Nine things you need to know about oil paint

All mediums are made with the same pigments, doesn’t matter if it’s watercolour, oil or acrylic, the base pigments are all the same, but are carried in a different medium. In oil paint the pigments are carried in an oil base with a binder or filler. Basically, there are two sorts of oil paint, the student quality and the professional quality. The professional quality oil paints have more pigment and less binder, the student quality, which is cheaper, has more binder and less pigment. So, it stands to reason that with the professional grades a little goes a long way and is less likely to fade over time. 

Supports for oil paint
Oil paint comes in various forms. There is also a water- based oil paint, which is good for people with allergies as it has very little smell. Then there is Alkyd oil paint which dries overnight, useful for people who have deadlines. Then finally you have oil sticks.

Limited Pallet
It’s very easy to go into an art supply shop and spend a small fortune. I suggest that if you start with a limited pallet, not only do you save money, but it forces you to learn how to mix colours. The following seven colours are more than enough to start with: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue and Titanium White. Buy small tubes of the colours and a large tube of white as this gets used the most.

Oil paint is usually used on canvases, sometimes linen, sometimes cotton, both types of canvases should be stretched with the already provided wedges. Oil can also be used on specially treated papers or on wooden panels or treated MDF. Gesso is used to prime both canvas, boards or panels, thin layers at first for a smooth finish, or progressively thicker layers for an impasto effect.

Mixing Mediums
Liquin is a good medium for thinning paint. It doesn’t smell as much as the others. There are many different sorts to try out.
Gesso can also be thickly applied to wooden panels or canvases to give a rough surface to work from.

For the application of oil paint, brushes are the classical way to apply paint, but there are also palette knives or credit cards.

For a palette, you can buy tear-off palettes in different sizes which are convenient, these come in white and also grey, which is very handy for mixing paint colours. There is also the traditional wooden palette that needs cleaning and oiling every time. You can also buy a reinforced piece of glass and lay a sheet of grey paper underneath it to aid with mixing your colours, this is then sandwiched in between a piece of wood and taped at the edges. Very easy to clean with a razor blade or credit card. There are of course plastic palettes which also need cleaning every time. These tend to have unwanted indentations at the edge.

Saving left over paint
At the end of a painting session, if the paint that you have left on your pallet is not worth saving, scrape it all together and mix it into a neutral grey colour. This you can save in a plastic airtight container and use as a background or for tinting a new canvas. This is better than throwing expensive paint away and better for the environment.

If the paint on your pallet is worth saving, scrape all the colours into separate piles. These piles of paint may form a skin, depending on how long you store them for, then take a piece of aluminium foil and cover your pallet making sure that you pinch the edges closed, so that the package is airtight. The paint should stay moist for several days.

General information
Oil paint straight out of the tube, is a beautiful butter cream consistency. This can be thinned down with mediums, oils or turpentine or thickened with various thickening agents. Personally, I don’t use turpentine because it’s smelly, bad for the environment, bad for the lungs and skin and bad for your brushes. Just like all other mediums, oil can be used in many ways from an almost water colour effect to a thick impasto and everything in between. The general and traditional rule is to paint from very thin layers (lean) to increasingly thicker layers (fat). Having said that, all rules are made to be broken. In art, anything goes, you must have the correct information about the medium and know how to push its boundaries and limitations. Think out of the box!