Have you thinned your paint too much and now need to know how to thicken oil paint? Are you searching for ways to enhance the texture and dimensionality of your oil paint? If you are, then you’re in the right place! There are several methods for thickening oil paint, including using thickening agents like impasto medium, painting butter, cold wax medium, and linseed oil, mixing with additives like drying oils, resins, and powdered marble, and using texturing techniques like palette knives, brushwork, and impressionist techniques. By using these techniques, artists can create layered, tactile works that showcase their unique vision and style.
In this post you will learn:
- Ways on how to thicken oil paint using thickening agents.
- What thickening agents you can use with oil paints.
- What additives you can add to oil paint to thicken it.
- Techniques for texturing oil paints to make it appear thicker.
- Tips and considerations for thickening oil paint.
Ways to Thicken Oil Paint
Using Thickening Agents
This is a gel-like medium that can be added to oil paint to increase its thickness and create impasto effects. It can also enhance the paint’s color and shine. Impasto medium can be used straight from the jar or mixed with oil paint. When using impasto medium, it’s important to make sure that it’s thoroughly mixed with the paint and not over-applied, as it can crack when it dries.
This is a thick, buttery substance that can be added to oil paint to increase its viscosity and texture. Painting butter is made by mixing beeswax and damar resin with linseed oil. It can be melted and added to oil paint to create thick, textured strokes. However, it can be difficult to mix with some colors, and it can also affect the paint’s drying time.
Cold Wax Medium
This is a mixture of beeswax and solvent that can be added to oil paint to create a matte finish and increase the paint’s thickness. Cold wax medium can be applied straight from the jar or mixed with oil paint. It’s important to note that it can also affect the paint’s drying time. Gamblin’s cold wax medium is one of the best on the market.
This is a commonly used medium in oil painting that can also be used to increase the paint’s thickness. When added in small amounts, it can enhance the paint’s flow and transparency. However, it can also make the paint more prone to yellowing over time.
Beeswax medium is a thick, buttery substance that is made by mixing beeswax and damar resin with linseed oil. When added to oil paint, it can increase the paint’s thickness and create textured strokes. It’s important to note that beeswax medium can be hard to mix with some colors, and it can also affect the paint’s drying time. So while it can be used to thicken oil paint, it’s important to use it carefully and experiment with different ratios to achieve the desired effect.
Oil Painting Ground
Oil painting ground can be mixed with paint to create texture and thicken it, but the results may not be as effective as using other thickening agents or additives. Oil painting ground is typically used as a surface preparation, applied to the canvas before painting to create a smooth and even surface. Mixing it with paint can create a gritty texture, but it may not increase the paint’s thickness as much as other materials. Additionally, oil painting ground can affect the paint’s drying time, so it’s important to use it in moderation and test for compatibility with other materials.
Mixing with Additives
Drying oils like stand oil, fast drying linseed oil can be added to oil paint to increase its thickness and transparency. These oils can also enhance the paint’s glossiness and depth. However, it’s important to use them in moderation, as they can also increase the paint’s drying time.
Resins like damar resin or mastic resin can be added to oil paint to increase its thickness and create a glossy finish. Resins can also enhance the paint’s durability and make it more resistant to yellowing over time. However, it’s important to note that they can also affect the paint’s drying time and may require solvents to remove from brushes and palettes.
Powdered Marble or Fine Sand
Marble Dust is a type of special powder that’s made from something called calcium carbonate. It’s very, very fine, which means it’s extra small. It’s also very dense, which means it’s very heavy for its size. When artists mix Marble Dust with oil paint, it can make the paint thicker and give it a rough texture. As most marble dust is white, it will not alter the hue of your oil paint but you really need to mix it well to ensure that all the dust is covered in oil paint or it will not stick.
