As someone who loves to paint with oil paints, I’ve found that using a good oil painting medium can make a huge difference in the final outcome of my artwork. An oil painting medium is essential if you want to modify the thickness, texture, or drying period of oil-based paint.
In this blog post, I’ll share my experiences and tips on how to use oil painting medium effectively, why you would even want to use an oil painting medium and what effects you can achieve with an oil painting medium.
How to use oil painting medium
Before we go into the different types of oil painting medium, let’s talk about how to use oil painting mediums. The first thing to keep in mind is that a little goes a long way. You don’t want to add too much medium to your paint, as it can affect the quality of the final product. It’s best to start with a small amount and gradually add more as needed.
When I first started using mediums I had no idea what I was doing and I was using it like water with watercolor painting.. way too much and all I was doing was creating wonderful glazes even though that was not what I wanted.
I asked my old art teacher in school who told me that when using oil painting medium, it’s important to mix it thoroughly with your paint and use a little at a time until you have your desired consistency. You can do this by using a palette knife to mix the medium and paint together. Make sure that the mixture is smooth and even, with no lumps or bumps. Pretty simple in hind sight.
If you’re using a medium like linseed oil or walnut oil, you can apply it directly to your canvas before you start painting. This can help to create a smoother surface and enhance the colors of your paint. To do this, simply apply a thin layer of oil to your canvas with a brush or a cloth.
Make sure to let it dry completely before you start painting.
When using stand oil or alkyd medium, it’s best to mix it with the paint on your palette. Start by adding a small amount of medium to your paint and mix it together thoroughly.
You can then gradually add more medium as needed to achieve the desired effect. Keep in mind that stand oil and alkyd medium can dry quickly, so you may need to work quickly to achieve the desired result.
Another thing to keep in mind when using oil painting medium is that it can affect the drying time of your paint. If you want your paint to dry more quickly, you can add a medium like an alkyd medium or use a thinner paint mixture.
Types of oil painting mediums
Now let’s talk about the different types of oil painting mediums that are available. There are many different types of medium, but some of the more common ones include linseed oil, walnut oil, stand oil, and alkyd medium.
Each type of medium has its own unique properties and benefits. Some are high viscosity and others low viscosity, this means how thick or how thin the oil can be when used which can alter the drying time of the oil paint.
Linseed oil is one of the most commonly used oil painting mediums. It’s a natural oil that’s made from flaxseed and is known for its ability to increase the flow and transparency of oil paint. It can also enhance the gloss and saturation of the colors.
But it’s worth noting that linseed oil can yellow over time, which can affect the color of your paint. Even with yellowing, I love linseed oil. I love the smell and the feel and the yellowing gives character.
Stand oil is a type of high viscosity medium which thickens the paint. It’s made from linseed oil that has been heated and polymerized in order to increase its viscosity. This makes it ideal for creating thicker, more textured brushstrokes and impasto effects as it slows down the drying time of the paint.
Walnut oil is another natural oil that’s often used as a medium for oil painting. It’s less likely to yellow over time than using linseed oil, making it a good choice for artists who want to maintain the color of their paint over time. It’s also slower-drying than linseed oil, which can be an advantage if you want to work with wet paint for longer periods.
Alkyd medium is a synthetic medium that’s made by combining oil with resin. It’s known for its fast drying time and its ability to create a hard, durable surface. It can also increase the gloss and saturation of your colors. However, it’s worth noting that alkyd medium can be more toxic than natural oils, so you should be cautious when using it.
Gel mediums are a type of thick, jelly-like medium that you can mix into your oil paints. They are usually composed of polymer resins and oils, which makes them very versatile. Gel mediums can be used to add texture to a painting, as well as to create glazes and sheen effects on the canvas.
Can you mix your own oil painting medium?
You can make your own oil painting mediums quite easily. You can use combinations of linseed or walnut oil, beeswax, and damar or mastic varnish to create a range of different mediums for your paintings.
If you choose to mix your own oil painting mediums, make sure to measure the ingredients precisely to ensure that you get the consistency and texture that you are looking for. It’s also important to understand how each ingredient works, how it affects your paints, and how it will affect drying time.
When adding mediums to your oil paints, start with small amounts and mix them in gradually until you achieve the desired effect. The quanity of medium you use with your oil paint or pigment will depend on how much paint you are working with, how thick or thin the consistency should be, and how glossy or matte you would like the painted surface to be.
