for oil painters
- ABOUT OIL PAINTS
professional - hobbyist - student - about color names
- ABOUT OIL PAINTING BRUSHES
materials - shapes - care - shopping
- ABOUT SURFACES FOR OIL PAINTING
canvas paper - canvas board
cotton - linen - wood products - paper products
- ABOUT PREPARING SURFACES FOR OIL PAINTING
acrylic gesso - acrylic painting medium
traditional oil ground
ABOUT OIL PAINTS
Price is a good guide to the quality of artists’ colors; the higher the price, usually the better the paint. There are three grades: professional, hobbyist, and student.
Made of the finest materials refined to the highest standards. Compared to other grades, professional colors (also called “artists’ colors”) have cleaner and more brilliant tone, greater strength, and more covering power in opaque colors. Although they are more costly, less paint is needed to do the job than with other grades, and with more satisfying results.
Hobbyist paints are of good quality and perform well. Although they contain less pigment than professional paints, they are a reliable and more affordable alternative.
Not recommended for permanent work. In addition to other shortcomings, student paints contain fillers that make it appear you are getting a lot of paint, when in reality you are getting very little pigment and thus weak colors. For those who must buy student paints, a hobby grade bright yellow and bright red are strongly recommended.
It is easy to confuse student with artist quality paints, and traditional oil paints with water mixable oil paints; many companies make all types. For example, shown left to right are Winsor & Newton's Winton traditional student paint, Artists' traditional professional paint, plus W&N's student grade Artisan water mixable oil paint.
about color names
The names of some colors may be labeled as "hue" or "extra." This indicates the color is not the true pigment named (such as cerulean blue), but is composed of a mixture of less expensive pigments intended to mimic the named color (for example: cerulean blue hue). Genuine colors usually perform better than hues, but hues of permanent pigments are acceptable.
ABOUT OIL PAINTING BRUSHES
Brushes are the primary tool in the painter's arsenal. Poor quality brushes can impede a student's progress, while those of good or excellent quality facilitate it.
Oil painters’ brushes fall into two broad categories: stiff and soft. Both types are offered in natural hair and synthetic filament varieties.
Stiff natural hair brushes are made from boar bristle, which loads plenty of paint, can be worked vigorously, and can produce impasto effects. Synthetic imitations have improved greatly in recent years so that in better grades they are now nearly as good as natural hair.
Soft-haired brushes are used for delicate work, blending, glazing, and detail. Soft brushes are made of kolinsky sable, red sable, mongoose, sabeline (ox hair dyed red), or synthetic materials.
A sable brush of good quality can be brought to a precise point or edge, is responsive, and is durable. Mongoose performs nearly as well as red sable, is slightly less expensive, and holds up better. Sabeline wears more quickly, but is less expensive than other soft natural hairs.
Synthetic brushes of many different qualities and prices are available. Most do not assume an adequately sharp point or edge. With improving technology, however, they continue to get better.
There are six basic shapes of oil painting brush.
Bristle brush shapes from Left to Right: round, filbert, bright, flat, fan.
A soft-haired round of good quality can be brought to a fine point and is often used for details. Round bristles are more blunt and can force paint deep into the picture and draw long lines of consistent thickness throughout.
A filbert has a rounded tip to produce marks that are softer than those a flat makes. Often used for blending.
Not shown, it is a very long haired filbert and makes extremely soft marks.
Brights resemble flats, but their shorter hairs make them firmer for producing better defined marks and for working paint vigorously into the picture.
Being long haired, flats make somewhat soft marks. The tip of the flat is squared off.
A fan-shaped brush is used mostly blending techniques.
Protect brush tips by storing and transporting them in an appropriate manner. Rinse and clean brushes thoroughly with soap and warm water when done painting to prevent dried paint from building up in them. Pay special attention to the area around the metal ferrule.
To prevent damage during shipping, manufacturers coat brush heads with a weak glue that must be removed in order to test them (ask the clerk for water for this purpose). When moist, it should be possible to groom a soft-haired brush to a sharp point or edge. All types of brushes should assume a defined shape and be free of loose hairs, splits, and other anomalies. Check for responsiveness by bending the brush gently but firmly in the palm of your hand. When released, the brush should spring back to its original position.
ABOUT SURFACES FOR OIL PAINTING
It is possible to paint with oils on nearly any properly prepared material.