Fine sand can also absorb some of the oils from paint, making it appear thicker. Adding powdered marble or fine sand to oil paint can be useful when creating a base layer for a painting or when trying to achieve a more organic look. However, it can be difficult to mix with some colors and may not be suitable for all types of paintings. I personally do not like this approach unless I wanted an very textured oil painting base. As you may or may not know, my style of oil painting is smooth but for artists out there who like to create some texture give this a try.
Calcite, Barite, Calcium Carbonate or Bentonite
Make a paste with either calcite, barite, calcium carbonate or bentonite with some linseed oil and then mix it with your oil paint (you do not need to mix all of them). Specialty art suppliers typically carry materials such as Calcite, Barite, and Bentonite that can be used to thicken oil paint and add texture to paintings. These materials are also commonly found in pottery supply stores, where they are used in the creation of glazes.
Palette knives can be used to apply thick layers of paint to a canvas, creating a textured and impasto effect. Palette knives can also be used to scrape paint off a canvas, revealing layers of color underneath.
By using thicker brushes and applying paint in a more vigorous and expressive manner, artists can create texture and thickness in their paintings.
Impressionist techniques like stippling or dapping can be used to create a textured, impressionistic effect in oil paintings. These techniques involve applying small dabs of paint to a canvas with a stippling brush or other small tool.
Tips and Considerations
When using thickening agents and additives, it’s important to take safety precautions and follow manufacturer instructions. Some of these materials can be flammable, toxic, or irritating to skin and eyes.
Test For Compatibility
It’s important to test for compatibility when mixing different types of thickening agents and additives. For instance, mixing oil-based additives with water-based paint can cause separation and other issues which will just ruin your painting and cause untold issues.
Add More Oil Paint in Layers
You can layer on more oil paint in layers. As each layer dries, slab on more oil paint and wait for the skin to develop before applying another layer. This will give you a thicker oil paint but a word of warning, this will take a long time to properly cure and dry as you are basically slowing down the oxidization process of oil paint where the oil ‘dries’ leaving a hardened layer of pigment and medium.
Add More Pigment
Oil paints can also be thickened if you mix your own batch or if you buy the right colored pigment. All you need to do is add more pigment to your oil paint and this will increase the ratio of pigment to oil, leading to a thicker impasto of paint. The analogy I like to use is that of adding more flour to dough if you made it too watery.
Reduce The Amount of Oil In Oil Paint To Thicken It
Another low tech hack for how to thicken oil paint is to take your oil paint mix and put it on a thick sheet of cardboard or newspaper and let it soak up and absorb the oil from the oil paint. Use a palette knife to mix the oil paint around and once you have your desired oil paint thickness then scrape it up and place it back on your painting palette.
Do not use solvents
Using solvents may seem like a good idea as it should thin the oil paint out and then it can evaporate faster leaving just a thicker goo of oil paint but no, it does now work this way and don’t do it.
Do not mix house paint or latex based wall paint thickening agents
Thickening agents with latex for houses are not suitable for oil paints made for art. The pigments in artists oil paints are different to house paints and while it may appear to work the long term results are unpredictable.
You should experiment and play with different techniques to find what works best for their unique style and preferences so when using my tips and considerations for how to thicken oil paint I suggest making a small batch and doing a spot test over a few days to see if you like the results and if they work for you.
How to thicken oil paint – Wrap up!
So to wrap things up, there are several ways to thicken oil paint and create texture and depth in paintings. Using thickening agents, mixing with additives, and using texturing techniques like palette knives, brushwork, and impressionist techniques are all effective methods. Remember, it’s important to use these materials that are designed for use with oil paints and use techniques that are suited to oil painting. Experiment to find what works best for you as not artists are the same and not all artists like the same textures and oil paint thickness.
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Joseph Colella is 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 he holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent style he spent years trying to get into various Art degrees from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), and failed to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. In his spare time, he writes for the this blog, WastedTalentInc, where he shares practical advice on art, making art, and art materials. Joseph’s art has been sold to collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art and copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
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