Oil Paint

Or simply called "Oil" is the process of painting where pigments are suspended in a type of oil. Oil may also be used as a medium to apply the paint. Light passes through the rich tone-enhancing glazes of an oil painting to the canvas and is refracted back to the viewer's eye.

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Oil paint sold in tubes consists of pigment particles that are mixed with oil. Pigments are created from chosen or developed material that change the color of reflected or transmitted light due to wavelength absorption. Unlike chalk (a natural resource that comes directly from porous sedimentary rock), materials used to make pigments usually have special properties that make them ideal for coloring.

Oil Paint Tubes
Oil paint develops a particular consistency depending on the medium used to apply the paint. It has a slow drying time unless a medium is used to speed up the drying time. The viscosity or consistency of the paint may be modified by the addition of a solvent such as turpentine or white spirits, and varnish may be added to increase the glossiness of the dried oil paint film.

Painters will often use different types oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. Other oils that are used include poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. These oils confer with the various properties of the oil paint and have unique qualities, such as less yellowing or different drying times. The types of oil create certain differences in the sheen of the painting as well.

History of Oil Painting

Pigments and paint grinding equipment are believed to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old. Naturally occurring pigments such as ochres and iron oxides have been used as colorants since prehistoric times however before the industrial revolution the range of color was technically limited and during the Middle Ages, mineral pigments were traded over long distances. After the industrial revolution, synthetic pigments became available.

Jan Van Eyck.
The Arnolfini Marriage. 1434.
The practice of oil painting was first pioneered by the Buddhists in India, China and western Afghanistan. These early paintings date between the fifth and ninth century A.D.

The practice was then used in Europe as early as the 12th century, and may have migrated westward during the Middle Ages, although it did not gain popularity in the Western culture until the Renaissance in the 15th century.

The flemish painter Jan van Eyck is usually accredited with the invention of oil painting in western culture, even though it is not a proven fact he was able to master the medium and therefore influenced more artists to switch to oil. As its advantages became widely known, oil paint eventually replaced egg tempura made popular during the Byzantine Empire and became the principal medium used for creating artwork in Europe.

This set the stage for the the Renaissance titans such as Raphel, Michelangelo, Titian and Leonardo da Vinci who would all make the oil medium world famous from their talent!

Maintenance of Oil Paintings

Oil paintings are varnished because they need to be protected from dirt, dust, grease, pollution or any other harmful elements from the environment. Varnish is also used to achieve a consistent sheen or gloss over the final appearance of the painting which makes it all equally glossy or matte.

Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing or furniture but it is also used as a final protective layer on original oil paintings. Varnish does not contain any pigment so it is transparent and is traditionally made from a combination of a drying oil, resin, and a thinner or solvent.

Varnish can be purchased in a spray can or a bottle which is then applied with a brush. It may only be applied over a painting after it has completely dry and that usually takes three to six months. If the coat of varnish has become discolored or dirty then it may be removed using a solvent and a fresh coat may be reapplied to protect the piece. If you are unsure on how to apply varnish to a painting, please contact the artist.


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