How Do I Get My Oil Painting Smooth?

Many artists like using oil paint because they can create vivid masterpieces that cannot be achieved by using different paint types. But, although oil paint may sound like a perfect choice, some artists are having trouble creating a smooth finish surface when they use it.

Oil painting requires a canvas that has been cleaned and prepped correctly. Other useful tips are regarding the oil paint mixture – by adding more solvent, it is easier to blend in the paint without leaving any trace. Also, it is recommended to use the softest paint brush that can be found because hard brushes will leave a visible brush stroke or brush marks.

Also, some artists may try these tips and find the one working for them, while others keep experimenting and looking for the right oil painting technique for them. Further in the article will explain why it is normal for an oil painting not to have a smooth surface and how you can influence and fix that.

Why Oil Paintings Don’t Have Smooth Finish?

There are several reasons why your painting may look uneven when you finish it. One of the reasons may lay behind the type of paintbrushes you are using. If the bristles are too hard, you will likely see strokes on the paint itself.

It is normal for stronger bristles to leave a trace behind them when you are using them. This has nothing to do with the properties of oil paint, only with the quality of the paintbrush itself.

When you are painting with oil paint, the most usual technique would be to layer the paints – to paint one layer and let it dry and then to paint another layer on top. These layers need to be thin so that the picture would seem good in the end. 

It can be tough to blend two layers of paint, especially if they are different colors. In this case, it is very likely you will see the underneath color, and the efforts to blend in two colors would leave the surface uneven. 

Similarly, if you are using a very thin layer of paints, the brush strokes will surely be visible, no matter the type of brush you are using. The trick here is to find the right amount of oil paint you need to use.

Of course, one factor that determines the smoothness of the picture is the type of canvas you are using. If the surface is very rough, it will be tough to create a smooth finishing surface. 

Later on, in the article, it will be explained what you need to do to avoid imperfections of the canvas itself, but it is important to know that any canvas meant for oil painting needs to be primed. 

Oil paint oxidizes by nature so that this process will eat out the fibers in the canvas over time. At first, you will notice patches that start to appear, and later on, they will transform into holes, thus ruining the whole painting. Primer prevents oil paint from coming in contact with gentle canvas fibers and stops this issue from occurring.

How to Get a Smooth Surface on Oil Painting?

There are several things you can do to create a smooth surface for your oil paintings. Achieving that airbrush effect with oil painting can be challenging but not impossible. 

The first layer of color should be applied to a smooth surface (like a panel or primed MDF). Use the softest brush you can find, and try to blend the color as much as possible. Believe it or not, this will also affect the final result.

If the colors are not blended correctly, and there are lots of ridges and patches on the painting, later on, the paint may crack along those patches and eventually break. Before proceeding to the next step or layer of paint, make sure that the painting is completely dry.

The exact time oil paint will need to completely dry depends on the mixture itself and the chemicals you have added afterward, so it is highly individual. However, the average dry time is around 24 hours.

The final layer should be linseed oil. Make sure that you don’t exaggerate and apply too much. The role of linseed oil is to prevent the painting from cracking by creating a flexible layer on top of rigid dry colors. 

Linseed oil is transparent, so it is safe to use. Many oil paints actually feature linseed oil as one of their main ingredients, so you have nothing to worry about – it will not deviate the painting’s quality.

Besides this, adding linseed oil on top of oil paint will deepen the colors and hyde any tiny imperfections underneath layers. Linseed oil is creating transparent protection, so it will not deflect the colors at all. 

Apply two or three layers of linseed oil to perfect the finish. Some artists like the effect linseed oil provide, so they tend to repeat this process repeatedly until they get the look they like.

Another way to get a smooth surface on your painting is to control the amount of pressure you are putting on the paintbrush when you are painting. The more pressure you put, the more paint will blend and create ridges that uneven surface. 

Also, the outcome depends on the type of oil paint you have used. Some painters prefer more dense paints, and these paints are known to have very rough surfaces in the end. Suppose you put more solvent into your oil paint mixture. As a result, you will get paint that is more fluid. 

This paint mixture will behave very well on the canvas, and it will be easier to blend it in and create a smooth surface on the picture. It is also easier to create a layer of colors by using thinner oil paint.

