8 Reasons Why Some People Find Oil Painting Hard

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“Why is oil painting so hard?” If you’re a fledgling oil painter, particularly one who mainly has experience working with only acrylics and watercolors so far, this might be a question you’re asking yourself. You’re not alone — this idea seems to be quite prevalent in the community of young and amateur artists.

To be honest with you, there is a learning curve to oil painting for various reasons. There’s the whole mess with mediums, the slow drying process, and the need to prep your painting space carefully, among other things. But should that deter you from delving into oil painting?

Decide for yourself: Why Is Oil Painting So Hard?

It’s not necessarily true that oil painting is hard. In fact, it can be as easy as painting with any other medium. Yes, it takes some getting used to, and you have to pay close attention to the technical details.

That said, because of the slower drying times of oil paint compared to other paints, and the fact that it’s well-suited to layering, the creative possibilities are endless, particularly when it comes to portrait painting and other subjects with depth.

8 Reasons Why Some People Find Oil Painting Hard

If you’ve been hearing that oil painting is hard, these might be the reasons why.

You Need a Lot of Gear

Oil painting for beginners can be a daunting task simply due to the need for so many different kinds of supplies. From paint brushes and gesso primers to mediums and palettes, there are quite a few things you’ll have to fit in your art shopping list.

You also have to ensure that you’re not getting equipment meant for use with acrylic paints.

However, the rewards are just as high as the effort you have to put in. For example, although priming your canvas for your paintings every time may seem cumbersome at first, with time, you’ll definitely come to appreciate what primer can do for your finished paintings.

Not to mention, you’ll have quite a fun time figuring out how to use all of your different brushes for different kinds of images and portraits.

Another fun aspect of working with oils is getting to use a palette knife, which can be used to mix colors more efficiently. Some artists even like to paint directly using a palette knife!

Having to Use a Medium Like Linseed Oil

Anyone who knows about painting with oils probably also knows about the importance of using mediums with their oil pigments. It might seem like there is less flexibility because of this reason (even though acrylics also sometimes require mediums).

The high price of most mediums can also be a deterrent for financially struggling artists who want to make oil paintings but want to get ahead of the learning curve.

However, consider what mediums can do for youOpens in a new tab.. It’s not like you can’t use oil pigments straight out of the tube; however, with the use of mediums, you have the option to change the characteristics of the paint. For example, if you feel that the paint in the tube is too stiff, adding a medium can help you smooth its flow.

Oil-painting mediums exist for a lot of different reasons and can be made from a variety of materials such as safflower and linseed oil and are usually different from those made for acrylic paints.

While one oil paint medium may be added to make the paint more glossy, for example, another might help to shorten the drying time. But because mediums add complexity, you might end up with unwanted side effects, so think of it as a trial and error process.

The “Fat Over Lean” Rule

One of the pitfalls of using oil based paints is that they tend to fade over time, and preventing this requires the artist to be acquainted with a couple of rules.

The most important one is the “fat over lean” rule, which dictates that when you start painting, you should always put down thin washes (thin paint layers) and make every subsequent layer thicker.

The thin wash below the thick paint layer ensures that your paint adheres properly. The best oil paintings were created keeping this rule in mind.

And remember, the more oil paint layers are on your painting surface, the less turpentine (or other paint thinners) should be on it. Otherwise, you get unevenly dried layers of paint, causing the surface of your finished painting to eventually crack.

Working “wet on wet” (which involves using wet paintOpens in a new tab. on a wet surface) is also an option for oil painters who don’t want to work in layers. That means finishing the picture all in one go. If you do this, you can typically mix colors on the canvas itself.

It Takes too Long to Dry

One of the defining characteristics of oil-paints is that it takes much longer to dry, on average, than does watercolor or acrylic paint, taking hours or even days.

This might seem like an inconvenience at first to those who are used to quick-drying paints. However, the slow drying time of oil paint means you get more time and space to step back and properly appraise your artwork and make changes in your own time.

Not to mention, considering that acrylics dry darker and watercolors make mixing colors more difficult, they can actually be riskier to use.

Oil Paints and Mediums Are Thought to Be Toxic

If you’ve heard that oil paint is toxic and are scared of using it for that reason, we totally understand. Firstly, most paints are not toxic. But even if they are, with adequate safety precautions and paints chosen with careful research and consideration, you can be safe.

The first thing you need to do is find a well-ventilated space in which to paint. Oil paints and mediums can both emit hazardous fumes, long-term exposure to which can lead to ill health.

Make it a point to avoid colors like cobalt and cadmium, which are typically more toxic than others. Or, you can use water soluble oil paints instead of traditional oil paints.

It’s also important to ensure a proper disposal system for ragsOpens in a new tab. or paper towels soaked in turpentine or other thinners or solvents, as they are flammable materials.

Working with Thinner Is Cumbersome

Paint thinner and other solvents reduce paint viscosity and enhance its fluidity. This makes thinner a staple for those who don’t want to work with thick paint.

Although thinner is crucial for many artists, it’s not absolutely necessary to use it. It all depends on your oil painting techniques, preferences, and even your subject.

If you must use thinner, do your research properly first in order to select the most appropriate thinner for your needs. Also, look into the right amount of thinner to use—this is a very important consideration, but it can also change according to your particular oil painting techniques.

Oil Paint “Smells Bad”

This is a misconception and one we are ready to bet you’ve heard severally.

The truth is that oil paint itself has no real discernible smell, especially modern oil paints. The funny smell that people talk about is actually attributed to solvents such as turpentine which are used to thin paint and clean paint brushes. To avoid the smell, you can store your solvent in closed jars, use a solvent with a low odorOpens in a new tab., or avoid using solvents entirely.

Having to Paint on Canvas

If you like to paint on paper, having to paint on canvas when using oil paints can seem annoying at first. However, although canvas is undeniably the most widely used and preferred surface for painting with oils, it’s by no means the only one.

Almost anything can be your painting surface, as long as you remember to prime it properly. For that, we recommend white acrylic gesso, which most artists use.

Final Words

We all make mistakes. Trust me. And if you do not trust me, trust Florent.

Florent Farges – arts
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Ines, a self-taught artist from Caracas now based in the UK, explores diverse forms of art, from unconventional materials to sustainable and responsible use of resources.

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