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What Are Oil Paints?

Many artists prefer to use oil paints when creating an art project simply due to how oil paint handles and the end result shown on the canvas. Like all paints, oils are small bits of pigment. But, the colors are suspended in some type of oil base, affecting how it the paint is used and the time needed to complete a project.

The most common form of oil used in artist paints is linseed. The amount of oil, and the type used in the paints, determines its viscosity, or thickness. Oil paints have many properties that benefit the artist by:

  • Blending
  • Texture
  • Open time
  • Translucency
  • Different additives

Generally, oils are much easier to blend, making subtle changes in tint easier to accomplish. Also, it allows a more natural transition from one color to the next. And depending on the amount of oil in the paint, the thickness of the media can be adjusted to make textural differences in a painting, giving the painting a more 3-D realistic affect for the completed project.

Oils are also a popular choice because they possess a longer open time than most artistic paints. In other words, it is easier to scrap off the paint and adjust the shade, or change an idea altogether, before the paint has a chance to dry, as compared to fast-drying acrylic paints. Thus, it may be an ideal choice for a beginning artist, since there is more time to get the painting just right.

Oil paints are also an ideal choice for creating portraits. The translucency is similar to human skin, and thus gives the painting a more natural appearance. But, oil can also be flexible in how it handles simply by the different types of oils added to the paint.

However, oil paints also have drawbacks. Like any other artistic media, it has both pros and cons, so it depends on the project and the goal of the painter. Some drawbacks include:

  • Long drying time
  • Use of Chemical Solvents
  • Tendency to Yellow
  • Toxicity

Although the increased open time is useful for being able to make adjustments in the artwork, or even walking away from it for a day or two and making changes tomorrow, the long drying time can be a drawback. Because it can take months to completely dry, the artist has to be extremely careful to protect the art from being bumped, or even accidently touching another part of the painting while working.

Another problem with oils is the use of chemical solvents. Since water does not really affect oil paints, about the only way to clean brushes is the use of turpentine. Then, it takes a rag and much effort to make sure the job is done. Depending on the grade of the solvent, the smell can be very unpleasant.

Even after the project is done and the turpentine is put away, a type of varnish must be applied to the surface of an oil painting. Since the paint dries from oxidization rather than liquid evaporation, it has a propensity to still yellow or change color over time. Thus, the varnish helps keeps the colors as the artist intends.

Finally, oil paints can be toxic. Although many of the toxins have been done away with, in preference to safer additives, there are still some types of oils that should never be sprayed on the canvas. The painter might inhale harmful chemicals. To be on the safe side, it is always advisable to use oil paints in a well ventilated area and never sprayed.

Although oil paints do have some notable drawbacks, they are still the medium of choice for many experienced and budding artists. Oils are great for creating realistic portraits, adding texture to the painting, and giving the artist time to perfect his or her vision of beauty.

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