism
Thinking highly of the aesthetic principles of ancient Greece and Rome, Classicism oil paintings emphasize the symmetric and balanced composition, solemn, glorious and sublime manner. Its oil paintings techniques are exquisite and skillful and its portrayal is meticulous and accurate. This is also the principle adopted by academism. Just as the founder of academism said, beauty is the supreme objective of all the artistic paintings. It is a objective quality of objects, being composed of order, harmony, proportion and regularity. Its representative artists are Raphael, Ingres etc.

Romanticism originated in France in 19th century. Its representative work is Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa. In this oil painting, the composition, light, color, dynamic and expression all represent rich imagination of artist. It breaks the horizontal and vertical composition in classism. The light is soft and even-distributed, making the painting generate a passion. To emphasize the emotional catharsis and expression is an important element in Romanticism oil painting.

Realism refers that in the middle of 19th century, artists led by Millet advocated expressing normal visual images and reflecting the nature of life by sticking to the reality. Its representative artwork is Millet oil painting The Gleaner.

Factualism and photorealism
Factualism is just as its founder Courbet put in 1885, “to express the convention, thought and appearance in my times as what I have seen. In one word, to create art is my objective.”

Photorealism is to depict life as photos on oil paintings, like Close’s John. When painted, the object will be first photographed or made into slide and then be magnified ten times as large as the real person on the canvas. So it can depict details in a finer and realer way, like the texture or facial hair on face.

Impressionism oil painting
Painters in 19th century walked out of their ateliers and discovered the instant change of light and color in the nature. That is how impressionism comes into being. It breaks the traditional concept of intrinsic color, for example, tree is green and shade is black. It objectively describes the influence of surrounding colors exerting on intrinsic colors. Its representative artists are Monet, Seurat, Cézanne, Renoir etc.

If the aforementioned oil painting schools are faithful reproduction of nature or some extension, addition, emphasis and development of nature, the following category, i.e. Postimpressionism, Les Fauves, Cubism, Futurism, Abstractionism, and Surrealism etc. are no longer truthful description of objective subjects, instead, they are free creation based on painters’ subjective intentions. Most of them appeared after 20th century.

Postimpressionism emphasizes self expression, the comparison of colors and intrinsic structure. Its representative artists are Van Gogh, Gauguin etc. This school exerts a far-reaching effect on oil painting.

Les Fauves / Fauvism
Les Fauves / Fauvism uses exaggerating images, intense colors and rough lines to express inside passion. Matisse is the founder of this Fauvism paintings.

Cubism expresses objects with full-range perspectives instead of single perspective, thus it restores objects into geometric ones. Its founder is Spanish oil painting painter Picasso and French painter Braque.

Futurism applies colors and lines in an abstract way to express the velocity of movement and the combination and departure of power.

Abstractionism combines lines, lumps and colors in way without concrete representation. Its representative painter is Dutch oil painting artist Mondrian.

Dadaism oil painting has a certain influence on the later Surrealism, Mobile Carving, Pop Art and Modernism.

Influenced by the Bergson’s intuitionism and Freud’s theory on subconscious, Surrealism oil painting advocates expressing people’s subconscious and dream. Its representative artists are Spanish painter Dali and Milo.

9. Technique to hang an Oil painting

Compared with other types, oil painting has its limitation on displaying. Firstly, it is easy to reflect light. Secondly, the impasto paint technique strengthening the texture can cause bumps, so it is easy to catch dust. In order to get better visual effect and better protect the oil painting, painting should be hung with a certain inclination towards front.
When facing light, the oil painting does not have a good visual effect, so side light should be placed above the painting, keeping it in accordance with the light during painting process. If the light during painting process is on the left, then the light should be accordant with it when the oil painting is hung on the wall.

10. Oil Paintings for Sale

Most painting suppliers use cheap even bad materials for painting business in order to chase cut-throat competition and catch profit.

But Toperfect Art is distinctive. For paintings in high quality and Museum-Collection by Famous Artists, we use high quality painting materials including FREE linen canvas made of flax and cotton, certified oil paints, which is guarantee to get elegant artistic results and hundred years to collect carefully.

To buy oil painting reproductions, please check Toperfect Catalogue. And you're welcome to order portrait and custom painting from photos.

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