101 Facts About Oil Painting

How Much Do You Know About Oil Painting?

How much do you know about Oil Painting? Test your knowledge on the history of oil painting, how to preserve artwork, even learn when paintings were first broken down into fragments and sold as individual works. Learn some interesting facts such as what museums have in common with jewelers. Oil painting is a mixture of art, craft and science. We know finding facts and figures about oil paintings can be time-consuming and frustrating, so we put together this list of the top 101 facts, notes, and statistics so you can easily reference them and refer back to them any time in the future.  This space is constantly changing, so if you see a fact that is not up-to-date, feel free to let us know. And if you know a stat that we should add, let us know that too!

1. Linseed oil is pressed from the seeds of the flax plant.

Linseed oil is made from flax seeds, which  contain  30 to 40 percent  oil.  It dries to the touch quickly, between three and ten days,  but  it  takes  years  before  it dries completely.

2.  It generally takes six months to a year to varnish the oil painting.

So, artists often tout the recommendation to wait until the painting is “touch dry”. For some this may be a sufficient amount of time. 

3. The American painter John Goffe Rand invented the paint tube in 1841, before that they were stored in animal bladders.

In 1841, a little-known American portraitist living in London invented a small, artists’ aid that would have a significant impact on art. 

4. The pigments used for oil painting are made up of organic materials and minerals, snail mucus and semiprecious stones.

The most basic pigments come from plentiful sources and produce what are often called “earth tones.” 

5. Leonardo da Vinci cooked oil paint with beeswax, to improve the process of oil paint.

Da Vinci is famous for many things — he was an innovator, scientist, engineer, sculptor, writer, astronomer… 

6. Ultramarine- deep blue was the most expensive pigment. It was once more costlier than gold.

Ultramarine blue (not cobalt blue) is maybe the most famous, expensive and rare colour pigment.

7. The earliest known oil paintings were Buddhist murals found in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan caves.

Scientists found the murals in a network of caves where monks lived and prayed in the Afghan region of Bamiyan, according to a statement on the Web site of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, where the ancient paintings were analyzed.

8. Early in the 16th century, artists started painting on canvas instead of wood. 

 Canvas had the advantage of holding the pigments better, resisted cracking which is a common problem of wood and needed less preparation. 

The Marshall Gallery 2

By Dru Bloomfield – https://www.flickr.com/photos/athomeinscottsdale/3836187025/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95427764

9. White paint was created with lead. It dried quickly and covered well but had the disadvantage of being poisonous. 

The dangers of lead paint were considered well-established by the beginning of the 20th century.

10. “Dammar” is soluble in turpentine and dries rapidly to a high sheen, but it is unstable.

It is a ‘soft’ resin often from South East Asia and the most common resinous ingredient in traditional oil painting mediums.

11. Giovanni Bellini’s work from 1480, “St. Francis in Ecstasy,” captures oil’s ability to create an accurate, complex composition with the soft glow of morning light and the detailed perspective of the natural landscape. 

Oil became a useful medium during the Baroque period, when artists sought to display the intensity of emotion through the careful manipulation of light and shadows.

12.  The paint could be thinned with Turpentine.

Mainly used as a specialized solvent. It is also a source of material for organic syntheses. 

13. A basic rule of oil paint application is ‘fat over lean’.

 This means that each additional layer of paint should contain more oil than the layer below to allow proper drying. If each additional layer contains less oil, the final painting will crack and peel. 

14. Modern acrylic “gesso” is made of titanium dioxide with an acrylic binder. 

It is used in painting as a preparation for any number of substrates such as wood panels, canvas and sculpture as a base for paint and other materials that are applied over it.

15. Top-grade brushes are made in two types: red sable (from various members of the weasel family) and bleached hog bristles.

Both come in numbered sizes in each of four regular shapes: round (pointed), flat, bright (flat shape but shorter and less supple), and oval (flat but bluntly pointed). 

