Oil painting

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Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503-06 Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF retouched.jpg
Mona Lisa , Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–06

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss.

Contents

Although oil paint was first used for Buddhist paintings by painters in central and western Afghanistan sometime between the fifth and tenth centuries, [1] it did not gain popularity until the 15th century. Its practice may have migrated westward during the Middle Ages. Oil paint eventually became the principal medium used for creating artworks as its advantages became widely known. The transition began with Early Netherlandish painting in Northern Europe, and by the height of the Renaissance oil painting techniques had almost completely replaced the use of tempera paints in the majority of Europe.

In recent years, water miscible oil paint has become available. Water-soluble paints are either engineered or an emulsifier has been added that allows them to be thinned with water rather than paint thinner, and allows, when sufficiently diluted, very fast drying times (1–3 days) when compared with traditional oils (1–3 weeks).

Techniques

Self-portrait, at work, Anders Zorn, 1897 Sjalvportratt av Anders Zorn 1896.jpg
Self-portrait, at work, Anders Zorn, 1897

Traditional oil painting techniques often begin with the artist sketching the subject onto the canvas with charcoal or thinned paint. Oil paint is usually mixed with linseed oil, artist grade mineral spirits, or other solvents to make the paint thinner, faster or slower-drying. (Because these solvents thin the oil in the paint, they can also be used to clean paint brushes.) A basic rule of oil paint application is 'fat over lean', meaning that each additional layer of paint should contain more oil than the layer below to allow proper drying. If each additional layer contains less oil, the final painting will crack and peel. This rule does not ensure permanence; it is the quality and type of oil that leads to a strong and stable paint film.

There are many other media that can be used with the oil, including cold wax, resins, and varnishes. These additional media can aid the painter in adjusting the translucency of the paint, the sheen of the paint, the density or 'body' of the paint, and the ability of the paint to hold or conceal the brushstroke. These aspects of the paint are closely related to the expressive capacity of oil paint.

Traditionally, paint was transferred to the painting surface using paintbrushes, but there are other methods, including using palette knives and rags. Oil paint remains wet longer than many other types of artists' materials, enabling the artist to change the color, texture or form of the figure. At times, the painter might even remove an entire layer of paint and begin anew. This can be done with a rag and some turpentine for a time while the paint is wet, but after a while the hardened layer must be scraped. Oil paint dries by oxidation, not evaporation, and is usually dry to the touch within a span of two weeks (some colors dry within days). It is generally dry enough to be varnished in six months to a year. [ citation needed ]

History

The earliest discovered oil paintings (~ 650AD) depicting buddhist imagery in Bamiyan, Afghanistan Buddhas of Bamiyan.jpg
The earliest discovered oil paintings (~ 650AD) depicting buddhist imagery in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

The earliest discovered oil paintings date back to approx. 650AD in Afghanistan. These murals were presumably created by buddhist artists traveling along the silk road. These early oil works display a wide range of pigments and binders, and even included the use of a final varnish layer. This refinement of this painting technique and the survival of the paintings into the present day suggests that oil paints had been used in Asia even before the 7th century. [2] [3] [4] It is possible, considering the history of tempera (pigment mixed with either egg whites or egg yolks, then painted on a plastered section) that oils were discovered in Europe independently around the 15th century. Outdoor surfaces and surfaces like shields—both those used in tournaments and those hung as decorations—were more durable when painted in oil-based media than when painted in the traditional tempera paints.

Most European Renaissance sources, in particular Vasari, credited northern European painters of the 15th century, and Jan van Eyck in particular, with the "invention" of painting with oil media on wood panel supports [5] ("support" is the technical term for the underlying backing of a painting). However, Theophilus (Roger of Helmarshausen?) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Various Arts, written in 1125. At this period, it was probably used for painting sculptures, carvings and wood fittings, perhaps especially for outdoor use. However, early Netherlandish painting with artists like Van Eyck and Robert Campin in the 15th century were the first to make oil the usual painting medium, and explore the use of layers and glazes, followed by the rest of Northern Europe, and only then Italy.

