Many people come into our gallery to begin the dream of their life-learning how to paint. When I begin asking which medium they’d like to work in, the certainty stops.  This article is the second of a series designed to give information about the different media.  This time we will discuss oil paints and painting.

When people envision paintings hanging in a gallery or museum or the Old Masters; they are thinking mostly of oil paintings.  There are certain guidelines about how to use oils, but if those are followed, an oil painting may easily last centuries.

A tube of oil paint has pigment suspended in some sort of oil-linseed, walnut oil, etc.  According to the manufacturer there may be other ingredients, but pigment and oil are the two standard ingredients. Oil are not so difficult to make.  In times not too far distant the artist or his helper would go to the pharmacia and buy pigments.  Next they would be ground into fine powder and mixed with the artist’s preferred oil using the mortar and pestle.  We have a friend of the gallery who regularly make his own paints and gives us samples.  However in the past, making them was labor intensive and needed to be done almost daily as the painter worked, with little real way to be stored.  Thankfully today we have many paint manufacturers, who are not only using the old pigments, but making new ones that take the place of older ones which may have had problems or become scarce.

Oil paints are done on a prepared surface of stretched canvas, board or wood panel. Students sometimes use the cheaper canvas or cardboard.  Although these are acid free they are not the best.  You never know when you might do something really good.

The pigments are placed on a palette and will stay open (or usable) for several days before they are too dry to use.  Mistakes can easily be remedied by simply wiping the area clean or painting directly over the offending area.  Never say never with oils.  They can always be fixed and usually pretty easily.

The colors are strong and rich.  They don’t fade as they dry like watercolors.  Color mixing is easy.

Once the painting is  finished and hopefully varnished, and is on stretched canvas it can be hung directly on the wall.  The thicker canvases, which can be painted around edges, can be accepted and hung in the most discerning competition or home.  If the painting is framed; it is a much more inexpensive process than with watercolor.  It will not need mat, backing, or glass.  There is no limit to the size you might paint.  I have stretched a fourteen foot canvas.  Hardboard comes in 4×8 sheets.

The same care is needed with oil paintings as with any art work.  Do not hang on a outside wall, over a fireplace, across from a window, etc.  They are much less susceptible to changes in temperature or moisture.

The downside is real.  Some people are allergic to the smell of the oils and turpentine.  I solve one problem immediately.  I, too, am allergic to turpentine and we never use it.  To help with the smell of oils, we also use Alkyds(oil paint with fast drying medium manufactured into it).  Alkyds smell less and have the added benefit of drying much quicker.

Oils are messy and the brushes must be cleaned carefully.  Again to be greener in our work we use a brush cleaner that can be washed down the drain with no harm to the environment.  Just use a palette knife and you won’t have to wash brushes.