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Oils - oil paint and oil painting techniques.

500 ml Zest-it oil paint dilutant and brush cleanerOils have a quality all of their own, they are a popular medium and have stood the test of time. Oil paints are easy to manipulate and so adaptable. There are many different oil painting techniques and some of the ways are listed below with links to the sections.

Oil paint is a slower drying medium than most others, this allows time for alterations and mistakes can be wiped off or rectified. The use of 'turps' with oils gives them their bad reputation but things have moved on and using Zest-it® Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner is a pleasure with oil paint for both diluting the paint and cleaning brushes. More information about oil paint, how it's made and some of it's properties can be found on the paint page.

Many people think you need a lot of equipment to paint with oils but that is not necessarily true. Like most other painting media, you need a few brushes, some paint, a way of cleaning the brushes, somewhere to mix the paint and something to paint on. One piece of equipment that is very useful when painting with oils on large canvas or similar is an easel, not a necessity but it certainly makes painting more comfortable.

jacqui blackman oil paint colour chartsOil paint has a 'personality', the same way as Watercolour, Gouache and Acrylic paint, they all behave differently.  A stranger can be a friend you don't yet know, so if you want to paint well with oils, you need to get to know oil paint, its different properties and feel comfortable working with it. Making colour charts can be good fun, it's also a way of getting to know the paints personality, which colours mix well together and where they make 'mud'. Which colours dry fast and which are slow drying. Also it pays to check the different brands of the same colour paint, this allows you to find which texture of paint you find best for your use.

jacqui blackman onestroke oil painting techniqueThere are different methods of painting with oils, from the traditional method of building the paint up in layers with glazing in-between, often referred to as indirect painting. To the wet-on-wet method which is in effect one layer of paint, mixed on the canvas, sometimes called direct painting or alla prima. For one-stroke painting the paint is mixed in a more controlled manner before applying to the surface.

Which method is the best one? The best one is the one that feels right to you.

There are many different ways to paint with oil paint and don't be afraid to experiment until you find one you're happy with. Try as many different surfaces as possible until one gives the effect that you are after. For fine detail the smoother the canvas or surface the better, the surface does need to be primed. Prime watercolour paper with gelatin or gesso, it makes an excellent surface to paint on, the Old Masters used it very sucessfully. Tin/metal and stone usually just need cleaning before use as a surface.

Try different oil painting techniques - you can paint your oils thickly and with lots of texture, often referred to as Impasto. impasto oil paintFor this style of oil painting use a painting knife or a large bristle haired brush. When painting Impasto, where you want rough and thick paint use a canvas or surface that has plenty of 'tooth'. Tooth is the term for a rougher or more textured surface that holds the paint. This type of surface is needed to hold the paint and to take the weight of paint. The thicker the paint the longer it will take to dry.


pro arte brushesBrushes give different effects according to the type of filament and the shape of the bristles. Bristle is the traditional hair in artist oil brushes. They also tend to have long handles, this allows more distance between you and your work, which helps when brush strokes are often large and loose. Whereas for something like Tole painting you would use soft haired brushes which tend to be short handled, the work is more detailed you therefore need to be closer to it. Check out the brush cleaning page for hints and tips on looking after your brushes.

Some people paint with just a painting knife for the main part of the picture, putting the fine detail in with a brush. Painting knives allow large sweeps of colour, again, often mixed on the canvas. When trying the different painting knives or brush strokes, or just getting the 'feel' of the paint, greaseproof paper makes a good inexpensive practice surface to try painting oils on.


Oils can be a challenging, enjoyable, tactile painting experience, an amenable media for artistic expression. The first step down any road is always the hardest, but with a little encouragement we can all go a long way. If you are new to oil painting, have a read through some of the links on this page, you'll find lots of information to help you.

Throughout the Zest-it site you will find many pages on various aspects of oil painting, for instance - click the link if you are interested in colour mixing; for information about using a painting medium, for Varnishing a picture, for the colour wheel and for Zest-it products - most of all enjoy the learning path.

A Gallery of Flowers for painting flowers from life; for Tole painting techniques the Tole Gallery both have links to step-by-step painting to try. To view paintings on my personal site in the Oil painting gallery.

Many of the products on this page can be purchased from Retailer on the Stockist page or at our online shops
J & T's Art and Calligraphy

Copyright Jacqui Blackman 1999

Our thanks to Pro Arte for the brush image, used with permission.

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