Oil paint - the breakfast of champions!
Or why I’m still an oil painter!
There’s no getting around it; oil paint is expensive.
It’s also a "dark art" with all those potions and bottles marked with “toxic”, all just for getting the paint onto the canvas and off of the brush!
And it’s smelly.
My most recent art supplies order contained a (small tube) of paint for £17.50. It’s acrylic equivalent would have been less than four quid! And the acrylic would be diluted with plain old water, and and brushes would cleaned with water too. Whereas my favoured solvent costs more than a tenner for just 250ml, and I buy it by the gallon!
No wonder many professional artists have left the favourite medium of the old masters behind them.
But not me.
I love love love oil paint.
I’m an oil painter and I’m proud. Here's why:
3. Control. Power is nothing without control. Oil paint is diluted with turpentine. Which dries pretty quickly. As you build up layers you mix the turps with linseed oil (which dries really slowly). You learn to have balance between turps and oil through the process. Like many oil painters these days, I have eschewed turps in favour of a citrusy version called Zest-it. It’s less toxic and smells lovely. Zest it makes its own oils too. Over the years I have learnt to understand the chemistry of zest-it solvent, oil and my paints, different pigments have different drying times too! It’s very hard to learn (which is one reason why it’s not favoured by hobby painters) but once learned, it gives me incredible control over how I paint.
4. Oil paint has so many techniques to its name. You can paint all in one go, known as alla prima, you can build up layers thick over thin and light over dark, you can add huge globs of it - impasto, you can blend layers that are semi-dry…
5.And that’s another reason why I’m an oil painter over acrylic - I’m all about the blend. Acrylic drys fast and is therefore great for crisp clean lines. But my skies need to be blended.
The variety of solvents and oil mediums means as your style develops you can manipulate paint accordingly. Fast drying mediums don't make oil behave like acrylic; it still takes a good while to dry, but you have control. There is an art itself to start understanding drying times. I can blend in a cloud when the underpainting of the sky is drying, but not completely dry. If I do it wet and I’ll end up pushing mud around the painting as all the layers merge together. If I do it complexly dry I’ll end up with a hard edge. Sometimes that’s just what you want, but for sky - I’m all about the blend!
6. Any colour under the sun. Oil paints have been going for so long, there isn’t a pigment you can’t buy…if you’ve got the cash!
7. Light fastness - actually not really a good reason anymore as top quality acrylic paint has good lightfastness too!
8. Go with the flow, I often use watercolour for sketching and in my workshops. I find myself saying thing like “let the water do the work”. In oil painting I can’t exactly say “let the oil do the work”, but I do try to go with the medium rather than fighting it.
And that’s really the key for any artist, finding the medium that works the same way you do, and you’ll start to produce better art. Fight and you’ll never truly be in flow with your work.
Will I ever change? Possibly, I use waterbased media for a lot of my sketching and planning, but when the final work begins- oil paint is the only thing between the brush and the canvas.