16. The painting knife is a convenient tool for applying oil colours in a robust manner.

Painting Knife is an artist’s tool with a flexible steel blade used to apply paint to the canvas. 

17. The standard support for oil painting is a canvas made of pure European linen of strong close weave. 

This canvas is cut to the desired size and stretched over a frame, usually wooden, to which it is secured by tacks or, from the 20th century, by staples. 

18. The technical term “pentimento” refers to a peculiar effect, examples of which are to be seen in galleries.

Because thin top coatings of paint have become more transparent with age, the underpainting or drawing originally concealed has become visible.

19. The Mona Lisa is an oil painting by Italian artist, inventor, and writer Leonardo da Vinci.

Renowned for both its curious iconography and its unique history, the Mona Lisa has become one of the most well-known paintings in art history.

20. Oil paints don’t dry. Instead they harden due to oxidation, usually in about two weeks, and are ready to be varnished in roughly six months. However, sometimes it takes years for an oil painting to fully harden.

Traditional oil paints dry by oxidation, when the oil reacts with oxygen in the air. There isn’t any water in the paint to evaporate. 

21. Impasto refers to a thicker application of paint (think Vincent Van Gogh) which has physical dimensionality

 Impasto painting technique can be achieved by applying many layers of the paint or applying the color straight from the tube; otherwise, it can be enhanced by a number of thickening agents.

22. An adored characteristic of oil paint is that they blend beautifully with each other making it possible to generate a variety of tones and shades as well as being able to create fine details and shadowing. 

A blend is the gradual transition from one color to another. Oil paint, because it takes time to dry, allows you to move the wet paint around on the canvas. 

23. Linseed oil, poppy seed oil,walnut oil, and safflower oil are commonly used drying oils. 

Drying oil is a kind of vegetable oil which dries at normal temperature.  Drying oil is the basic vehicle of oil paints. 

24. Resins are either natural or synthetic organic chemicals that are solids or viscous (thick) liquids.

They are used  to make  media for painting (they are often too brittle when used alone) to alter the working characteristic of the paint film.

25. Stand Oil was widely used in the Dutch school of painting during the seventeenth century. 

This oil is so called because of the old practice of letting the oil stand for long periods of  time to allow  the impurities  to settle out. 

26. Old masters usually applied paint in layers known as “glazes”, a method also simply called “indirect painting”.

 This method was first perfected through an adaptation of the egg tempera painting technique (egg yolks used as a binder, mixed with pigment), and was applied by the Early Netherlands painters in Northern Europe with pigments usually ground in linseed oil. This approach has been called the “mixed technique” or “mixed method” in modern times.

27. Artists in later periods, such as the Impressionist era (late 19th century), often expanded on this wet-on-wet method, blending the wet paint on the canvas without following the Renaissance-era approach of layering and glazing.

This method, also called “alla prima”  was created due to the advent of painting outdoors, instead of inside a studio, because while outside, an artist did not have the time to let each layer of paint dry before adding a new layer. 

28. Tempera was a protein-based material that was commonly made by mixing colored pigments with a binder such as egg yolk.

Tempera (Italian: [ˈtɛmpera]), also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk. 

29.  The founder of modern day oil paints is known to be a famous Belgian painter – Jan van Eyck.

He invented the first modern day oil paints by mixing pigments with oil from nuts and linseed. His paints are more vibrant and dries quicker.

30. Traditional oil paintings on canvas are a multi-component system consisting of many different materials combined together in a layer structure. 

This usually consists of an auxiliary support, support, ground and paint layers, and a varnish layer. 

31. One common measure of the causative property of oils is iodine number, the number of grams of iodine one hundred grams of oil can absorb.

Oils with an iodine number greater than 130 are considered drying, those with an iodine number of 115–130 are semi-drying, and those with an iodine number of less than 115 are non-drying.

32. Traditionally, paint was most often transferred to the painting surface using paintbrushes, but there are other methods, including using palette knives and rags.

