Oil painting is the process of painting
with a medium of drying oil
as the binder
. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil
, poppy seed oil
, walnut oil
, and safflower oil
. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint
, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin
, such as pine resin or frankincense
, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.
The oldest known oil paintings were created by Buddhist
artists in Afghanistan
and date back to the 7th century AD. The technique of binding pigments in oil was known in Europe by at least the 12th century. The adoption of oil paint by Europeans began with Early Netherlandish painting
in Northern Europe, and by the height of the Renaissance
, oil painting techniques had almost completely replaced the use of tempera
paints in the majority of Europe.
In recent years, water miscible oil paint
has become available. Water-soluble paints are either engineered or an emulsifier
has been added that allows them to be thinned with water rather than paint thinner
, and allows, when sufficiently diluted, very fast drying times (1–3 days) when compared with traditional oils (1–3 weeks).
, ''1897''|alt=Painting shows a man in the foreground with a loose-fitting white outfit and a mustache holding a wooden palette with his paints. A pair of feminine legs are visible upper right.]]
Traditional oil painting techniques often begin with the artist sketching the subject onto the canvas with charcoal or thinned paint. Oil paint
is usually mixed with linseed oil, artist grade mineral spirits
, or other solvents to make the paint thinner, faster or slower-drying. (Because the solvents thin the oil in the paint, they can also be used to clean paint brushes.) A basic rule of oil paint application is 'fat over lean
', meaning that each additional layer of paint should contain more oil than the layer below to allow proper drying. If each additional layer contains less oil, the final painting will crack and peel. This rule does not ensure permanence; it is the quality and type of oil that leads to a strong and stable paint film.
There are other media that can be used with the oil, including cold wax, resins, and varnishes. These additional media can aid the painter in adjusting the translucency of the paint, the sheen of the paint, the density or 'body' of the paint, and the ability of the paint to hold or conceal the brushstroke. These aspects of the paint are closely related to the expressive capacity of oil paint.
Traditionally, paint was most often transferred to the painting surface using paintbrush
es, but there are other methods, including using palette knives
and rags. Oil paint remains wet longer than many other types of artists' materials, enabling the artist to change the color, texture or form of the figure. At times, the painter might even remove an entire layer of paint and begin anew. This can be done with a rag and some turpentine
for a time while the paint is wet, but after a while the hardened layer must be scraped off. Oil paint dries by oxidation
, not evaporation
, and is usually dry to the touch within a span of two weeks (some colors dry within days). It is generally dry enough to be varnish
ed in six months to a year.
The earliest known oil paintings to survive date back to about 650AD on walls at Bamiyan
. These wall paintings are Buddhist works, at a settlement along the silk road
. They display a wide range of pigments and binders, and even included the use of a final varnish layer. This refinement of this painting technique and the survival of the paintings into the present day suggests that oil paints had been used in Asia even before the 7th century.
Most European Renaissance
sources, in particular Vasari
, credit northern European painters of the 15th century, and Jan van Eyck
in particular, with the "invention" of oil paints However, Theophilus
(Roger of Helmarshausen
?) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, ''On Various Arts'', written about 1125. At this period, it was probably used for painting sculptures, carvings and wood fittings, perhaps especially for outdoor use. Outdoor surfaces and surfaces like shields—both those used in tournaments and those hung as decorations—were more durable when painted in oil-based media than when painted in the traditional tempera paints. However, early Netherlandish painting
with artists like Van Eyck and Robert Campin
in the early and mid-15th century were the first to make oil the usual painting medium, and explore the use of layers and glaze
s, followed by the rest of Northern Europe, and only then Italy.
Such works were painted on wooden panel
s, but towards the end of the 15th century canvas
began to be used as a support, as it was cheaper, easier to transport, allowed larger works, and did not require complicated preliminary layers of gesso
(a fine type of plaster). Venice
, where sail-canvas was easily available, was a leader in the move to canvas. Small cabinet painting
s were also made on metal, especially copper plates. These supports were more expensive but very firm, allowing intricately fine detail. Often printing plates from printmaking
were reused for this purpose. The increasing use of oil spread through Italy from Northern Europe, starting in Venice in the late 15th century. By 1540, the previous method for painting on panel (tempera) had become all but extinct, although Italians continued to use chalk-based fresco
for wall paintings, which was less successful and durable in damper northern climates.