Sold as a stack of sheets bound together into a pad, canvas paper has a canvas-like texture and is thinly coated with cheap acrylic gesso. It is extremely absorbent and should never be used for permanent work.
Like canvas paper, canvas board’s absorbent surface is difficult to paint on and it should never be used for serious work. Constructed of a sheet of cardboard wrapped with thin fabric coated with an inferior grade of acrylic gesso.
Available in several weights and with either a medium-coarse or a smooth texture. It may be purchased by the yard uncoated, coated with acrylic gesso, or coated and “pre-stretched” on a wooden frame.
Raw cotton must be prepared before applying oil paints (see below). Pre-stretched canvases are reasonably priced, but many are lightweight and prepared with student grade acrylic gesso. A few companies now offer a premium version coated with professional quality gesso that provides a much better surface.
More expensive than cotton, linen is prized for its durability and for its responsive surface. It is available by the yard in both raw and prepared forms, as well as pre-stretched. Prepared linen is done with a high grade acrylic gesso (for either acrylic or oil painting) or with a traditional oil ground (for oil painting only). Sold as extra-smooth (portrait), smooth, medium, or rough, linen is rated for weight (in ounces) and thread count (per inch). Better quality linen, especially in heavier weights, may be double-weave. Raw canvas that can be held up to the light with little or no light showing through is superior to linen that allows much light to penetrate.
Panels of good quality and properly prepared provide a reliably stable surface.
Scraps, planks, and sheets can be obtained at reasonable cost at a lumber yard, be cut to the desired size(s), and then prepared for oil painting (see below for preparation information). Thin sheets and planks should be cradled for support (glued to a frame of wood strips).
Planks of solid natural wood are more prone to warp and crack than the types described here:
Of the two types, high density (HDF) is less prone to warping than medium density (MDF).
Superior to fiberboard, it is sold smooth-one-side (S1S) and the more reliable smooth-two-sides (S2S).
Offered in a range of grades and types, but the best for artistic use is 3/4" dieboard in which all the plies are of equal thickness. S1S dieboard is less costly than S2S and serves just as well.
One of the most reliable wood products for artists is Ampersand gessoboard. It is carefully produced fiberboard sold as a simple panel coated with high grade acrylic gesso, or as a panel on medium or deep cradling.
Watercolor paper and museum board are highly portable, easy to store, reasonable in cost, and are permanent. Preparation is required before oil painting (see below).
Museum board is archival mat board available in several thicknesses; select one that is heavy enough to be fairly rigid. Heavy weight (300 lb. or higher) watercolor paper is preferred over light weights; you can choose from 3 different surfaces: hot-pressed (smooth), cold-pressed (slight tooth), and rough (pronounced texture).
ABOUT PREPARING SURFACES
FOR OIL PAINTING
Almost all oil painting surfaces must be coated with a “ground” or “primer” to protect them from the corrosive effects of the oil in oil paints.
Select professional grade materials for the best results. Acrylic gesso can be applied directly to the canvas or panel, or the surface may first be treated with Golden GAC 400 or a PVA sizing. (Note: Do not use animal glue sizing with acrylic gesso.)
If using an oil ground instead of acrylic gesso, canvas, panel, and other surfaces must be protected with a PVA or animal glue sizing before applying the oil ground. Follow the package directions for application.
Gesso is applied only to the face of canvas, but both sides of paper, museum board, and thin wooden panels should be treated to help prevent bowing and warping. In the case of these materials, an equal number of coatings should be applied to both back and front.
Basically a white paint, apply it to the painting surface with a wide, flat brush by stroking in a back-and-forth motion. Allow the gesso to dry, sand it lightly to remove imperfections, and then apply a second coat crosswise to the first. A third coat is optional. To reduce glare on the finished painting, apply the final coat in a vertical direction.
acrylic painting medium
Painters who prefer that the natural tone and texture of the surface be visible in the finished painting may prime the surface with acrylic painting medium, which dries transparent. Either gloss or matte medium may be applied as described under “Acrylic Gesso” (above).
traditional oil ground
(NOTE: Protect the painting surface with an animal skin or PVA sizing before applying an oil ground.)
The best oil grounds are lead white oil paints. Select a type made with linseed oil instead of safflower or poppyseed oil. An oil ground or "foundation white" made with titanium or zinc white is inferior to lead white grounds in my opinion.