 Palette knives can scrape off any paint from a canvas, it can also be used for application. 

33. Artist-grade turpentine used in oil painting is usually of a HIGHER purity than turpentine used for industrial purposes.

It has a cleaner and pleasant scent unlike regular turpentine found in hardware stores. Artist grade turpentine usually requires additional treatment and refining to remove unwanted impurities.

34. Contemporary varnishes are BETTER than traditional varnishes.

Traditional dammar varnish and other natural resins make a durable top layer but yellow and darken over time and become increasingly difficult to remove for purposes of cleaning a painting.

35. Grisaille is an oil painting approach in which the image is completed in shades of gray or another neutral (but grayish) color.

A grisaille may be executed for its own sake, as underpainting for an oil painting (in preparation for glazing layers of colour over it), or as a model for an engraver to work from. 

36. Chiaroscuro is the Italian word for “light dark,” which refers to the balance of light and dark in a drawing or painting. 

Caravaggio and Rembrandt are the artists perhaps best known for using this technique. 

37. Plein air painting is from the French phrase en plein air, which means ‘in the open air’.

This type of painting started in the late 1800s when the Impressionists came out of their studios and into nature.  

38. Glazing creates an incredibly unique effect in oil painting.

A glaze in oil paint is the application of a very thin, transparent and oily layer that usually contains only a single pigment. 

39. Dry Brush technique gives a distinctive look that can create texture and movement in a painting.

Paint is applied with a brush that is relatively dry, but still holding pigment. This technique works with paint that is highly viscous and thick, the brush is wiped on tissue paper before paint is applied to the canvas to remove oily residue.

40. To clean away a layer of oil paint, use alcohol (a powerful solvent).

You can erase your work. If you feel like you’ve made a mistake or don’t like the way a layer on your oil painting has come out, don’t fret, you can wipe away that layer using alcohol. 

41. A purifier can help reduce headaches when working with oil paints.

Most air purifiers can eliminate paint fumes and chemical smells as long as they have activated carbon and HEPA filters. 

42. Putting your whole palette of oil paint in the freezer keeps paint wet so they can be used for a long time.

The cold temperature will slow down the rate of oxidation and evaporation, and so help prevent your oil paint from drying out. 

43. Examining your work in a mirror will give you a different perspective which will help you check your accuracy.

The use of mirrors within art harnesses the magic of reflection to craft ever-evolving narratives around our perceptions of ourselves and our understanding of the world around us. 

44. Murphy Oil Soap is used to clean brushes with dried paint left on them. Also works on clothes.

If you accidentally let paint dry on your brush, there is still hope. Soak your brush in Murphy’s Oil Soap for 24 to 48 hours.

45. It’s easier to paint on a wet canvas. You can add a touch of water to the water-soluble paints to help it along.

Painting wet into wet has several benefits – speed, economy, variety and painterliness. It’s important to note that while this technique can be used with any painting medium, it works best with paints that dry slowly. 

46. The tendency of low oil-content oils is to dry with a relatively matte finish, known as ‘sinking in’.

The most common chorus as to the causes of sunken-in patches of paint tends to focus on two areas – overly absorbent grounds and paints thinned with too much solvent. 

47. “Rabbit Skin Glue” is a generic  term for binders made from animal by-products and not evidence of systematic bunny culling. 

Rabbit Skin Glue is a traditional partner to chalk in gesso making. As it’s hygroscopic, it has been superseded by modern glues.

48. A painting palette can be made of plastic, melamine or wood.

The most commonly known type of painter’s palette is made of a thin wood board designed to be held in the artist’s hand and rest on the artist’s arm. 

49. ‘Tonking’ is a method of removing excess oil from canvas by blotting with absorbent paper. 

It’s used to make changes to a painting by removing oil paint or to create a workable surface where paint has become too thick or the consistency is wrong and needs to be corrected. 

50. Using the “oiling out” technique can give the painting a new lease of life.

Oiling out effectively evens out the surface quality and saturates colors while bonding permanently to paint layers.

