The Basics of Oil Painting

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Oil peinture à l’huile is an art form that combines pigments with an oil-based binder such as linseed, poppy seed, walnut, or safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties, including the speed at which the paint dries and its lustre. The paint can be thinned with turpentine or with a range of solvents such as acetone, thinners, and diluents. In addition, oil paints can be thinned with a range of waxes to increase their transparency and add a gloss.

Oil paints require a more flexible support than their acrylic counterparts, such as a stretched canvas or panel. It is important that the support is properly prepared before painting, typically with a primer such as gesso or rabbit-skin glue. In the past, the canvas was often soaked in linseed oil to improve its durability.

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When painting with oils, the paint should be applied in layers. The first layer should be lean and the following layers should gradually build up in thickness. Ideally, the last layer should be the thickest, so that the paint dries from the bottom up.

When an oil painting is finished, it should be protected with a varnish made from dammar gum crystals dissolved in turpentine. The varnish prevents dust and moisture from damaging the painting, and can also help to preserve it for decades. Museums and private collections may store paintings in special conditions to ensure a stable environment. Artists who work at home can protect their paintings from humidity and dust by storing them under protective coverings.