Oil Painting Basics

Basic Knowledge Required To Start Oil Painting


What is Oil Paint? Oil paint is a type of slow-drying paint that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil, commonly linseed oil. The viscosity of the paint may be modified by the addition of a solvent such as turpentine or white spirit, and varnish may be added to increase the glossiness of the dried oil paint film.

Oil Paints comes in tubes and can be mixed on a palette with palette knife to get another colour, it can then be applied to a surface or space using stiff brushes. Oil Paints can be used on Canvas, Panel, Board or any other suitable surface.

Oil Paints provides room for modification due to its slow drying time. It dries through oxidation and this may take up to three days, the slow drying time has its advantage and disadvantage, the advantage is that it gives room for modifications like, cleaning, blending, and adjusting expecially when making gradual transition from one colour to another. It can be cleaned with rag, palette knife, or any other suitable materials.

The disadvantage of oil paint slow drying time is that colours can smear into each other if not apllied appropriately.

Oil Paint can carry many layers of application, you just have to let one colour dry for at least three days before applying another. Modification can be made sevral times on a layer before applying another. New layer must be thicker than the previous layer to avoid the painting from cracking after drying.

DRAWING: A complex drawing is quickly lost when the oil colors go on, so simple shapes and contour lines make the“ best drawings for oil paintings.

The drawing may be made directly on the canvas or it can be prepared before and transferred to the canvas.

When drawing directly on the canvas, PAINT that has been thinned with thinner is the best. Because it is paint, it doesn’t need to be isolated from subsequent colors.

CHARCOAL can be used for drawing on the canvas. The charcoal drawing must be isolated from the paint layers with FIXATIVE. Vine charcoal is easier to seal with fixative than compressed charcoal.

The drawing can be made with a PENCIL on the canvas. This must be sealed with FIXATIVE before the colors go on. A pencil’s point (if pushed too hard) can make small cracks in the gesso so a thin transparent layer of gesso may need to be applied to re-seal the canvas. If gesso is used in this way the fixative is not necessary.

A drawing that is going to be TRANSFERRED to a canvas is best done on thin tracing paper because the transfer will be clearer. Tape the drawing to the canvas. Transfer the drawing using carbon paper. Draw over your drawing with the carbon paper beneath it. Use a contrasting color ballpoint pen so you can see where you’ve already drawn and to get a consistent line size. The carbon transfer should also be separated from the paint layer with fixative or a thin transparent layer of gesso.

BLEND: A blend is the gradual transition from one color to another. Oil paint, because it takes time to dry, allows you to move the wet paint around on the canvas. This makes it easy to do the thing most difficult to do with other types of paint, the blend. All brushes will blend oil paint. Flat brushes are best and rounds the worst. The principles are the same for large and small blends.The colors are mixed on the palette and applied in their approximate location on the canvas. The brush is then dragged back and forth in a crosshatch stroke between two values until a satisfactory transition is made. Parallel strokes are then used to refine the transition of values. A clean brush is used for the dark to middle and another clean brush for the light to middle.

(A) In a blend the brush strokes are ALWAYS perpendicular to the light. In a circular blend the brush must rotate to remain perpendicular to the light so curved brush strokes are used.

(B) The placement and size of value shapes within a blend create the contour of the surface. Note the value placements for flat surfaces on the left and curved surfaces on the right.

MATCHING COLOURS: A rainbow gives us pure examples of the basic colors of the visible world. The rainbow’s colors are, in order, red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue-violet and violet. When this order of colors is formed into a circle we have the COLOR WHEEL. The color wheel is an essential tool for matching colors.

The Color Wheel
The wheel is arranged with yellow, the lightest value color at the top and violet, the darkest value color at the bottom. From the top down on the right are yellow-orange, orange, red-orange, red, and red-violet. These are called the warm colors. From the top down on the left are yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue and blue-violet. These are called the cool colors.
Complementary Colors
Any TWO colors directly across the color wheel from each other are called COMPLEMENTARY COLORS. Red and green are opposite each other on the color wheel and therefore are complementary to each other. Yellow and violet are each other’s complements. Yellow-green and red-violet are complements. Complimentary colors when placed next to each other on the canvas intensify each other. Complementary colors when mixed together on the palette neutralize each other. In this chart the pure intense colors are on the outside opposite their complements. As we move to the middle, the complements are mixed together until they become gray, the least intense of all.
Color Values

All colors come in all values. The pure spectrum colors are in the position of their relative values on this seven-value scale.

With These Things in Mind, This is How to Match Any Color

We have only to answer these three questions to match any color we see.

1. WHAT COLOR IS IT FROM THE COLOR WHEEL? (Its spectrum color)

2. HOW INTENSE IS IT? (How much of its complement does it contain? More complement means less intense.)

3. WHAT VALUE IS IT? How light or dark is it?

Below Are Examples On How It Works

The colors in order on the palette

Matching the Brown Leaf

The spectrum color is a red-red-violet. White is added to match the value. Yellow-green, the complement of red-violet is added to reduce its intensity.