51. ‘Melgip’ is the essential 19th-century medium, traditionally a mix of mastic, oil and lead.

Megilp allows oil painters to create incredibly subtle gradations of optical colour. Essential for traditional oils, and great fun for contemporary painters.

52. Imprimatura is the general term for what Turner made into a ‘colour beginning’, literally meaning ‘first painting’.

The purpose of imprimatura is merely to cover the canvas in a more neutral tone (the bare white canvas can be difficult to paint on as your sense of tones and value may be skewed). 

53.  Ébauche is a classic method for oils, and a technique preferred by masters from the late Renaissance to the present day. 

It is an incomplete watch movement consisting of plates, bridges, wheels, and barrels to be finished and fitted with jewels, escapement, mainspring, hands, and dial.

54.  Lake colours often behave poorly if they are applied in impasto.

A lake color or lake pigment is basically insoluble in nature and colors through dispersion. Lakes are produced through precipitation of soluble dyes with some metallic salt. 

55. A great way to see mistakes or pentimenti in oils that have been disguised by overpainting is an  X Ray image.

X-radiography is one technique which can reveal useful information. This technique can show the different elements of a painting, from the canvas or panel it is painted on to the top paint layer. 

56. Water-mixable oils, also called solvent-free oils, offer greater convenience and increased accessibility. 

There is no need for solvent. Simply use water as your “solvent” to thin the water-mixable paints and for cleanup. 

57. One popular medium, known as Maroger’s, was made by grinding pigments with “yellow varnish”

Yellow varnish was made by melting damar crystals (a tree resin) in hot linseed oil, mixing them with a water-in-oil emulsion paste. 

58.  Walnut Oil dries more rapidly than poppy oil.

Walnut oil is cold pressed from walnuts and refined for purity. It can become rancid if stored for too long.

59. Cobalt Drier reduces drying times by attracting oxygen more quickly to the paint film.

It is a viscous purple fluid made by cooking cobalt salts in linseed oil. it should be used sparingly (no more than 5%) and may alter colors slightly, especially light colors. 

60. Spirit of Petroleum is most effective in thinning out colors and providing a smoothness in application similar to watercolor painting.

It is a  refined petroleum oil best suited for thinning out colors. It provides a smoothness in application similar to watercolor painting. 

61. Cold Wax Medium is a soft paste used to make oil colors thicker and more matte.

A soft paste formulated to knife consistency, Gamblin Cold Wax medium is made from naturally white unbleached beeswax, alkyd resin and odorless mineral spirits (OMS).  

62. Oil of Spike or Spike Lavender is distilled from Lavandula spica, a broad-leafed variety of lavender which grows wild in Europe and is cultivated in Spain.

It has properties similar to turpentine, but has a greater tendency to gum or oxidize when exposed to air.

63.  Oil paint has a very specific grinding process.

Each pigment has to be sourced and treated individually – some pigments need to be ground very finely whereas with others if you grind them too much they’ll lose their desired colour. 

64. Pigments come from different places so the cost of the pigment itself, how difficult it is to obtain and how much it is in demand also dramatically changes the cost.

In professional paints ranges come in series where paints made with more expensive pigments will be a higher series and cost more to buy than those made with cheaper pigments which will be a low series.

65. Cobalt blue was the primary blue pigment used in Chinese blue and white porcelain for centuries, beginning in the late 8th or early 9th century.

Cobalt blue is a blue pigment made by sintering cobalt(II) oxide with aluminum(III) oxide (alumina) at 1200 °C.

66. Earth Colours are an example of cheaper pigment

Earth colours tend to be the cheapest such as yellow ochre (PY43), this pigment is a natural clay earth pigment: a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. 

67. In early Christianity, tempera was used extensively to paint images of religious icons.

The pre-Renaissance Italian artist Duccio (c. 1255 – 1318), one of the most influential artists of the time, used tempera paint in the creation of The Crevole Madonna (above). 