Renaissance techniques used a number of thin almost transparent layers or glazes
, usually each allowed to dry before the next was added, greatly increasing the time a painting took. The underpainting
or ground beneath these was usually white (typically gesso coated with a primer), allowing light to reflect back through the layers. But van Eyck, and Robert Campin a little later, used a wet-on-wet
technique in places, painting a second layer soon after the first. Initially the aim was, as with the established techniques of tempera
, to produce a smooth surface when no attention was drawn to the brushstrokes or texture of the painted surface. Among the earliest impasto
effects, using a raised or rough texture in the surface of the paint, are those from the later works of the Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini
, around 1500.
This became much more common in the 16th century, as may painters began to draw attention to the process of their painting, by leaving individual brushstokes obvious, and a rough painted surface. Another Venetian, Titian
, was a leader in this. In the 17th century some artists, including Rembrandt
, began to use dark grounds. Until the mid-19th century there was a division between artists who exploited "effects of handling" in their paintwork, and those who continued to aim at "an even, glassy surface from which all evidences of manipulation had been banished".
Before the 19th century, artists or their apprentices ground pigments and mixed their paints for the range of painting media
. This made portability difficult and kept most painting activities confined to the studio
. This changed when tubes of oil paint became widely available following the American portrait painter John Goffe Rand
's invention of the squeezable or collapsible metal tube in 1841. Artists could mix colors quickly and easily, which enabled, for the first time, relatively convenient plein air
painting (a common approach in French Impressionism
The linseed oil
itself comes from the flax
seed, a common fiber crop. Linen
, a "support" for oil painting (see relevant section), also comes from the flax plant. Safflower
oil or the walnut
or poppyseed oil
are sometimes used in formulating lighter colors like white because they "yellow" less on drying than linseed oil, but they have the slight drawback of drying more slowly and may not provide the strongest paint film. Linseed oil tends to dry yellow and can change the hue of the color.
Recent advances in chemistry
have produced modern water miscible oil paint
s that can be used and cleaned up with water. Small alterations in the molecular
structure of the oil creates this water miscible
Supports for oil painting
|alt=A square canvas rests on top of another with its back showing a thick frame of wood.]]
The earliest oil paintings were almost all panel painting
s on wood, which had been seasoned and prepared in a complicated and rather expensive process with the panel constructed from several pieces of wood, although such a support has a tendency to warp. Panels continued to be used well into the 17th century, including by Rubens
, who painted several large works on wood. The artists of the Italian regions moved towards canvas
in the early 16th century, led partly by a wish to paint larger images, which would have been too heavy as panels. Canvas for sails was made in Venice
and so easily available and cheaper than wood.
Smaller paintings, with very fine detail, were easier to paint on a very firm surface, and wood panels or copper plates, often reused from printmaking
, were often chosen for small cabinet painting
s even in the 19th century. Portrait miniature
s normally used very firm supports, including ivory
, or stiff paper card.
Traditional artists' canvas is made from linen
, but less expensive cotton
fabric has been used. The artist first prepares a wooden frame called a "stretcher" or "strainer". The difference between the two names is that ''stretchers'' are slightly adjustable, while ''strainers'' are rigid and lack adjustable corner notches. The canvas is then pulled across the wooden frame and tacked or stapled tightly to the back edge. Then the artist applies a "size
" to isolate the canvas from the acidic qualities of the paint. Traditionally, the canvas was coated with a layer of animal glue
(modern painters will use rabbit skin glue) as the size and primed with lead white paint, sometimes with added chalk. Panels were prepared with a ''gesso'', a mixture of glue and chalk.
Modern acrylic "gesso
" is made of titanium dioxide
with an acrylic binder. It is frequently used on canvas, whereas real gesso is not suitable for canvas. The artist might apply several layers of gesso, sanding each smooth after it has dried. Acrylic gesso is very difficult to sand. One manufacturer makes a "sandable" acrylic gesso, but it is intended for panels only and not canvas. It is possible to make the gesso a particular color, but most store-bought gesso is white. The gesso layer, depending on its thickness, will tend to draw the oil paint into the porous surface. Excessive or uneven gesso layers are sometimes visible in the surface of finished paintings as a change that's not from the paint.