Matching the Green Leaf

Green is the spectrum color. Cadmium green is the base color. It is a little to the yellow side so its intensity is reduced using a red-violet (Quinacridone Rose). Yellow-green and red-violet are complementary to each other. White is added to match the value.

Matching the Silver Tape

Blue is the spectrum color. White is added to match the value.

Orange, the complement of blue is added and the color becomes gray.

Matching the Colors of a Three Dimensional Object

In this case a bar of soap.

The middle value is first. The spectrum color is yellow-orange. A small amount of its complement, blue-violet, is added to match the intensity plus a trace of white.

White is added to the middle value to create a light value. Blue-violet is added to the middle value yellow-orange to create the object’s shadow color.

The soap’s colors are matched. A color’s complement will usually make the color’s shadow value. For darker value shadows use the middle value color with less white. In some cases a color’s compliment won’t darken the color enough. This is when you add black to get the value.

CREATING FORM: There are only five basic forms from which all other forms are created. They are the sphere, the cone, the cylinder, the cube, and the doughnut shaped torus. Parts of these forms combine to create everything we see. Imagine a half cylinder on top of a cube and you have the shape of a mailbox, a half sphere and a cone make a teardrop form, a fir tree is a cone an oak is a half sphere. The cylindrical coffee mug has a half torus handle.

Values Create Form

Each of these forms has distinctive light and dark value shapes that define them. Spheres are recognized by crescents and ovals. Cones have triangular light and dark value shapes. Cubes and flat surfaces are even blends. Cylinders are stripes. The torus is crescents and stripes. Concave versions of these forms have the same value shapes but without reflected light. (See Shadows/Reflected light.) When you can paint these five forms you can paint all other forms.



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A SPHERE is defined by CRESCENTS AND OVALS. Sphere forms are painted with crescent and curved brush strokes. (See Brushes)



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CONES are defined by TRIANGULAR values of light and dark. Cones are painted and blended using triangular brush strokes.



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CYLINDERS are defined by light and dark value STRIPES. Cylinders are painted with parallel brush strokes.



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CUBES and all FLAT surfaces are governed by the same rules. GRADUAL EVEN BLENDS depict a receding flat surface. If there is a flat surface parallel to your canvas, it may be painted with a single color or value. CUBES are various receding flat surfaces. Each surface is a gradual blend. Cubes are painted with parallel brush strokes.



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TORUS value shapes combine aspects of two other basic forms. They take the parallel STRIPES of a cylinder for the middle and the CRESCENTS of a sphere for the ends. The torus is painted using crescent and curved brush strokes.



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Here you can see that value shapes are stronger than contour lines for the creation of form.

Lighting can be misleading in seeing forms, particularly flat surfaces. Try to see the form first. Then see the lighting on it.

GLAZE/WASH: TRANSPARENT layers of oil paint are called GLAZES.

TRANSLUCENT layers of oil paint are called WASHES.

Both are colors thinned with a solution of 1/3 linseed oil, 1/3 turpentine and 1/3 Damar varnish.

A GLAZE is a thin TRANSPARENT color used over another dry color to create a third color. For example if you put a thinned Quinacridone rose (a transparent color) over blue, you get a violet. If you use a glaze over a similar color you enhance the color. Cast shadows over complex textures are often glazed. A glaze always darkens a color. (See Paints for transparency and opacity)

This is a Glaze

By example, the beetle’s carapace needs to be greener.

The GLAZE formula is mixed on the palette with thalo green (a transparent color) until the degree of transparency necessary is achieved.

The glaze is then applied with a sable brush to the horizontal painting. Allow it to dry overnight. With a glaze you can change a color with out changing the pattern of brush strokes of the underlying layer of paint.

This is a Wash

A WASH is a thin OPAQUE color used over another dry color. A wash will not change its essential color and appears as a TRANSLUCENT layer on top of other colors.

Mix the color with the glaze solution on your palette until you have the degree of translucency needed. Apply it to the horizontal painting with a sable brush.

White (an opaque color) is used with a glaze solution to create the rays of light. Allow it to dry overnight.

SHADOW: Shadows are divided into three categories. First is the shadow side of an object known simply as a SHADOW. Then the CAST SHADOW which is the absence of light caused by an object in its environment. Third is the PROXIMITY SHADOW that is caused when objects touch or nearly touch. Read More…

CONTRAST: CONTRAST is the relationship between the lightest light and the darkest dark on an object or in an environment. Learn More…

TEXTURE: TEXTURE IS MOST CLEARLY SEEN AT THE TRANSITION OF THE LIGHT TO THE SHADOW. On smooth objects the highlight is a distorted picture of the light source. The sharpness of focus of that picture defines the smoothness of the object. The glass bottle is smoother than the aluminum bottle, which in turn is smoother than the wax candle. We know this from the focus of their highlights. Learn More…