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How to make oil paint dry faster naturally and safe

A common question that is asked by artists who paint with oil is “How can I make my paintings dry faster?”. When I first started with oil painting I wasn’t aware that there are many different factors that determined how long it took for a painting to dry. In this post we will cover how to make oil paint dry faster using most materials that you should already have.

First, let’s look at 3 simple things that may help; you need to think about the type of paint you are using. 

Oil paints take longer than acrylics or watercolor because they are thicker and more difficult for the air to penetrate through. Second, there’s the type of canvas you’re using which also affects how quickly your painting dries.

A canvas with a thinner weave may allow more moisture out, but a thick one may keep too much moisture in causing your work to remain wet for longer periods of time before drying.

Keep reading if you want to go into further detail as I explain other methods you can use to make oil pant dry faster and learn more of the insider secrets on how to make oil paint dry faster.

How to make oil paint dry faster

The best way to make oil paint dry faster is to use a good quality Medium that you will mix with your oil paint before you paint. Medium is made for thinning oil paints and making them easier to work with, but it if you add a little more than needed and mix it with paint thinner then it also significantly speeds up the drying process.

Making an oil paint Medium

Making an oil paint medium is easier than you think. No need to go out and buy expensive pre-made medium. Just mix some oil and thinner. More oil means a slower drying paint, more thinner means a faster drying paint. Simple.

Ensure you use Linseed oil as this oil dries the fastest. So when mixing a medium of oil and thinner, Linseed oil should be your first choice.

Try mixing a 80/20 ratio where 80% if the mix is oil and 20% is thinner and then mix this with your paint color.

It’s important not to over do this because it can start thickening your coats of paint if you have an already oily tube of paint, which will defeat the purpose.

You want to thin out a bit of your oil paint in a separate container then add that into your mixture for each coat you apply.

There are many other mediums like Gamsol (spirit based) which may also help speed up the drying of oils by increasing their viscosity or thickness however these type do tend to thicken your paints overall so be careful how much you use.

Also, don’t add too much paint thinner to the mix as your paint will start to crack as it dries and your painting will start to look like it’s 500 years old as the oil oxidizes.

Adding medium and extra thinner is fine if you are yet to start your painting.

But what if you have already started or finished your painting and need it to dry now?

This brings me to the next important bit of information about oil paint. That is that oil paints contain oil. Mind blown right?

The thing is oil does not dry, it actually oxidizes when exposed to air. So blowing on it, putting it outside for air or sticking a fan on the front will not help the oil paint dry faster.

How to make oil paint dry faster

Make the oil in oil paint oxidize faster

To make the oil in oil paint oxidize faster you need to apply some form of heat, just be gentle with it or you’ll stress the paint. The process needs to happen slowly in order for the oil paint not to crack and so that the pigments do not break down too much.

Although oxidation is what makes your paint dry (oil turning into CO2 – carbon dioxide gas), if your painting will be on display for a long time then it would probably benefit from having a slower drying time because of how slow oxidation works.

You might want to research more on this subject but generally speaking you don’t want your oil paintings to take too long to dry because after all, nobody wants a 500 year old painting looking like it’s fresh out of the tube.

You may be interested in reading more on this topic at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute – “THE DRYING OF OILS AND OIL PAINT” where they go into some detail on the topic but don’t actually answer the question we are trying to answer here.

What type of heat can you apply to make oil in oil paint oxidize faster? Well you can apply heat from any source that provide a constant and controllable heat.

You could apply a hair dryer or use a heat lamp, the higher the wattage the better it will work but you don’t want to put it in such high temperatures that something catches fire.

The upshot is no matter what method you use it should only be done with caution and care if you don’t want to ruin your artwork. Here we are only interested in finding out which method works best by quickly testing them all (at low heat) .

Can you dry oil paint in the oven?

I have even heard of some artists prematurely aging their oil paintings by placing them in an oven over a low heat. This process can ruin your painting but it will dry out most of the oil in oil paint and will actually make your painting look very old.

If all you want to do is dry the oil paint without the added problem of aging then all I can suggest a low heat like a lamp over a few hours.

Keep an eye on the artwork to ensure it isn’t burning and that you are not drying things out unevenly.

No heat lamp heating

So you don’t have access to a heat lamp? Try using a hair dryer on low heat and you will need to sit there for a while moving the hair dryer from side to side, up and down.