Standard sizes for oil paintings were set in France in the 19th century. The standards were used by most artists, not only the French, as it was—and evidently still is—supported by the main suppliers of artists' materials. Size 0 (''toile de 0'') to size 120 (''toile de 120'') is divided in separate "runs" for figures (''figure''), landscapes (''paysage'') and marines (''marine'') that more or less preserve the diagonal. Thus a ''0 figure'' corresponds in height with a ''paysage 1'' and a ''marine 2''.
Although surfaces like linoleum
, wooden panel
, pressed wood
, and cardboard
have been used, the most popular surface since the 16th century has been canvas
, although many artists used panel through the 17th century and beyond. Panel is more expensive, heavier, harder to transport, and prone to warp or split in poor conditions. For fine detail, however, the absolute solidity of a wooden panel has an advantage.
thumb|A traditional wood [[Palette (painting)|palette
used to hold and mix small amounts of paint while working|alt=A man's finger sticks through a hole in a large wooden palette. One of his hands is dipping a brush into the paint and the other holds numerous brushes in reserve.]]
Oil paint is made by mixing [[pigment]]s of colors with an oil medium. Since the 19th century the different main colors are purchased in [[paint tube]]s pre-prepared before painting begins, further shades of color are usually obtained by mixing small quantities together as the painting process is underway. An artist's palette
, traditionally a thin wood board held in the hand, is used for holding and mixing paints. Pigments may be any number of natural or synthetic substances with color, such as sulphide
s for yellow or cobalt salts for blue. Traditional pigments were based on minerals or plants, but many have proven unstable over long periods of time. Modern pigments often use synthetic chemicals. The pigment is mixed with oil, usually linseed, but other oils may be used. The various oils dry differently, which creates assorted effects.
A brush is most commonly employed by the artist to apply the paint, often over a sketched outline of their subject (which could be in another medium). Brushes are made from a variety of fibers to create different effects. For example, brushes made with hog bristle might be used for bolder strokes and impasto textures. Fitch hair and mongoose
hair brushes are fine and smooth, and thus answer well for portraits and detail work. Even more expensive are red sable
hair). The finest quality brushes are called "kolinsky sable
"; these brush fibers are taken from the tail of the Siberian weasel
. This hair keeps a superfine point, has smooth handling, and good memory (it returns to its original point when lifted off the canvas), known to artists as a brush's "snap." Floppy fibers with no snap, such as squirrel
hair, are generally not used by oil painters.
In the past few decades, many synthetic brushes have been marketed. These are very durable and can be quite good, as well as cost efficient
Brushes come in multiple sizes and are used for different purposes. The ''type'' of brush also makes a difference. For example, a "round" is a pointed brush used for detail work. "Flat" brushes are used to apply broad swaths of color. "Bright" is a flat brush with shorter brush hairs, used for "scrubbing in". "Filbert" is a flat brush with rounded corners. "Egbert" is a very long, and rare, filbert brush. The artist might also apply paint with a palette knife, which is a flat metal blade. A palette knife may also be used to remove paint from the canvas when necessary. A variety of unconventional tools, such as rags, sponges, and cotton swabs, may be used to apply or remove paint. Some artists even paint with their fingers
Old masters usually applied paint in layers known as "glazes", a method also simply called "indirect painting". This method was first perfected through an adaptation of the egg tempera
painting technique (egg yolks used as a binder, mixed with pigment), and was applied by the Early Netherlandish painter
s in Northern Europe with pigments usually ground in linseed oil
. This approach has been called the "mixed technique" or "mixed method" in modern times. The first coat (the underpainting
) is laid down, often painted with egg tempera or turpentine-thinned paint. This layer helps to "tone" the canvas and to cover the white of the gesso. Many artists use this layer to sketch out the composition. This first layer can be adjusted before proceeding further, an advantage over the "cartooning" method used in fresco
technique. After this layer dries, the artist might then proceed by painting a "mosaic" of color swatches, working from darkest to lightest. The borders of the colors are blended together when the "mosaic" is completed and then left to dry before applying details.