For a matte finish, add more oils and less beeswax; for a glossier finish, add more beeswax and less oil. Avoid ‘over-mediuming‘ your paint, as this could result in an overly glossy finish.
Linseed oil is the traditional choice when it comes to using a painting medium. It gives a nice gloss and increases how flexible your paints are when dry, but it can be slow to dry. To speed up the drying process, mix your linseed oil with a faster-drying medium such as stand oil or poppy seed oil.
Another popular choice is turpentine and white spirit – they are fast-drying and can help thin the paint while also increasing how flexible it is when dry. They also have anti-fungal properties, which is a bonus. These should be used sparingly as too much can make your paint thinner and more transparent than you would like.
There are also wax-based mediums that can be used to thicken paint and give a glossy finish. These are great for adding texture and depth to paintings but don’t over-use them as they can make the paint very rigid which can lead to cracking.
Finally, you may want to experiment with a few different mediums and combinations of them to find what works best for your painting style and preferences. Different brands and mixtures will produce different textures and effects. Experimenting is the only way to find out how each one works for you.
Here is an oil painting medium recipe if you wish to try and make your own.
Best oil painting medium recipe
I have listed two of the best oil painting medium recipes that I know of, these were found in an old art book that I have.
Refined linseed oil
Turpentine or mineral spirits
In a clean, dry container, mix 2 parts linseed oil with 1 part turpentine or mineral spirits.
If desired, add a small amount of melted beeswax (about 5% by volume) to the mixture. This can help to increase the body of the paint and improve its handling.
Stir the mixture thoroughly until it is well combined.
To use the medium, mix a small amount with your oil paints on your palette. The amount of medium you use will depend on the thickness and consistency of the paint you want to achieve. Start with a small amount and add more as needed.
There are many other recipes for oil painting mediums, and different artists and painting styles may require different formulations. Here’s another recipe for a versatile oil painting medium:
1 part stand oil
1 part damar varnish
1 part turpentine or mineral spirits
In a clean, dry container, mix 1 part stand oil, 1 part damar varnish, and 1 part turpentine or mineral spirits.
Stir the mixture thoroughly until it is well combined.
To use the medium, mix a small amount with your oil paints on your palette. Again, the amount of medium you use will depend on the consistency and handling of the paint you want to achieve.
Note that stand oil is a thicker and more viscous form of linseed oil that can help to increase the gloss and durability of the paint film. Damar varnish is a natural resin that can increase the transparency and gloss of the paint and also help to protect it from aging and environmental damage. Turpentine or mineral spirits can help to thin the paint and make it more fluid, as well as aid in the drying process.
Note that oil painting medium can be flammable and can emit harmful fumes, so it should be used in a well-ventilated area and with caution. It is also important to properly dispose of any rags or materials used with the medium to prevent the risk of spontaneous combustion.
But if you wanted to just go out and buy an oil painting medium then what is the best medium for oil painting?
The best medium for oil painting
I believe there is no one “best” medium for oil painting, as the choice of medium will depend on the artist’s individual style and preferences, as well as the specific needs of the painting. That being said, here are some common oil painting mediums that I have used and I can vouch for their efficacy and quality:
Art Spectrum Painting Medium – as the leanest medium around, this can’t be beaten. It is also the fastest drying without having to add any extra solvents to it. It is also a low viscosity medium.
Galkyd by Gamblin – this is a fast drying, high viscosity medium that I love. It helps level out brush strokes and gives your paint a nice even coat. I use this for most of my portrait work.
Liquin – this is another great medium that has similar properties to Galkyd. I have actually written a few comparison articles on both mediums below which might be worth reading for you.
Gamblin Solvent Free Gel Vs Liquin – Find Your Happy Medium
Which Is Better? Liquin Vs Galkyd. Results Are Surprising
Which Is Useful? Liquin Vs Linseed Oil. Results Are Surprising
Best Non Toxic Solvents For Oil Painting, Thinning & Brush Cleaning (Needed Now)
For creating texture, you can look at gel versions of Gamblin solvent free.
Why mess about with oil painting mediums?
Why don’t artists just paint with oil paint straight from the tube? Why do we find the need to add mediums to oil paints?