Use an oversized painting or priming knife to spread the paint evenly as you avoid leaving behind marks. Make certain that the paint is worked well into the weave or grain of the support. Drag the knife in one direction (vertical) only to finish and produce a very thin layer.
Allow the ground to dry about a week before painting or applying a second coat, although only one coat is usually necessary. If you decide on more than one layer of ground, the previous coating should be scuffed with a small piece of canvas rolled into a ball to shave off canvas-fuzz.
OIL PAINTING TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES
- Brush Brands
- Painting and
- Recycling Solvents
- Oils for Oil Painting
- Oil Painting Mediums
- Gesso Brands
- Easels for Landscape
painting & palette knives
A knife facilitates more precise color mixing than a brush, and is also a painting tool. Metal is preferred over plastic. Choose one with an offset handle and a firm but springy blade.
Look for a painting knife with an offset handle like these.
Solvents are used to rinse brushes and tools, as an ingredient in painting mediums, and occasionally in tiny amounts to change the consistency of paint.
Only odorless paint thinners may be used in classrooms. Those who wish to use turpentine in a private studio should purchase artist's grade such as distilled gum spirits.
Reliable brands of odorless paint thinner include Weber Turpenoid, Crown, Best Klean, Gamblin Gamsol, and Eco-House. Some of these companies also offer "natural" citris varieties that are less harmful to you and to the environment.
Paint thinners and turpentine are expensive and should not be discarded when soiled. They are easy to recycle by following these steps:
Oil painters may use an oil alone or as an ingredient in a painting medium to modify the characteristics of oil paint.
"Refined” linseed oil is thin bodied and slow drying. Some artists prefer the more viscous consistency, faster drying rate, and reduced yellowing of "stand" or "sun thickened" linseed oil.
About the same consistency as refined linseed oil, it is said to yellow less readily.
Very thin-bodied, it is sometimes preferred for white and pale colors because it yellows little.
oil painting mediums
Painting mediums are added to paint to accelerate drying, change its consistency, or to increase its translucency.
You can easily prepare an oil-based painting medium yourself that is more reliable and less expensive than a manufactured product.You will find recipes by selecting "" from the Tips & Info page sub-menu.
An alternative to an oil-based medium is an alkyd painting medium, which dries more rapidly than most oil-based mediums. Reliable brands include Winsor & Newton Liquin, Gamblin Galkyd, and Weber Res-N-Gel.
canvas & paper brands
Economically priced pre-stretched cotton canvas is sold by A.C. Moore, Michaels, and Jo-Ann craft stores. For better quality at reasonable prices, try art supply dealers such as Dick Blick. Blick also offers excellent raw, prepared, and pre-stretched linen canvas, as does Fredrix.
Artists who paint on watercolor paper should use only heavy-weights (300-pounds+). I have had particular success with 400-pound Lanaquarelle hot-pressed paper.
for landscape painting
There are two basic types: telescoping and French. Be sure the easel you choose is well constructed and sturdy, and that it elevates your painting to a comfortable height when standing.
Telescoping easels of wood or aluminum are like tripods with three legs that collapse or fold for easy carrying.
A full-box French easel is at left, and a half-box at right.
French easels resemble paint boxes. They have legs and a canvas support that fold out from a box with a fitted palette that holds your supplies. A full-box model is about the size of a standard paint box and holds plenty of items; the half-box type is half as wide and holds less, but is considerably lighter in weight. A French easel is sturdier than a telescoping easel, more stable in wind, and holds your painting more securely. It is heavy, however, especially when loaded up with paints, and can cost several times the price of a collapsible easel.
OIL PAINT PRICES
Many companies make more than one line of paints. In addition to a high-grade professional paint, a company may also offer a hobby or student quality product. When shopping, be aware of which grade you are purchasing.
Listings are arranged from least expensive ($) at top to most costly ($$$$$).
A recommended (!) or highly recommended (!!!) designation applies to the price bracket within which a paint brand falls.
$ Student grade of
Poor to Acceptable Quality
$$ Hobby grade of
$$$ Hobby grade of
$$$$ Professional grade of Excellent Quality
$$$$$ Professional grade of Exceptional Quality
These paints can be thinned with water as a healthier alternative to solvents used with traditional oil paints.
$ Student grade of
Poor to Acceptable Quality
$$ Hobby grade of
$$ Hobby grade of
Above Average Quality