Can You Use Olive Oil to Thin Oil Paint?

Olive oil in a transparent bowl

Because olive oil is a non-drying oil, it will react with your canvas, oxidize and develop a film over your painting. Therefore, you cannot use olive oil to thin oil paint.  

Unlike linseed oil, cooking oil, and walnut oil, olive oil does not harden with time. It doesn’t evaporate, which means sealing your oil painting would be difficult. 

We understand why some artists use this natural oil to dilute oil colors – olive oil can be applied right out of the box, and it smells nice. But the answer to the question, can you use olive oil to thin oil paint, is a no

Keep reading to know seven reasons why using olive oil for thinning oil paint is a bad idea. We’ll explain which natural drying oils you can use instead. 

Olive Oil and Paint Thinner

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Olive Oil to Thin Oil Paints 

Olive oil is called a non-hardening oil. Like mineral oil and baby oil, olive oil never fully evaporates and therefore leaves a sticky varnish that attracts bugs, dust and mold. Check out more reasons why you shouldn’t use it for thinning oil colors below. 

1/ Olive Oil Can React with Your Canvas 

Non-hardening oils perform poorly on canvas. They induce a chemical reaction that weakens the canvas fibers. Priming your canvas doesn’t make a difference because olive oil is a non-hardening medium. So, there’s nothing you can do to bypass this chemical reaction.  

2/ It Can Oxidize and Form a Film on Your Painting 

When exposed to air, olive oil dries to a damp and tacky film. A fraying canvas is a sign that your oil color and oil-based medium are not matching up. Besides, oil colors warp when they can’t dry properly.

There is a tendency among new artists to use vegetable oil for painting. Like olive oil, vegetable oil is non-drying, which means the top skin will remain wet. 

3/ Olive oil Cannot Bind Oil Painting Pigments

Oil paints thinned with olive oil have poor adhesion. Since olive oil doesn’t completely dry, the slightest touch can smear your painting. 

For this reason, the subsequent layers of paint can have a runny texture. The pigments don’t adhere to the first layer. As you apply the top layers, you move the previous coats along with them.

4/ Mixing Pigments with Olive Oil Is a Waste of Time

At this point, you might think we have something going on against olive oil. But the truth is – we don’t. It’s an essentially useless oil when it comes to oil painting. 

We tried using pigment dusts, pigment sticks, and mica powder with this infamous paint thinner. Even with toxic pigments like lead and cadmium, colors simply don’t mix well with olive oil. 

5/ Your Oil Painting Will Yellow Quickly  

Olive oil is not an ideal painting medium for a lot of reasons. You might think this paint thinner dries slower than acrylic paints, whereas, in reality, olive oil doesn’t dry at all. It also yellows rapidly, unlike any other media. 

6/ Olive Oil Attracts Bugs and Mold 

It’s possible that you considered olive oil for diluting paint because you have seen artists using cooking oils (safflower) for the same job.

Olive oil can damage your artwork in the long run. It reportedly attracts bugs and causes them to stick to your painting. 

7/ You Can’t Varnish an Oil Painting That Has Olive Oil 

Paint thinners such as olive oil and almond oil do not evaporate. They leave a sticky film of their own. 

It’s difficult to varnish a painting that is still somewhat wet, especially when fixative, varnish, and other sealants require a dry surface for application.

Can an Oil Painting Dry in Less Than a Week?

What Can You Use Instead of Olive Oil to Thin Oil Paint? 

You can use drying oils instead of olive oil. Thinning oil colors with oils can give your paint a beautiful, glossy finish. You may also use solvents. They are affordable, fast-drying mixers and can speed up the painting process.

Natural Drying Oils 

To thin oil colors down to your desired texture, natural oils are the best option. They spread most oil paints with ease and dry down to a silky-smooth finish. 

Linseed Oil 

Linseed oil is the first choice of many oil painting artists. It’s famous for its glossy effects and moderate drying times. 

It’s the most stable natural oil used for oil painting. By adding this common oil to your oil colors, you can play with their viscosity. 

Linseed oil is an excellent paint thinner and is now available in many variations. 