I like using mediums in oil painting as it can add flexibility, sheen, and texture to your artwork. It can also help you achieve different types of effects. For instance, adding a few drops of medium to paint can give it more body so that it flows easily across the canvas. Mediums can also help you create impasto effects or glazes to give a painting more depth.
Mediums also allow me to bring a consistent level or spread and sheen no matter what brand of oil paint I am using as some are naturally more matte and some are glossier. So I will mix in various types of mediums to either speed up the drying process (fat mediums slow the drying process and lean mediums speed up the drying process), give paint more body, make the paint more spreadable or give it an even sheen.
There are many types of oil painting mediums, each with its own unique properties and uses. Alkyd medium is one of the most common choices as it speeds up drying time and creates a strong bond between pigment and canvas. Be careful when using an alkyd medium as it really turns your oil paint into a plastic-coated painting. While I don’t think it will alter the painting over the years it is still not an old technology and we do not know how it will be in many years to come. Apart from my own concerns, an alkyd medium makes it ideal for creating thick layers of oil paint (or impastos) or for use in a mixed-media piece.
Damar varnish is another popular option as it will add a glossy finish to your artwork. It also helps to protect the layers of color beneath it. Damar varnish is a natural resin that comes from trees and can be used as a final varnish, but you must be cautious when using it in your artwork. It should only be applied after the painting has been completed and allowed to dry for several weeks or months.
It’s important to note that different mediums may react differently with the color and texture of your paint. It’s best to test a small amount of medium on your painting before applying it over large areas. Keep in mind that some mediums may yellow over time, so consider how this will affect the appearance of your artwork in the long run.
When should I use oil painting mediums?
Oil painting mediums are most effective when used before you begin painting, as they can help create the ideal consistency and texture in your paint. This means you mix some in with your paint while on the palette. Additionally, if you’ve already completed a painting and want to modify how it looks, adding a medium may help you achieve the desired result.
Generally speaking, painting mediums are used to thin paint and make it easier to spread on your canvas or paper. I have also been guilty of using mediums to prolong my paint if a certain color I mixed up is running out and I am too lazy or scared to mix up a new batch (as I am colorblind I struggle to mix the same two colors exactly).
How to avoid cracking paintings when learning how to use oil painting mediums
Cracking can occur if the medium dries too quickly or if the painting is exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity. To avoid cracking, use a slower-drying medium and work in a cool and dry environment. Additionally, it’s best to paint in thin layers rather than thick ones; this will also help reduce the risk of cracking.
I hear about fat over lean, what does that mean?
Using “fat over lean” is an important part of how to use oil painting mediums. This refers to how oils with more pigment (and thus, more oil) should be painted on top of layers made with less pigmented and, therefore, leaner mediums. Using this method will help the painting maintain its form and provide a stable surface for future layers.
When should I use a fast-drying or slow-drying medium?
Choosing the right drying rate of your oil painting medium depends on how quickly you want to complete your piece and how thickly you are applying it. Fast-drying mediums are ideal if you’re working on a smaller, quicker painting, while slow-drying mediums enable you to take your time and layer thicker coats.
Can I mix oil painting mediums?
Yes, in fact, it’s common to mix different types of oil painting mediums together in order to achieve the right consistency for your painting. Adding more oil will result in a slow drying time while adding more resin or wax medium will speed up the drying process.
Can I use any varnish over any medium?
The type of varnish you use will depend on your painting medium. Oil-based varnish should be used in conjunction with oil-based paintings while water-based varnishes should only be used with water-soluble paints. Additionally, if you’ve used a wax or resin binder medium, it’s important to use a varnish specifically designed for that type of medium.
When varnishing, it is important to use a medium that won’t transfer too much heat or moisture to the painting’s surface; this will help prevent the paint from moving and cracking.
If you do notice any cracks after varnishing, apply a thin layer of retouching varnish over them to protect your painting.
How to use oil painting medium – Wrap up!
Finally, keep in mind that oil-based mediums should never be mixed with water-based mediums for use in an oil painting.
Doing so can cause the paint to become unstable and lead to cracking or other damage. Following these steps will help ensure a smoother painting experience and a reliably strong finished product.
So next time you’re ready to start painting, remember the importance of using an appropriate oil painting medium. It can make all the difference in how your artwork turns out.
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