68. Hog brushes are ideal for beginners and are the most traditional type of brush.

Hog brushes can be used to create both thin glazing and heavier impasto effects. Hog brushes are quite appealing; they operate well, have a lovely spring, and endure a long time. 

69. Oil and water don’t mix. 

Oil is nonpolar, which means it’s “afraid of water” so it doesn’t like to mix and water molecules are more attracted to other water molecules than oil molecules because they are polar. 

70. “Slow over fast” is a rule in oil painting.

 This means you must make sure the last layer of paint will dry quicker than the following layer, to prevent the paint from cracking and ruining your work. 

71. Scumbling is a great way to bring texture to an artwork.

Scumbling refers to the technique of using a dry, stiff brush to apply thin layers of paint to canvas. The result is that the image does not have a smooth finish, with some of the underpainting still exposed. 

72. Early in the 16th century, artists started painting on canvas instead of wood.

Canvas had the advantage of holding the pigments better, resisted cracking which is a common problem of wood and needed less preparation.

73.  Prior to the 19th Century, an artist’s studio looked like a laboratory.

 The artists had to grind the pigments, boil the oil and use exact formulas to create their oil paints back then. Apprentices were hired too to help with this chore.

74. ‘Blocking in’  is a  technique used by artists as a way to start an oil painting.

By blocking in, you completely cover your canvas with paint so that no white from your gesso ground is showing.

75. The literal translation of Sfumato from Italian is ‘softened’ or ‘soft like smoke’.

This technique was developed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The key to this technique is in creating gradual colour and shape transitions. Outlines appear soft and hazy and shapes seem to blend into one another. 

76. You can use the palette knife to make clouds, water, mountains, trees, a cabin, land, etc.

A palette knife is a blunt tool used for mixing or applying paint, with a flexible steel blade. It is primarily used for applying paint to the canvas, mixing paint colors, adding texture to the painted surface, paste, etc., or for marbling, decorative endpapers, etc. 

77. The finest quality brushes are called “kolinsky sable”.

These brush fibers are taken from the tail of the Siberian weasel. This hair keeps a superfine point, has smooth handling, and good memory (it returns to its original point when lifted off the canvas), known to artists as a brush’s “snap”.

78. Varnishing serves two main purposes.

First, varnish serves as a layer of protection between your painting and the environment–it is meant to be a removable layer. It also serves to even out the sheen of your painting if you have the glossy/dull patches which are quite common to oil paints.

79. ‘The Birth of Venus’ is one of the most famous artworks of Botticelli.

The composition portrays with an exquisite lyricism the arrival of Venus (Aphrodite), borned from the foam of the sea, to land. Although naked, the goddess does not suggest any eroticism, but in fact a kind of delicate purity.

80. ‘Starry Night’ is probably the most famous oil painting made by the dutch post-impressionist artist, Van Gogh.

This was painted when he was  37 years old and isolated in an asylum; the landscape portrays a mix between the real world and Van Gogh’s own memory. 

81. Leonardo da Vinci perfected the technique of sfumato, which he described as “without lines or borders”.

The term ‘sfumato’, which translates as ‘smoky’, refers to a blurring of the hard edge lines that separate adjacent objects or colors from one another. 

82. The easiest way to remove a thin layer of dust, grime or residue in your oil painting canvas is with a soft cloth and soapy water.

Due to its low pH level and mild properties, olive oil-based soap is often considered the most effective soap to use.  Make sure you don’t use anything that contains alcohol as this could remove some of the paint. 

83. When painting with heavy colour, it is best to apply thick layers over thin layers. 

This is because the thin layers dry more quickly. For example, if you like the impasto style of the Impressionists, with their thick, bold brush strokes then it is important to remember that these thick layers need to be uppermost: thin layers on top of impasto layers are likely to crack.

