The exact length of time it takes for an oil painting to dry depends on such factors as the quality of the paint, its ingredients such as the type of oil used, and even its color.
Which can influence how oil paintings should be stored while you wait for them to dry.
Oil paint will generally start to set after around eight hours, but a rough estimate of the total drying time is, at a bare minimum, 24 hours.
So to make sure you don’t ruin your oil painting while it is drying there are two factors to consider, and I explain each below.
When storing your oil painting there are two things to consider
Temperature is key for oil paint drying time so you will need to ensure wherever you are storing your oil paintings, that the room has a consistent temperature.
This is preferably between 60 and 80 degrees F with low humidity as oil paints dry by having the oil oxidize and a lower humidity room will aid with this.
Store your oil paintings to dry in a room with a consistent temperature and humidity and use drying racks, vertical storage devices, flat filing cabinets, wooden crates or mirror boxes.
Artists who work on many different art projects at once can find themselves in a quandary about how to store multiple oil paintings during the drying process.
There are various ways to do this, such as adding spacers between a stack of canvas, using a climate-controlled room, and drying racks.
The reason the paint takes so long to dry should also be a consideration in which method works best for the particular painting.
How to store oil paintings while drying
When an artist accumulates a lot of oil paintings that are in various stages of drying, it is not a good idea to just leave them lying about.
As previously discussed, wet oil paintings are vulnerable to elements, such as dust, pet hair, accidental fingerprints, and even variations in the weather.
Vertical storage devices
The best way to store an oil painting is to place it in a vertical position like you would store a book.
A vertical drying rack can be found at virtually any art supply store, or they are easy to build with a simple board and evenly placed pegs that can hold the paintings upright.
Stacked drying racks
When stocking an art studio initially, the inclusion of a drying rack is a must-have.
They come in many different sizes and configurations, but are basically racks, usually on wheels, that can hold paintings apart from one another as they dry.
Flat file cabinets
Flat file cabinets work the same way as racks. Only the paintings are in drawers that also help prevent dust accumulation that can ruin a painting.
Wooden crates and mirror boxes
Wooden crates and mirror boxes tend to be large and can safely hold oil paintings as they dry.
A climate-controlled rental storage unit is among the best places to safely store a drying oil painting.
There, it will be left undisturbed, the climate control feature will keep it from temperature extremes, and, in most cases, the light can be controlled as the artist wishes.
What causes oil paint to dry so slowly?
The brand of paint used to make a painting has a lot to do with how long it will take the paint to dry.
When purchasing paint, it is good to read the labels to determine its foundational ingredients.
Specific paint brands and/or types are marketed toward attracting beginning painters.
This paint is often of a lower quality and its ingredients have different drying times than those of higher-quality paint.
Techniques of painting
If an artist uses heavier brushstrokes that cause deep textures, or when using specific techniques, such as impasto or fresco, the paint may not set up for as long as a week.
Each layer of paint needs to reach an acceptable level of dryness before the next layer is applied or flaking can occur. This is another case for having a specific drying area and method.
The environment plays a large role in the length of time that it takes for oil paint to dry. Things such as direct sunlight, moisture in the air, and humidity all have an effect on applying oil paint properly.
Oil paint is directly affected by the temperature of the room in which the painting is being created.
When it is cold, the paint flows on easily and more smoothly. Some artists even choose to store their paintings in their freezers.
When it is hot, the paint can seem to have a thicker, gummier consistency.
Storing oil paints in the freezer can make sure they retain their moisture and ideal level of viscosity.
While not a good permanent solution, it is one sufficient enough to prevent wasting paint that is left outside the tube, and it enables the artist to continue working seamlessly within the next couple of days.
Since oil paints can be expensive, this method can assure the paint won’t be wasted.
Considerations for color
Whether you store dried oil paintings in the light or dark can have a pronounced effect on the color retention of the paint.
The changes can be subtle and barely noticeable, and in some cases will not change the artist’s vision of the work.
However, in other cases, depending on the quality of the paint, it can make a huge difference, so making a test piece to try out the various light levels in a storage area can be helpful.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.