Mixed Up Mediums: A Review of Oil Painting Mediums With Some Basic Tips

This article reviews some of the more popular oil painting mediums, their purpose, and some tips on how to use them. The purpose of adding these substances to your oil paints is to change the behavior of the paint during application and affecting results after the painting dries. Behavior refers to how the paint comes off the brush and glides on the surface, how it covers either the surface or succeeding layers, and just how it feels as you apply it.

Brands of paint act differently and mediums help you control the paint the way you want it to act as you use it. Some paint brands—and here I am only referring to the artist grade paints rather than the student grades—are stiffer right out of the tube. Student grades have less pigment and more fillers like extra oil and just do not perform well. If you use those paints that are stiffer out of the tube, but want more versatility in how they handle, or behave, you’ll need a medium. Other artist grade paints are what I call fluffier and go on more smoothly right out of the tube. If you want brush strokes apparent in your final painting, a stiffer paint works better. Adding a refined linseed oil in tiny amounts until it feels right to you will encourage the paint to level out and show less strokes. Less linseed oil and more strokes will show. If you prefer an impasto technique (think Van Gogh), Gamblin Alkyd Gel thickens paint nicely. Always remember to never put a faster drying layer over a slow drying layer of paint. The top layer can dry too quickly and form a barrier causing the underlying layer to be sealed in and could ripple or crackle the surface down the road.

Glazing mediums allow you to apply thin layers of paint and build color and luminosity by having the viewer’s eye mix the colors rather than mixing the paint on the palette or canvas. Using a medium like Liquin by Winsor & Newton speeds drying time while thinning the paint allowing layers to be built without waiting a few days for each layer to dry before you apply the next layer. There are also glazing mediums available like A traditional medium used for decades by many painters is refined linseed oil, a touch of solvent (typically mineral spirits), and a touch of stand oil, and a touch of Japan or Cobalt Drier These ingredients are mixed in a balance to achieve your desired results, like faster drying time, more gloss, etc. Stand oil is just a thicker linseed oil that can reduce brush strokes and increase gloss. Adding Damar varnish to your mix also adds gloss and can speed drying time. Damar varnish is made from tree resin and alkyd is a form of synthetic resin.

There are a number of mediums and I recommend you try several until you find what works best for your style of painting. Along with those mentioned above are safflower oil, poppy seed oil, and walnut oil.

5 Useful Oil Painting Tips

1. Invest in expensive paints

Oil paints can be expensive, but it’s definitely worth investing in some expensive ones. Generally speaking, the more expensive they are, the higher the quality. By all means, if you’re doing several under layers, get these done first using a cheaper oil paint; then simply save the most expensive paints for the topmost layer.

2. Don’t use acrylics on top of layers of oil paint

One of the main properties of oil paint is that it’s incredibly slow to dry. In fact, it can be notoriously slow to dry. With this in mind, you shouldn’t use another type of paint, such as acrylic, on top of oils. Acrylics, for example, are very quick to dry. If you apply a layer of acrylic on top of a layer of oil paint, the layer of acrylic will eventually crack or flake due to the oil paint taking a lot longer to dry out.

3. Try using acrylic paint for bottom layers of the painting

Conversely, you could try using acrylic paint for the bottom layers of the painting. The paint will dry very fast and you’ll be able to apply oil paint on top of it without any problems arising. The advantage of this is that you can have the bottom layers done very quickly; they’ll also dry out very quickly so you won’t have to wait too long before you can get started with the rest of the painting.

4. Learn the rules, then experiment

Painting is all about creativity and self-expression, though the act of creating a painting of quality requires a lot of skill, time and expertise. It’s important to learn how to paint and how to do it well; master the basic techniques and get yourself to the stage where you can complete a good painting. Once you’re confident with your skills and abilities, you should then experiment with your creativity. Try new things; take standard techniques and invent your own touches and twists here and there.

5. Avoid cracking by using the fat over lean technique

Fat over lean basically means making each layer of paint thicker than the one before it. The purpose of this is to prevent cracking; the thinner layers will dry more quickly than the thicker layers on top of them. So when it comes to your first few layers, use thinner paint and less oil (as mentioned previously, you could alternatively paint the first few layers with acrylics). As you work your way up to the topmost layer, make the paint thicker and add more oils to it.

How to Keep Your Oil Painting Brushes in Great Shape

Better quality artist’s brushes will last a long time if cared for properly. This article discusses some of the best ways to care for your good oil painting brushes. Caring for acrylic and watercolor brushes is a simpler process. You just rinse thoroughly with clean water, apply a mild soap (Dawn liquid will do), and rinse again. Conditioning with Master’s Brush Cleaner is always a nice finish.

Oil painting brush care is a bit more complicated, but certainly worth the extra effort to extend the life of your brushes. I’m going to share a few different ways to clean your brushes and let you decide what works best for you. Timing is a key element in cleaning your oil painting brushes. If you plan to continue painting the next day, then you can simply wipe the paint out with a paper towel or clean cloth, swish in your mineral spirits or odorless thinner like Gamsol, wipe again, then set them aside. You can also wipe out excess paint, dip the brush in a light oil with a few drops of clove oil, and lay horizontally and somewhat elevated to use the next day. Just be sure to work again the next day!

One simple strategy to clean your brushes is to wipe away the excess paint, do a light wash with oil (linseed is okay, but Safflower or Poppy Seed oils are lighter and work a bit better), then wash the brushes with warm water and a mild soap. You have to try these methods to see which you prefer. Much depends on your quality of brush, whether they are natural or synthetic fibers, etc.

A somewhat altered method of the above strategies is to wipe off excess paint, then swish in paint thinner until all color is removed. Use a cleaning jar (Lion Silicoils are better since they have a rust proof metal coil in the bottom rather than a screen, which can be rough on brushes) half filled with thinner and rub the brushes across the coil until paint is removed. Then wash the brushes in a good quality conditioning brush cleaner like Master’s Brush Soap. Using Master’s is a good idea on all of your brushes once they are cleaned no matter the medium since the conditioner is so good for brush longevity.

One final thought on cleaning is to use Murphy’s Original Oil Soap. This stuff is so good that it will usually remove dried oil paint if you soak your brush in it full strength for a couple of hours. Just make sure you rinse thoroughly.

Lastly, drying your brushes is very important. Never dry your brushes standing them vertically with the hairs up. Over time this can loosen the hairs and they will fall out. It’s best to dry them horizontally or leave them horizontal if you are not cleaning and then plan to paint the next day. They can be stored vertically hairs down, but do not rest them on the hairs. This quickly misshapens the brush. After cleaning and removing most of the moisture, reshape the hairs before you set them aside to dry.

Any of these methods work well to keep your oil painting brushes in top shape for a long time.