Early works were still panel paintings on wood, but around the end of the 15th century canvas became more popular as the support, as it was cheaper, easier to transport, allowed larger works, and did not require complicated preliminary layers of gesso (a fine type of plaster). Venice, where sail-canvas was easily available, was a leader in the move to canvas. Small cabinet paintings were also made on metal, especially copper plates. These supports were more expensive but very firm, allowing intricately fine detail. Often printing plates from printmaking were reused for this purpose. The popularity of oil spread through Italy from the North, starting in Venice in the late 15th century. By 1540, the previous method for painting on panel (tempera) had become all but extinct, although Italians continued to use chalk-based fresco for wall paintings, which was less successful and durable in damper northern climates.

Ingredients

Flax seed is the source of linseed oil. Flax seeds.jpg
Flax seed is the source of linseed oil.

The linseed oil itself comes from the flax seed, a common fiber crop. Linen, a "support" for oil painting (see relevant section), also comes from the flax plant. Safflower oil or the walnut or poppyseed oil are sometimes used in formulating lighter colors like white because they "yellow" less on drying than linseed oil, but they have the slight drawback of drying more slowly and may not provide the strongest paint film. Linseed oil tends to dry yellow and can change the hue of the color.

Recent advances in chemistry have produced modern water miscible oil paints that can be used and cleaned up with water. Small alterations in the molecular structure of the oil creates this water miscible property.

Supports for oil painting

Splined canvas Splined Canvas.jpg
Splined canvas

Traditional artists' canvas is made from linen, but less expensive cotton fabric has gained popularity. The artist first prepares a wooden frame called a "stretcher" or "strainer". The difference between the two names is that stretchers are slightly adjustable, while strainers are rigid and lack adjustable corner notches. The canvas is then pulled across the wooden frame and tacked or stapled tightly to the back edge. Then the artist applies a "size" to isolate the canvas from the acidic qualities of the paint. Traditionally, the canvas was coated with a layer of animal glue (modern painters will use rabbit skin glue) as the size and primed with lead white paint, sometimes with added chalk. Panels were prepared with a gesso, a mixture of glue and chalk.

Modern acrylic "gesso" is made of titanium dioxide with an acrylic binder. It is frequently used on canvas, whereas real gesso is not suitable for canvas. The artist might apply several layers of gesso, sanding each smooth after it has dried. Acrylic gesso is very difficult to sand. One manufacturer makes a "sandable" acrylic gesso, but it is intended for panels only and not canvas. It is possible to make the gesso a particular color, but most store-bought gesso is white. The gesso layer, depending on its thickness, will tend to draw the oil paint into the porous surface. Excessive or uneven gesso layers are sometimes visible in the surface of finished paintings as a change that's not from the paint.

Standard sizes for oil paintings were set in France in the 19th century. The standards were used by most artists, not only the French, as it was—and evidently still is—supported by the main suppliers of artists' materials. Size 0 (toile de 0) to size 120 (toile de 120) is divided in separate "runs" for figures (figure), landscapes (paysage) and marines (marine) that more or less preserve the diagonal. Thus a 0 figure corresponds in height with a paysage 1 and a marine 2. [6] [7]

Although surfaces like linoleum, wooden panel, paper, slate, pressed wood, Masonite, and cardboard have been used, the most popular surface since the 16th century has been canvas, although many artists used panel through the 17th century and beyond. Panel is more expensive, heavier, harder to transport, and prone to warp or split in poor conditions. For fine detail, however, the absolute solidity of a wooden panel has an advantage.

