Why Is Oil Painting So Popular?

Why Is Oil Painting So Popular?

During the Italian Renaissance, oil paintings became popular and changed art history forever. So, imagine our surprise when we came to know that the use of oil paints goes back as late as the 5th century. 

Oil paints have an amazing depth of color, flexibility, and richness. The reason why oil painting is so popular is that it offers versatility to the artist. It’s a medium that allows one to explore different painting styles while creating beautiful landscapes, abstract paintings, and portraits. 

It makes you think; Why Is Oil Painting So Popular? Today we’ll explain why emerging artists of the 21st century still prefer oil paints as their number one choice of painting medium. Keep reading to know more! 

Fifteen Reasons Why Oil Painting Is So Popular 

There’s something elegant and thought-provoking about oil paintings that make you wonder about their style, painting process, and medium. Oil paintings are easy to love just from their soothing aesthetics. 

But there are more reasons why artists continue to keep this thousand-year-old painting method alive. Here are a few of them! 

Reason One – Oil Paint First Became Famous Through Italian Renaissance Art 

Oil paintings became popular in the hands of Italian Renaissance artists in the 15th century. The use of canvasses also caught on during the Renaissance.

By the 16th century, oil classes grew popular all over Europe. Famous artists Raphael, Vinci, and Michelangelo, led the High Renaissance – a time when the practice of visual arts peaked. Their techniques, especially sfumato and impasto have a heavy influence on modern-day paintings.

It doesn’t change the fact that oils are one of the oldest mediums in the world. The earliest known oil paintings were found in Buddhist Bamiyan caves in Afghanistan. 

Can an Oil Painting Dry in Less Than a Week?

Reason Two – Artists Can Work with Versatile Oil Painting Techniques

You can use a variety of techniques to make an oil painting, such as Pentimento, Alla Prima, Chiaroscuro, Glazing, and Underpainting. 

Previously, oils were mixed with lead so that they could dry quickly. They made oil paint poisonous. Around that time, the commonly used primers were rabbit-skin glue, lead white, and gesso.

Then it was Van Gogh who came up with Impasto – a painting style where wet paint was applied to a wet surface or onto a paint layer that is still pretty wet.  Here, the artist deliberately applies thick layers of oil paint so that the impression of the bristles is visible.  

Reason Three – Oil Paint Has a Buildable and Smooth Texture

Early oil painters began their journey with chalk drawings and charcoal. The mixability of oil paint exceeds that of acrylic paint.

Traditional oil painters recommend using the “Fat over lean” method to facilitate drying. In which case, you use a little more oil in the successive layers. 

Oil paint dries to a smooth finish on certain types of substratesOpens in a new tab.. You can use the glazing method on prepared paper to naturally add more glossiness to your work. 

Reason Four – A Wide Variety of Paint Supplies and Substrates 

As art lovers, you might be tempted to know what choices of substrates will be available to you. Oil paint can be applied to cotton, linen, or hemp fiber canvas. 

Weasel hair, ox hair, and red sable are suitable brushes for oil paint. You will find a variety of synthetic brushes for portrait drawing. Natural bristle brushes such as ox hair and red sable are the best choices for easel painting.

High-quality synthetic brushesOpens in a new tab. and weasel hair brushes can transport more pigment, but not as much as a palette knife.

Reason Five – Most Oil Paints are Safe and Non-ToxicOpens in a new tab. 

Painters also prefer oil paint to acrylic Opens in a new tab.because it uses a natural drying agent called linseed oil. Safflower, poppy seed, or walnut oil can be used as alternative drying oils.

Linseed oil dries faster, allowing the painter to rework the paint layer if needed. And while it dries, linseed doesn’t leave fumes, nor does it reek of chemicals. Although time-consuming, painting with oils is a nice experienceOpens in a new tab..

Reason Six – You Can Create Opaque and Transparent Effects with Oils 

Illusion is one of the basic characteristics of oils. For example, painting with a transparent medium lets light shine through the underlayer. As a rule of thumb, you should use darker transparent colors on top of light colors. 

Opaque paints are thick, and it goes without saying, they do not let light play on their hues. These colors are often laid with a palette knife to create a mesmerizing impasto effect. By adding more pigment and a little more oil, you can see how oil paint changed fine arts forever.