84. It is best to use fast drying colours continuously as under layers.

If a fast drying layer is applied on top of a slow drying layer then your painting may crack. This is because the fast drying layers will have dried on top of layers that are still in the process of drying out, and as the slow drying layers dry they will pull and twist the layers above, making them crack.

85. The history of oil painting goes back to ancient times, when man started to confine his acquaintance in the painting work. 

In the grottos of Southern Europe, early man mixed animal fats with earth and stain to form the very first oil paints. These oil paints were distorted onto the walls of the grotto.

86. Antique Oil Paintings describe the ancient story in a very fascinating way.

Most popular works by the renowned artists are obtainable in museums, and are easily acknowledged by art lovers around the globe. They get attraction because of their exquisiteness and massive value. 

87. Conventional artists use canvas made from Linen to produce oil paintings.

Paintings by famous artists such as Boticelli, Picasso, and Leonardo da Vinci etc. are well-known for their technique and gorgeousness. These arts cannot be afforded by an ordinary man because of its high cost and uniqueness. 

89. The worth of the oil paintings is established by its maturity and age.

There are many tests available to discover the age of the painting. Some of these genuine tests involve inspecting the cracks on the paint, pigmentation, varnishes, and tinge of the colors.

90. The most apparent reason behind people buying oil paintings is the modern fashionable thinking and imparting beautification to their homes.

Oil paintings are thought to have a high status among homeowners. Some owners buy oil paintings based on their particular tastes, and these paintings are admired all over the world as massive works of art. 

91. Painter and television personality Bob Ross was a prolific artist who purportedly completed 30,000 paintings during his lifetime.

Ross wanted everyone to believe that they could be artists. Ross was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, on October 29, 1942, to Jack and Ollie Ross. Ross’ father was a carpenter and builder. 

92. Oil paints are flexible.

It means, since they take time to dry, you can always do something with them over the painting.

93. Fijnschilder is an oil painter who works in a detailed, technically competent style. 

Rembrandt originally made his reputation as a Fijnschilder. The approach is seen in the work of other Dutch painters such as Godfried Schalcken. 

94.  ‘Tonal Grounds Under Painting’ is the  type of painting that has the entire canvas covered in a single transparent color. 

This layer will create backlighting shadows that will tone the entire painting and provide contrast for complimentary colors.

95. When attempting an underpainting, one of the best ways to start is by thinning your paint with a solvent.

This will  thin the pigment and then lift off a bit and blend in with later layers of paint as you continue with your painting highlighting the underpainting and the extra work you’ve done. 

96. Brush strokes can do more than just put the paint on the canvas or panel.

With strong brush strokes, you can emphasize certain areas of your painting or add texture to your work. The right brush strokes can bring a new dimension to your subject and become a real highlight to your work, so don’t take your strokes for granted.

97. The main advantages of oil paints are their flexibility and depth of colour.

They can be applied in many different ways, from thin glazes diluted with turpentine to dense thick impasto. Because it is slow to dry, artists can continue working the paint for much longer than other types of paint. This provides greater opportunity for blending and layering.

98. Oils also allow the artist to create greater richness of colour as well as a wide range of tonal transitions and shades.

Oil colours do not change noticeably after drying, and it is possible to produce both opaque and transparent effects, as well as matt and gloss finishes. In the hands of Old Masters like Rubens or Rembrandt oils permitted stunning effects of light and colour as well as much greater realism.

99. Oil paint dries under the influence of oxygen and light.

Once the paint is dry this oxidation process does not stop but continues in an ageing process. Eventually this can be visible as cracking. 

100. Using too many different types of mediums, and/or creating your own mediums, can put a painting under “stress”.

Damage is very unpredictable in this case. The easiest way to avoid putting your painting under stress is to adhere to the Fat over Lean rule. 

101. The sinking of the top layer causes a dull finish.

The main cause of a dull finish is from an incorrect ratio of drying oils to paint and solvents. More specifically, it occurs when there is too much of a solvent concentration in the paint. Fortunately, “oiling out” is a way to regain the sheen of your surface.