Process

A traditional wood palette used to hold and mix small amounts of paint while working Oil painting palette.jpg
A traditional wood palette used to hold and mix small amounts of paint while working

Oil paint is made by mixing pigments of colors with an oil medium. Different colors are made, or purchased premixed, before painting begins, but further shades of color are usually obtained by mixing small quantities together as the painting process is underway. An artist's palette, traditionally a thin wood board held in the hand, is used for holding and mixing paints of different colors. Pigments may be any number of natural or synthetic substances with color, such as sulphides for yellow or cobalt salts for blue. Traditional pigments were based on minerals or plants, but many have proven unstable over long periods of time; the appearance of many old paintings today is very different from the original. Modern pigments often use synthetic chemicals. The pigment is mixed with oil, usually linseed, but other oils may be used. The various oils dry differently, which creates assorted effects.

Traditionally, artists mixed their own paints from raw pigments that they often ground themselves and medium. This made portability difficult and kept most painting activities confined to the studio. This changed in the 1800s, when tubes of oil paint became widely available following the American portrait painter John Goffe Rand's invention of the squeezable or collapsible metal tube in 1841 (the year of Claude Monet's birth). Artists could mix colors quickly and easily, which enabled, for the first time, relatively convenient plein air painting (a common approach in French Impressionism).

A brush is most commonly employed by the artist to apply the paint, often over a sketched outline of their subject (which could be in another medium). Brushes are made from a variety of fibers to create different effects. For example, brushes made with hog bristle might be used for bolder strokes and impasto textures. Fitch hair and mongoose hair brushes are fine and smooth, and thus answer well for portraits and detail work. Even more expensive are red sable brushes (weasel hair). The finest quality brushes are called "kolinsky sable"; these brush fibers are taken from the tail of the Siberian weasel. This hair keeps a superfine point, has smooth handling, and good memory (it returns to its original point when lifted off the canvas), known to artists as a brush's "snap." Floppy fibers with no snap, such as squirrel hair, are generally not used by oil painters.

In the past few decades, many synthetic brushes have been marketed. These are very durable and can be quite good, as well as cost efficient.

Brushes come in many sizes and are used for different purposes. The type of brush also makes a difference. For example, a "round" is a pointed brush used for detail work. "Flat" brushes are used to apply broad swaths of color. "Bright" is a flat brush with shorter brush hairs, used for "scrubbing in". "Filbert" is a flat brush with rounded corners. "Egbert" is a very long, and rare, filbert brush. The artist might also apply paint with a palette knife, which is a flat metal blade. A palette knife may also be used to remove paint from the canvas when necessary. A variety of unconventional tools, such as rags, sponges, and cotton swabs, may be used to apply or remove paint. Some artists even paint with their fingers.

Tubes of paint Tubes of paint, artist's paint PNG.png
Tubes of paint

Oil painters traditionally applied paint in layers known as "glazes", a method also simply called "indirect painting". This method was first perfected through an adaptation of the egg tempera painting technique, and was applied by the Flemish painters in Northern Europe with pigments ground in linseed oil. More recently, this approach has been called the "mixed technique" or "mixed method". The first coat (the underpainting) is laid down, often painted with egg tempera or turpentine-thinned paint. This layer helps to "tone" the canvas and to cover the white of the gesso. Many artists use this layer to sketch out the composition. This first layer can be adjusted before proceeding further, an advantage over the "cartooning" method used in fresco technique. After this layer dries, the artist might then proceed by painting a "mosaic" of color swatches, working from darkest to lightest. The borders of the colors are blended together when the "mosaic" is completed, and then left to dry before applying details.

Artists in later periods, such as the Impressionist era (late 19th century), often expanded on this wet-on-wet method, blending the wet paint on the canvas without following the Renaissance-era approach of layering and glazing. This method is also called "alla prima". This method was created due to the advent of painting outdoors, instead of inside a studio, because while outside, an artist did not have the time to let each layer of paint dry before adding a new layer. Several contemporary artists use a combination of both techniques to add bold color (wet-on-wet) and obtain the depth of layers through glazing.

When the image is finished and has dried for up to a year, an artist often seals the work with a layer of varnish that is typically made from dammar gum crystals dissolved in turpentine. Such varnishes can be removed without disturbing the oil painting itself, to enable cleaning and conservation. Some contemporary artists decide not to varnish their work, preferring the surface unvarnished.