Reason Seven – Modern-Day Oil Paints are Easy to Use

The formula of oil paints has changed over the years. Previously, artists used egg tempera to create their artwork. Now, there are many different brands of student-grade and artist-grade oil paints. In general, these are thick, creamy and they come in good quality paint tubes. 

Modern-day paints have an impressive lightfast rating. They can come with UV screeners to protect your artwork from damaging agents. Oils these days age well and can retain their vibrancy for up to a decade. 

Reason Eight – The Astonishing History of Ancient Oil Paints

Oil paints were used for making art in the 7th century, but the medium wasn’t as popular until the Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck developed his oil paint formula. Till then, a painter would use pure egg yolk tempera paint. 

It was difficult to render fine details on wooden panels and canvasses because the yolk would evaporate, causing expensive pigments to stick permanently to the panel. 

However, it was even more difficult to store the artworks, owing to which early artists preserved oil paint in a pig’s bladder. Fortunately, paint tubes were created in the mid-1800s, where paint could be stored for a longer time!

Jill Poyerd Fine ArtOpens in a new tab.

Reason Nine – Oil Paintings Last a Long Time with Proper Maintenance 

The maintenance of an oil painting involves keeping it in a humidity-controlled room and varnishing. 

Traditional oil painters, as well as many artists, believe that you need to wait six months before varnishing. The curing time depends on the type of paint. Some oils will dry faster, and some will simply take months. 

Even without care, a painting can stay fresh for at least ten to fifty years. Painters occasionally spray linseed oil to their paint tubs and palettes to prevent flaking. 

Reason Ten – There are Different Types of Oil Paints for the Desired Effect 

Before the formulation of oil paints, artists used a medium called tempera paint. Oils have come a long way since Van Eyck made his oil paint formula back in the 15th century.  As of today, oils can be put into four distinct categories – warm, cool, transparent, and opaque. 

Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait represents the masterful realism of oil paint. By adding many layers of warm and cool colors, he showcased how oil paints manipulate the viewer’s eyes. The painting was done on an oak panel and is now stored at the National Gallery.

Reason Eleven – Grisaille – the Best Friend of Oil Painting Portraitists 

In the 15th century, there weren’t a lot of colors available — especially vibrant shades and oil colors. Therefore, many artists painted in a monochromatic fashion, using only black, white, and gray pigments. 

Grisaille helps you accentuate underpainting and experiment with shadows. 

With the advance of oil paints, this art technique has mostly fallen out of touch. However, oil-paint purists still whip up a Grisaille when they are doing a portrait. 

Reason Twelve – It’s Almost Impossible to Get Bored with Oil Paints 

Pablo Picasso created about 13 thousand paintings in his lifetime. You don’t have to be a prolific artist like him to stay committed to painting. Oil paints are impressive, versatile, and forgiving. They allow an artist to make mistakes, repaint, and take long pauses between the sessions. 

Reason Thirteen – You Can Easily Make Changes to an Oil Painting 

Oils take time to dry, which means you can change your painting shortly after making it. Many artists like this attribute of oil paints. It gives them longer time to work on their paintings. Not liking how something turned out on canvas? Take a damp rag and have a go at it! 

Reason Fourteen – The Value of Oil Paintings Grow with Time 

Antique oil paintings are popular because of their rarity. They also develop high status for the owner who possesses such artwork.  But why landscapes painted with acrylic paints are not as high in value?   It’s because the use of oils can be traced back to the Renaissance, which would mean that a painting made in that period is hundreds of years old. Acrylic paints did not exist around that time. 

Reason Fifteen – The Works of Famous Oil Painters Have Inspired People for Centuries

Oil paintings made during the Renaissance period are a few of the best ones. Notable works include The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, Guernica by Pablo Picasso, Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, and finally – Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. 

Can an Oil Painting Dry in Less Than a Week?

Final Words

Much like acrylic paint and watercolor, oil paint is one of the most-loved mediums in the world. It has a high status in art history, and deservingly so! Oil is a gorgeous painting medium that makes an artwork look fabulous, stand out, and pass the test of time.

We hope we have answered your question — why is oil painting so popular? Read you next time!

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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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