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Oil Painting Process & Materials
The oil painting process consists of the proper blending of oils and pigments for the correct color achievement. The necessary equipment, support structures and surfaces are also required to achieve satisfactory results.
Oil painting begins by grinding pigments with a drying or semidrying vegetable oil such as linseed, walnut, safflower or poppy oil. Mixing together the oil and the pigments ends up binding the oil. According to Ray Smith’s book, “An Introduction to Oil Painting”, pigments ground in oil have a particular depth and resonance in color because of the light the oil reflects and absorbs.
Oils are categorized as either semidrying or drying. Semidrying oils such as poppy seed take much longer to dry than linseed which is a drying oil. This allows mediums mixed with poppy seed oil to be manipulated longer which produces more dramatic effects in an oil painting. Linseed oils are perhaps the most used because they offer the best quality.
The various oil types used also determine the color outcome. Poppy, safflower and walnut oils tend to produce pale colors, whereas linseed oil is used for the darker hues in oil paintings.
Mixing Oil Paint
Ready made oil paints can be purchased in specialty art stores. However, a basic explanation on how oil paint can be hand made will give you a better understanding of the process In fact, making oil paint is not a difficult process although some equipment and familiarization with the process is required. If this is what you intend to do, you will require a ground slab which can be made of either glass or granite, a large palette knife to mix oil and pigments into a stiff paste, cold-pressed linseed oil, a flat-bottomed glass or granite muller that is a round glass instrument with a hand grip and the desired pigment powder color.
You should begin by using the muller to grind the paint mixture continuously in a smooth circular motion until the paste has achieved a creamy consistency. Then scrape off the paste and place it in a small airtight jar.
Brushes are, of course, essential for oil painting. Depending on the personal style desired in the oil portrait, painters can choose from stiff hair bristle brushes made from hog hair or soft hairbrushes made from sable or synthetic material. Brushes come in all different shapes and sizes to accommodate the artist’s preferred level of detail and effects.
Oil painting can be done on just about any service. The most commonly used include linen canvases, primed canvas boards or wooden panels such as plywood, hardboard and fiberboard. Commercially produced oilpaper is good for trying our new ideas and techniques.
Easels and mahl sticks make excellent supports while oil painting. A vertical studio, sketching or radial studio easel is recommended. A palette is also necessary to mix the paint colors.
Solvent, drying oil, oil painting medium and varnishes are the solvents needed for diluting, binding, consistency and protection. Solvents are extremely hazardous, so the proper precautions should be taken when dealing with them. All paint containers should be sealed and studios and painting rooms must be properly ventilated.
Proper oil painting is completed in different steps. The first step involves the composition of the portrait which defines how the space is organized in the painting. This is usually done with a layout of pencil directly onto the canvas.
Once the composition is clear, the process called “imprimatura” follows. This step consists of adding a full layer of a color, usually a ground color, to the painting in order to homogenize the background.
After this, the artist begins to paint the figures initially in rough form and then in greater detail until the painting is complete. Once the oil painting is finished, it needs to dry for some time. You can find more information regarding the step by step process in oil portrait painting on this website.