Examples of famous works

Related Research Articles

Acrylic paint paint type

Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion. Acrylic paints are water-soluble, but become water-resistant when dry. Depending on how much the paint is diluted with water, or modified with acrylic gels, mediums, or pastes, the finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor, a gouache or an oil painting, or have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.

Paint colored composition applied over a surface that dries as a solid film

Paint is any pigmented liquid, liquefiable, or solid mastic composition that, after application to a substrate in a thin layer, converts to a solid film. It is most commonly used to protect, color, or provide texture to objects. Paint can be made or purchased in many colors—and in many different types, such as watercolor or synthetic. Paint is typically stored, sold, and applied as a liquid, but most types dry into a solid. Most paints are either oil-based or water-based and each have distinct characteristics. For one, it is illegal in most municipalities to discard oil based paint down household drains or sewers. Solvents for clean up are also different for water based paint than they are for oil based paint. Water-based paints and oil-based paints will cure differently based on the outside ambient temperature of the object being painted Usually the object being painted must be over 10 °C (50 °F), although some manufacturers of external paints/primers claim they can be applied when temperatures are as low as 2 °C (35 °F).

Tempera painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium

Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long-lasting, and examples from the first century AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting. A paint consisting of pigment and binder commonly used in the United States as poster paint is also often referred to as "tempera paint," although the binders in this paint are different from traditional tempera paint.

Gesso paint mixture

Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these. It is used in artwork as a preparation for any number of substrates such as wood panels, canvas and sculpture as a base for paint and other materials that are applied over it.

Gouache paint consisting of pigment, a binding agent (usually gum arabic), and sometimes added inert material

Gouache, body color, or opaque watercolor, is one type of watermedia, paint consisting of natural pigment, water, a binding agent, and sometimes additional inert material. Gouache is designed to be opaque. Gouache has a considerable history, going back over 600 years. It is used most consistently by commercial artists for posters, illustrations, comics, and other design work.

Canvas Extremely heavy-duty plain-woven fabric

Canvas is an extremely durable plain-woven fabric used for making sails, tents, marquees, backpacks, shelters, and other items for which sturdiness is required, as well as in such fashion objects as handbags, electronic device cases, and shoes. It is also popularly used by artists as a painting surface, typically stretched across a wooden frame.

Watercolor painting Type of painting method using water-based solutions

Watercolor or watercolour, also aquarelle, is a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. Watercolor refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork. Aquarelles painted with water-soluble colored ink instead of modern water colors are called "aquarellum atramento" by experts. However, this term has been more and more passing out of use.

Varnish transparent, hard, protective finish or film used in painting

Varnish is a clear transparent hard protective finish or film. Varnish has little or no color and has no added pigment as opposed to paint or wood stain which contains pigment. However, some varnish products are marketed as a combined stain and varnish. Varnish is primarily used in wood finishing applications where the natural tones and grains in the wood are intended to be visible. It is applied over wood stains as a final step to achieve a film for gloss and protection. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss sheens by the addition of "flatting" agents.

Oil paint type of slow-drying paint that consists of particles of pigment suspended in a drying oil

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 have been used in Europe since the 12th century for simple decoration, but were not widely adopted as an artistic medium until the early 15th century. Common modern applications of oil paint are in finishing and protection of wood in buildings and exposed metal structures such as ships and bridges. Its hard-wearing properties and luminous colors make it desirable for both interior and exterior use on wood and metal. Due to its slow-drying properties, it has recently been used in paint-on-glass animation. Thickness of coat has considerable bearing on time required for drying: thin coats of oil paint dry relatively quickly.