Also, it is imperative to paint with clean brushes. If you don’t clean the brushes right after you use them, the paint that is left on them will harden, and later on, it won’t be easy to clean the brushes completely.

Furthermore, when you paint with a brush like this with some residue color behind it, the residue will likely break off from the brush and finish on the surface of your canvas. Unless you notice this straight away and correct it immediately, it will stay on the painting, and later on, it will not be possible to correct this. 

How to Master Oil Painting?

Depending on how experienced you are, your paintings will have more or less smooth surfaces. When you are just entering the oil painting world, you may be overwhelmed by this amazing technique. However, there are several things you need to master before you can start creating masterpieces. 

Before we proceed to some tips and tricks, make sure that you have carefully read and adopted the aforementioned advice regarding how you can make your paintings smoother. It is important to follow those tips as well if you want to perfect your painting skills.

First of all, you will need to learn how to hold the brush correctly and control your strokes. The main goal when using a paintbrush is to have flexibility, fluidity, and sensitivity. You can achieve all three by holding the brush almost near the end of it.

This position will also allow you the greatest control of the brush, although it may seem unnatural at first. This position will allow the brush to act as the extension to your arm, and you will also reduce wrist movements. 

Also, every brush has two sides to create two different strokes with the same brush. Every brush has a thin and thick side, so you can use them to create more precise strokes or create thicker trails of paint. By doing this, you also control the amount of oil paint you are transferring to the canvas, thus controlling the final look.

Another trick on how you can control the brush better is by wetting it before use. This is called wet-on-wet use, and it is known to increase the performance of the brushes. Painting with a dry brush will create more texture on the picture and is good when you need to paint dirt.

When you need to transition between two colors or create a smooth surface while you blend the colors, it is better to use a wet brush. A wet brush will allow more control and leave less room for color build-up on the canvas. 

If your main goal is to create a smooth surface for your paintings, another tip for you is to avoid using a palette knife. Although it can be very good to use a palette knife since it can create strokes that can be very hard to replicate by brush, it will also give a lot of texture to the picture, and it will be impossible to even that out with blending afterward. 

How to Prepare the Canvas for Oil Paint?

If you want to achieve a flawless finish, you also need to have a perfectly smooth surface you are painting on in the first place. If the canvas is not smooth, it will be hard to even out that by using oil paint.

A not-prepared canvas will absorb too much paint and may have a too rough surface for the finish you want to achieve. First of all, you need to remove any dirt or dust from the canvas before you proceed with priming. 

If you don’t prime the canvas when using oil paints, you will risk it in the long run. Yes, you will be able to paint on an unprimed canvas, but the chemicals from the paint will eat the canvas after some time and destroy the picture. Priming the canvas is a way to seal it and prevent the oil paint from ruining the surface. 

There are numerous primers on the market, and your goal should be to choose the right one for the type of paint you are using. When you go for oil paints, you should look for oil-friendly gesso primers to protect the canvas from the paint itself. 

The role of the primer is double – the first one is to protect the canvas from oil paint, and the second one is to prevent the painting from cracking over time. As the canvas ages, it tends to become brittle and more prone to cracking. Using a good primer should prevent this and preserve the painting. 

Canvas is usually prepared by using an oil-friendly gesso. You need to apply one or two layers before you reach the consistency you need to have. After the first layer, you need to assess the situation, and if you evaluate that, you need to apply another one.

Gesso tends to dry out really fast, so make sure to have a towel to clean any spills immediately. Otherwise, it will not be able to clean the spills since gesso is not water-soluble.

Use a 1’ or 2’ brush to apply the gesso. Try to apply it with equal horizontal strokes on the canvas. To do this, you will need to stretch the canvas on a rigid surface. If the surface is not rigid, the canvas will not be prepared correctly.

The exact brand of the gesso you will use will not make a difference. The only important thing you need to look for is whether the gesso can be used for oil paintings. There are also gessos on the market made specifically for acrylic paint, so make sure not to mix those two.

VIDEO – If you want to see how to gesso a canvas for oil painting for beginners, Wild Creates can show you how! WATCH – How To Gesso A Canvas For Oil Painting For Beginners

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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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