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Oil Painting Techniques - The Many Ways to Apply Oil Paint

Nov 20, 2007
Oil paint is one of the most versatile and adaptable painting mediums in existence today. There are many techniques and effects possible with oil paint. Oil paint can be applied in thin transparent glazes or washes, or the paint can be mixed to a thick buttery consistency and applied using a painting knife.

There really appears to be no end to the wonderful ways you can create art with this amazing painting medium. This article will talk about some of the many ways you can use oil paint.

Dry brush

The dry brush technique involves using a small amount of oil paint straight from the tube. It is then brushed thinly onto your support with a bristle brush.

This technique works particularly well with a rough surface. The raised parts of your surface pick up the paint, while the dips or valleys in your support do not. This creates a broken color effect where the color of your canvas shows through.

Painting On A Toned Ground

The white of a canvas can sometimes be too bright or have too much contrast which makes starting a painting a bit difficult. When you cover your support with a uniform toned ground, it makes it much easier to judge the values in your painting.

You can use any color you like to tone your ground really, but the more popular approach is to use warm tones of red, yellows and browns, which provide a wonderful richness to the finished work.

Here is an example of how to paint on a toned ground using Burnt Umber and Yellow Ochre. First you create the wash by mixing the Burnt Umber and Yellow Ochre together with a paint thinner (use turpentine, or if you are like me, and are allergic to turpentine, use a water soluble oil paint).

Apply the mixture generously to your support and completely cover it with a large bristle brush. Let this mixture stand for a couple of minutes and then wipe off the excess wash with a cloth.

Alla Prima Painting

Alla Prima painting , also known as "direct painting", is a technique of oil painting where the work is usually finished in just one sitting.

You are probably familiar with the artist Bob Ross, who made this painting method quite popular on his TV Show. I am sure like me, you watched Bob paint in amazement as he completed a beautiful painting in under 30 mintues.

The paint is applied wet onto wet directly onto the canvas usually with no underpainting or sketches. It might be a good idea in the beginning to lay down a sketch with some thinned down oil paint.

This way you will have a general idea where your colors will be placed. You must be careful using this technique as your painting can become quite muddy if you do not apply the colors correctly on your canvas. It takes practice, so don't be discouraged if your first, second or even third painting does not come out the way you anticipated.

Keep practicing and let your imagination run wild. As Bob used to say, "It's Your World".

Working With Painting Knives

If you have never worked with painting knives, then it is highly recommended that you give them a try. This type of painting method is very different from traditional brush painting and when you lay down your first stroke of paint with a painting knife, you will immediately see why.

Painting with a knife can be best described as spreading butter on a piece of bread and you should keep your painting at a butter or cream like consistency when using painting knives. Do not use your palette knives to paint with. They have a different construction and are not made for painting.

Painting knives have more flexibility to them and come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. You can manipulate paint in a variety of different ways with a knife just by changing your hand position on the handle. You can hold your hand down low on the handle to smear the paint over your support.

Move your hand up to the top of the handle and you can use your finger to gently push the blade into the paint to create small dabs of color. You can also turn your knife blade on its side for scraping away paint or for creating hard lines.


If you never produced a painting using the glazing technique, then you should definitely give this a try as well. Your painting will have a different appearance then if you were to complete a painting using traditional color mixing techniques.

Glazing tends to give colors more luminescence. The colors are not mixed together first before applying, rather, they are mixed optically using single transparent layers of color.

For instance, if you wanted to create the color green using glazes, you would not mix yellow and blue together on your palette first. You would first apply a thin glaze of blue, wait until it dries, then apply a thin glaze of yellow, which would then create your green.

Each layer must be completely dry before applying subsequent layers. Usually, the first step in using the glazing technique is to create a monochromatic (different values of the same color) underpainting of the subject. Using only one color will help you to focus on form and tone first, rather than being too preoccupied with color at this stage.

Wait until your under painting is dry to begin applying your first layer of color. This technique is tricky and does require practice, but it is not as difficult as some may lead you to believe.
About the Author
For more online oil painting tutorials and techniques be sure to visit Creative Spotlite today, a free online community for artists and crafters. It is also recommended that you visit the Creative Spotlite Art Instruction Blog, where you will find more painting lessons including step by step painting videos.
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