Water-miscible oil paint is oil paint either engineered or to which an emulsifier has been added, to be thinned and cleaned up with water. These paints make it possible to avoid using volatile organic compounds such as turpentine that may be harmful if inhaled. Water-miscible oil paint can be mixed and applied using the same techniques as traditional oil-based paint, but while still wet it can be removed from brushes, palettes, and rags with ordinary soap and water. Its water solubility comes from the use of an oil medium in which one end of the molecule has been altered to bind loosely to water molecules, as in a solution.

Wet-on-wet Painting technique

Wet-on-wet, or alla prima, direct painting or au premier coup, is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previously administered layers of wet paint. Used mostly in oil painting, the technique requires a fast way of working, because the work has to be finished before the first layers have dried.

Craquelure term

Craquelure is a fine pattern of dense cracking formed on the surface of materials. It can be a result of drying, aging, intentional patterning, or a combination of all three. The term is most often used to refer to tempera or oil paintings, but it can also develop in old ivory carvings or painted miniatures on an ivory backing. Recently, analysis of craquelure has been proposed as a way to authenticate art.

Painterwork is a specific painting technique, stemming from when paints were not commercially available as today.

Rabbit-skin glue

Rabbit-skin glue is a sizing that also acts as an adhesive. It is essentially refined rabbit collagen, and was originally used as an ingredient in traditional gesso.

Drybrush painting technique

Drybrush is a painting technique in which a paint brush that is relatively dry, but still holds paint, is used. Load is applied to a dry support such as paper or primed canvas. The resulting brush strokes have a characteristic scratchy look that lacks the smooth appearance that washes or blended paint commonly have.

Glaze (painting technique) transparent or semi-transparent coating on wood, fabric, cardboard or paper

A glaze is a thin transparent or semi-transparent layer on a painting which modifies the appearance of the underlying paint layer. Glazes can change the chroma, value, hue and texture of a surface. Glazes consist of a great amount of binding medium in relation to a very small amount of pigment. Drying time will depend on the amount and type of paint medium used in the glaze. The medium, base, or vehicle is the mixture to which the dry pigment is added. Different media can increase or decrease the rate at which oil paints dry.

Wash (visual arts) A background in an artwork created by applying dilute colour

A wash is a term for a visual arts technique resulting in a semi-transparent layer of colour. A wash of diluted ink or watercolor paint applied in combination with drawing is called pen and wash, wash drawing, or ink and wash. Normally only one or two colours of wash are used; if more colours are used the result is likely to be classified as a full watercolor painting.

Acrylic painting techniques are different styles of manipulating and working with polymer-based acrylic paints. Acrylics differ from oil paints in that they have shorter drying times and are soluble in water. These types of paint eliminate the need for turpentine and gesso, and can be applied directly onto canvas. Aside from painting with concentrated color paints, acrylics can also be watered down to a consistency that can be poured or used for glazes.

Painting Practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.

Conservation and restoration of paintings

The conservation and restoration of paintings is carried out by professional painting conservators. Paintings cover a wide range of various mediums, materials, and their supports. Painting types include fine art to decorative and functional objects spanning from acrylics, frescoes, and oil paint on various surfaces, egg tempera on panels and canvas, lacquer painting, water color and more. Knowing the materials of any given painting and its support allows for the proper restoration and conservation practices. All components of a painting will react to its environment differently, and impact the artwork as a whole. These material components along with collections care will determine the longevity of a painting. The first steps to conservation and restoration is preventive conservation followed by active restoration with the artist's intent in mind.

References

  1. Barry, Carolyn. "Earliest Oil Paintings Found in Famed Afghan Caves". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  2. "Synchrotron light unveils oil in ancient Buddhist paintings from Bamiyan". www.esrf.eu. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  3. Afghan caves hold world's first oil paintings: expert – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
  4. Earliest Oil Paintings Discovered
  5. Borchert (2008), 92–94
  6. Haaf, Beatrix (1987). "Industriell vorgrundierte Malleinen. Beiträge zur Entwicklungs-, Handels- und Materialgeschichte". Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung. 1: 7–71.
  7. "Oil painting reproductions museum quality". COP Gallery. 30 December 2017.

Further reading