Cold Pressed Linseed Oil 

Cold-pressed linseed oil is an amazing thinner for oil colors. It allows the film to stay open and accommodate a greater volume of paint. One can easily move and rework an old painting made with this medium. It dries faster than other oils and has a better flow with certain types of oil colors. 

Refined Linseed Oil 

Oil colors mixed with refined linseed oil dries to a smooth, buttery texture. It’s historically one of the best mixing oils for oil paints. It improves the adhesion of paint for layering and underpainting purposes. The downside of refined oil is that it takes a long time to dry. 

Stand Oil 

It is basically the thicker version of linseed oil. It gives an enamel-like finish and looks glossier than refined flaxseed oil. It is a unique paint medium because it lets oil colors expand as they dry. Stand oil is better at retaining color and is also resistant to yellowing.  

But if you prefer a more watery consistency, you can consider walnut oil as your medium. 

Safflower Oil 

After linseed oil, safflower oil is one of the most commonly used mediums. It increases the fluidity of oil paints so that you can comfortably move them across the canvas. 

Safflower can enhance the glossiness of paint. It doesn’t become yellow as much as linseed oil over time. The oil offers long-term stability, as seen in centuries-old oil paintings. 

Poppy Seed Oil 

This mixing oil is suitable for pale colors such as pastels, light blues, whites, and yellows. It’s a clear, medium-viscosity medium that you can use instead of almond oil and olive oil.  

Poppy oil dries slower than cooking oil and flax plant oil. Its slow drying process makes it a great paint medium for the wet-on-wet technique. Poppy seed oil has stability issues. So, it’s best if you use another paint medium for the first layers. 

Walnut Oil 

Looking for a mixing oil that makes oil pastels appear more vibrant? Then walnut oil is the way to go. Walnut oil dries a bit slower than linseed oil, but it also makes your paints resistant to cracking, fading, and yellowing. 

Coconut Oil 

When you think about paint thinners, coconut oil doesn’t come to mind. It’s an underrated mixing oil but a good paint medium nonetheless. You can use coconut oil for diluting oil colors. But be aware of the fact that your oil painting can stay wet for an extended period of time.

Chemical Drying Agents 

Solvents serve the same purpose as mixing oils. Mineral spirits and turpentine are our must-have solvents when we want to wrap up an oil painting overnight. 

Mineral Spirit

Thinning oil colors with mineral spirits achieves a semi matte finish. It has a liquid consistency and does not form a top skin on your painting. Compared to almond oil and olive oil, mineral spirits such as Gamsol offer a supreme mixing experience. 

Petroleum Distillate

Petroleum distillates – Galkyd and Liquin are the fastest drying mediums with a high consistency. Colors mixed with Liquin will dry to a glossy finish.

But both substances produce harmful chemical fumes. In our opinion, oils are the best thinners for oil mediums.  Below we’ll explain how to mix oils with oil paint. 

What Is the Best Way to Thin Oil Paint with Oils? 

When it comes to thinning oil paint, there are some oils you need to avoid at all costs- olive oil, vegetable oil, tung oil, and other non-drying oils out there. 

It’s easy to mix oil paint with a natural paint thinner. Take your best oil paint and thinner on your palette and blend with your palette knife. We don’t recommend adding oil directly to your paint container. 

Alternatively, you can dip your paint brush in oil. But a chance remains that you won’t get the same consistency with every stroke. Tips for thinning oil paint with oils: 

  1. Use an oil painting primer prior to painting.
  2. Choose the right oil base to make your colors stand out.
  3. Avoid using an artificial paint thinner and drying oil in the same painting. It’s a bad practice that often leads to cracking and sinking. 

WATCH – PAINT TALK: Do You Need Medium or Paint Thinner?

Paint Coach

Final Words

You can consider olive oil as long as you don’t mind the distortion, yellowing, slippage, and a very sticky varnish. 

So, can you use olive oil to thin oil paint? I suppose you can, yes. But it’s wise to use a hardening oil for the best results. We hope you’ll make the right decision regarding mixing oils. Thanks for reading!

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Ines is a self-taught artist based in the UK. Originally from Caracas, she has dabbled in the world of arts and crafts in a diversity of ways participating in city intervention projects, sustainable practices’ open exhibitions, and her illustrations being featured in anniversary editions of literary magazines.

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