Artists in later periods, such as the Impressionist
era (late 19th century), often expanded on this wet-on-wet
method, blending the wet paint on the canvas without following the Renaissance-era approach of layering and glazing. This method is also called "alla prima
". This method was created due to the advent of painting outdoors, instead of inside a studio, because while outside, an artist did not have the time to let each layer of paint dry before adding a new layer. Several contemporary artists use a combination of both techniques to add bold color (wet-on-wet) and obtain the depth of layers through glazing.
When the image is finished and has dried for up to a year, an artist often seals the work with a layer of varnish that is typically made from dammar gum
crystals dissolved in turpentine. Such varnishes can be removed without disturbing the oil painting itself, to enable cleaning and conservation
. Some contemporary artists decide not to varnish their work, preferring the surface unvarnished.
Examples of famous works
Image:Van Eyck - Arnolfini Portrait.jpg|''Arnolfini Portrait'', Jan van Eyck, ''1434'' (on panel)
Image:La donna velata v2.jpg|''La donna velata'', Raphael, ''1516''
Image:Tizian_085.jpg|''The Rape of Europa'', Titian, ''1562''
Image:Peter Paul Rubens - De kruisoprichting.JPG|''The Raising of the Cross'', Peter Paul Rubens, ''1610–11''
Image:Rembrandt - The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp.jpg| ''The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp'', Rembrandt, ''1632''
Image:Innocent-x-velazquez.jpg| ''Innocent X'', Velázquez, ''c 1650''
Image:Johannes Vermeer - Het melkmeisje - Google Art Project.jpg|''The Milkmaid'', Johannes Vermeer, ''1658–1660''
File:Largillierre belle Strasbourgeoise mba mb.jpg|''La Belle Strasbourgeoise'', Nicolas de Largillière, ''1703''
Image:The_Toilet_of_Venus,_by_François_Boucher.jpg| ''The Toilet of Venus'', François Boucher, ''1751''
File:The Blue Boy.jpg| ''The Blue Boy'', Thomas Gainsborough, ''1770''
Image:Battle of Somosierra by Piotr Michałowski.PNG|''Battle of Somosierra'', Piotr Michałowski, 1837
Image:Claude Monet - Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son - Google Art Project.jpg|''Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son'', Claude Monet, ''1875''
Image:Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Moulin de la Galette.jpg| ''Bal du moulin de la Galette'', Pierre-Auguste Renoir ''1876''
Image:Portrait of Dr. Gachet.jpg|''Portrait of Dr. Gachet'', Vincent van Gogh, ''1890''
Image:Paul Cézanne, 1892-95, Les joueurs de carte (The Card Players), 60 x 73 cm, oil on canvas, Courtauld Institute of Art, London.jpg|''The Card Players'', Paul Cézanne, ''1892''
Image:Old guitarist chicago.jpg|''The Old Guitarist'', Pablo Picasso, 1903
File:Henri Le Sidaner Le Grand Canal, Venise (1906).jpg|''Le Grand Canal'', ''Venice'', Henri Le Sidaner , 1906
Image:Les_Demoiselles_d%27Avignon.jpg|''Les Demoiselles d'Avignon'', Pablo Picasso, 1907
File:The Kiss - Gustav Klimt - Google Cultural Institute.jpg|''The Kiss (Der Kuß)'', Gustav Klimt, 1907/8
Image:Vassily Kandinsky, 1913 - Composition 7.jpg|''Composition VII'', Wassily Kandinsky, ''1913''
Image:Chagall Bella.jpg| ''Bella with White Collar'', Marc Chagall, ''1917''
Image:Villem Ormisson, Tartu vaade (1937).jpg| ''Motive from Tartu'', Villem Ormisson, ''1937''
File:Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942.jpg|''Nighthawks'', Edward Hopper, 1942
*Osborne, Harold (ed), ''The Oxford Companion to Art'', 1970, OUP,
* Chieffo, Clifford T.:Contemporary Oil Painter's Handbook, Prentice Hall, 1976
* Borchert, Till-Holger. ''Van Eyck''. London: Taschen
* ''The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques
'', comprehensive reference book by Ralph Mayer (1940)"Oil Paint Drying Time And How You Can Manipulate it"
Category:Early Netherlandish art
Category:Netherlandish Gothic art
Category:Netherlandish Renaissance art