2.4.1_On Oil Paint

23January 2008

2.4.1  On Oil Paint

As I have stated many times, the definition of an oil painter is that he use oil paint, anything beyond that one simple guideline closes the door of inventiveness on the artist forever.  There can be no substitute for oil paint.  Not acrylic, watercolor, tempera, gouache, or encaustics can even begin to compare or replace the quality of oil pigments.  The color quality, the depth, the natural appearance of oil paints, is remarkable and unmistakeable.

There are no other forms of paint that can get the results of true color, other than natural non-synthetic oil paints.  Oil paint has a life force.  Simply take an oil painting into the sunlight to see this life within oil colors produced in natural light.  The dramatic difference between synthetic mediums and oil pigments shows itself and comes alive when viewed in natural light.  Where acrylics and other paint types become dull at best, oil paints become vibrant and stunning.  Oil paints last longer, look better, can be worked with more control and accuracy, and appear more natural than any other type of paint.

Oil paints have been in use since the 1300s, but were not used mainly by artists until the early 1400s.  It is their long lasting quality that make oil paints attractive for use.  Oil paints are a slow drying medium.  They are ground pigments mixed with drying oils.  A large majority of the pigments used in oil paints are toxic, and care must be taken while working with them.  I speak from the experience of getting sick from mixing oil paints, its not pleasant and will effect you in ways you can not expect for a life time.  Oil paints were chosen by artists when the water-based temper paint were found to be insufficient to produce greater realism because of their quick drying nature.  Oil paints do not dry by evaporating as water-based paints do.  Oil paints oxidize into a dry semi-solid.  As the medium is exposed to air, it reacts chemically, leaving behind the hardened oil and pigment.  Oil paints are not truly dry until a year after their application.  How thick you apply the paint, the temperature and humidity of the air, and the atmospheric pressure of where you are, lengthens or quickens the drying process.  I have a humidity gauge in my studio and I have found that the best drying time for my work to be between 35 and 40 percent humidity.  Anything more and your oils dry splotchy, and anything less and your oils dry too quickly.  The oxidization process of oil paint never truly stops, and an oil painting hardens the most during the first six months.  

As a result of the drying process, oil paints dry slowly, permitting the artist to work with the paint for several days after its initial application.  Once the surface oil paint has dried, it can be painted over without harming the underpainting.  The ability to completely paint over dried surfaces allows the artist to edit, glaze, or tint his painting like no other painting medium can.  This coverup attribute to oils allows the artist to manipulate his painting with ease, planning ahead for painterly effect.  Sure you can paint over acrylics, but you can always see the underpainting and it is the same with tempera and watercolor.  

I chose to return to using oil paints out of an accident, and I have never looked back.  In 1996 I was working with acrylic paints, and in the spring of 1997, I ran out of acrylics, but I had a shoe box full of oil paints that my grandmother had given me from her collection.  Without oil brushes, I chose to start painting with palette knives, spreading the oil paint across the canvas like cake frosting.  Since 1997, my journey with oil colors has been an industrious adventure.  I came to understand my chosen medium, as I believe it understands me, as my relationship with oil painting has granted me an understanding of its abilities and limitations.  

I have experimented with oil paints extensively.  Attempting varying layers of texture to tool use, to methods of drying and application techniques.  I know what each type of oil paint can do and what brands make the best oil color based on my conceptual needs.  I even know how each pigment will look on a surface when thrown from six feet or more away, and how they also appear after lightly brushing them on in a glaze.  I spent a great deal of time testing different brands of oil paint for a multitude of purposes.  Truly, Old Holland oil colors are still the finest oil pigments that I have found.  Mostly the selection of oil color is personal preference, but a professional uses professional materials, while the hobbyist can use the student grade.    

Oil paints can be sculpted, thrown, applied with any tool (so long as the chosen tool is disciplined), looks better than other types of paint, and we know that it can withstand the test of time.  I thought that I would have more to say, being that I am so involved with oil paints, but I believe that simply stating repeatedly that oil paints are better than others is enough.