Why sometimes my oil paintings can look like watercolour even though water never goes anywhere near the canvas!
I still can't really come to terms with the fact I'm not 21 anymore! I like to think I'm bright young thing who is thoroughly modern!
But in fact I'm a bit "trad".
I'm proud of being an oil painter, and over the years, whenever I've done demonstrations for art classes, or even when folks have commented on social media seeing my work in progress videos, I'm often asked about how to work in acrylics.
"But I'm an oil painter" I say "I don't work in acrylics"
At this point my questioner looks perplexed at the paint dripping down the canvas, absolutely positive that it's been diluted with loads of water.
"Ah so it this water based oil then?" they ask hopefully.
"No no, it's traditional oil"
"Why is it dripping then?"
So this weeks blog seeks to explain what I dilute my paint with, and why it's so important to the way I create my art- even though it might sound like a new idea, I'm still a bit traditional.
So firstly, I have to explain, I have nothing against acrylic paint. Hey, some of my best friends are acrylic painters. It's a great medium, it's incredibly versatile and with artist quality paint it has light fastness that has, up until fairly recently, been associated entirely with oil paints.
I just can't use acrylics. They don't suit me.
I love oil and the extraordinary way it behaves and I haven't made the jump to acrylics, simply because I'm better at oil.
I also don't use waterbased oils either. Partly because I'm a bit of a purist and I think if you want to use oil paint you need to use oil! But again, these paints are perfectly good paints, but I choose not to use them.
You might have read one of my previous blogs about buying raw powdered pigments in Venice. These pigments, in their raw form, could end up being watercolour or oil paint depending on what you choose to suspend them in. And that's really the main difference. Oil paint is simply pigment suspended in oil.
Sometimes people think of oil paint as being applied gooey and thick, with a big palette knife. Oozing. Takes months, even years to dry. A gorgeous impasto of oil like you'd see on a Rembrandt in the National gallery. Lovely.
That's is indeed one form of oil painting, but oil paint can be diluted to a watery consistency and that's where most oil paintings begin.
Oil painters work dark to light and thin to thick.
This means the first layer is dark (usually raw umber or blue/violet) and very diluted.
So what is it diluted with?
Traditionally artists don't dilute with oil in their very first layer, but with turps [turpentine]. Then gradually linseed oil would be introduced. The next layer might be a 60/40mix to turps and oil.
As the weeks roll on, slowly less and less turpentine is used. In the top layer the paint might be applied thick, without any dilution, or it might be diluted with only linseed oil. Or with linseed stand oil (a much thicker oil) or a glaze medium, or beeswax! It's enough to make your head spin.
I used to use turps and linseed.
But when I gave up teaching and became an artist full time, I had to change my habits.
When I painted all day, every day I noticed the turps started to give me headaches.
So I switched to a more environmentally friendly, less toxic, version.
Now I use Zest -it Oil paint dilutant. This versatile medium can dilute paint to something resembling watercolour, or just very slightly to make it more mailable. It too, like turps can be mixed with linseed, or indeed a synthetic medium.
As my paintings reach they final stages, I love to use a glaze medium. It's syrupy consistency is wonderful to create translucent layers, particularly useful for me in my animal paintings when creating glints in an animal's eye or a lovely shiny nose!
I've often been asked why not make the move to water based paint. But I have spent years developing techniques that use different dilutants and learning different drying times. For an oil painter it is essential that the under layers dry more quickly that the top layers, and so the artist becomes chemist for a bit, and I rather enjoy that.
Dripping in style?
I adore using the paints and mediums I use, to create a unique effect and something I'm rather proud of calling my very own tradition with a modern twist!
I told you I was bit trad.
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