Personally, I couldn’t think of a worst way to spend my time.

Can I dry oil painting in sunlight?

If you live in a nice sunny location and it’s warm outside then place your painting out in the sun.

The sun and UV rays will really help oxidize the oil from your oil painting but you may also get some bugs or dust or anything else that can be floating around landing on your painting and being stuck there for eternity.

Also, exposing your oil painting to direct sunlight will also result in a change of colors

You should expect some fading over the years from sun exposure and this is something you really don’t want – unless you are going for that certain look like many artists do!

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There is no need to heat dry oil paints!  

Wait, what?

So what options are available?

You can use chemical dryers such as Galkyd or Liquin which will dry your paint in 1 to 3 days but I do stress some caution using these.

Firstly, these are not mediums. They are basically a resin that will dry over your oil painting giving it a glossy look like it has been varnished.

It will also give the painting a plastic layer which gives the impression that the oil paint is drier than it actually is.

What it may be doing is trapping the oil in the painting and actually preventing it from drying naturally. This could make your artwork look considerably different in a few years.

These may also be toxic to you as an artist. We have enough chemicals in our lives, we don’t need to add another one.

So while heating paint until it’s dry goes against everything nature intended for an artist palette, mixing chemicals to speed up the drying process is also un-natural.

My tips to paint in oil paint and have it dry is to paint in thin layers, use a medium that you mix yourself and add some more oil to slow the drying and thinner to speed it up.

Do this while you work on the painting and control the drying time as you go along.

If you must work in thick impastos then consider using acrylic paint which dries faster or factor in a longer drying time if you are quoting a delivery date to your clients.

Here is some additional information related to oil paint drying.

How long does it take for an oil painting to completely dry?

This depends on the thickness of the paint.

Oil paint needs to dry slowly so it needs several weeks for a thin layer and months for thicker layers or impastos.

Different pigments in oil paint also have different drying times. For instance, Phthalo Blue (Yellow Shade) takes the longest time to completely dry. Titanium White dries within a few days with no additional varnish applied while some colors need months before they are totally cured and hard enough to be varnished without softening.

Will a fan dry oil paint faster?

As a fan is only blowing cool air, it will most likely slow the drying time of an oil paint.

If the painting is placed in front of a strong fan, it can cause an effect that could be mistaken for evaporation.

When oil paint changes from liquid to solid state, bubbles form on its surface because the thin film has formed and trapped air inside.

The stronger the airflow, the more bubbles are generated.

Does Hairspray dry oil paint?

Hairspray will not dry oil paint.

It is a lacquer based product and has to be left to dry on its own before it can be varnished however, hairspray will speed up the drying time of oil paint for several hours as well as slow down (but not stop) softening due to another coat of paint being applied too soon.

Why is my oil based paint not drying?

The most likely reason for your oil based paint not drying is that you are using a cheap oil paint which tends to be overloaded with more oil than pigment.

Additionally you may have added too much oil to your paint and that is now making an already oily paint even more oily.

Another reason could be the oil that is mixed in with the paint you used.

Poppy Seed oil, walnut oil and safflower oil take the longest to dry. If your paint tubes use these then your oil paint will also take longer to dry.

How can I test how long oil paint takes to dry?

Oil paint is fully dry once it does not feel tacky, sticky or soft when touched with a finger.

To work out if your oil paint is really dry you can try this the “screw test”.

Paint a an actual metal screw with your oil paint and leave it for 48 hours. If after that time the paint has stuck firmly to the metal then it’s ready for varnishing (or applying another layer).

If there are tiny gaps between where the paint has adhered to the surface then it needs further drying time, possibly as much as 5 days.

This may seem like an inconvenience but most professional artists agree that without this wait period; their colours will be weaker and less durable.

Wrap up!

Don’t be impatient.

So how can you dry an oil painting more quickly? Well, there’s a number of methods you can try but the very best advice is to just not touch it!

The less time your paint spends in contact with outside elements such as dust and other pollutants (like oxygen) the better. Avoiding humidity is also recommended because moisture will encourage mould growth which you don’t want anywhere near your paints.

Learn best practices when painting in oil paints and try to avoid taking shortcuts. Doing this will make you less reliant on hacks to speed anything up and you will be creating artworks that will last for generations without needing a premature restoration.

I hope you enjoyed reading “How to make oil paint dry faster” and learned something new. Feel free to share this post with anyone you know looking for answers on this topic.

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