23 Ways to Make Oil Painting Techniques Texture

Texture plays a vital role in oil painting, as it brings life and depth to a piece of art.

From choosing the right surface to working with various paint consistencies, artists can create unique effects with texture in oil paintings.

This article will explore some popular oil painting techniques for texture, helping you add that extra dimension to your artwork.

Thick, impasto paint produces bold texture, while thin paint emphasizes the canvas’s texture.

Adding dry mediums to the oil paint can create even more fascinating textures.

Artists may also experiment with encaustic, an ancient painting technique using hot wax as a medium, which offers its own tactile appeal.

As you delve into the world of oil painting techniques for texture, keep an open mind and explore different approaches.

Oil Painting Techniques Texture
Oil Painting Techniques Texture Examples

Different Oil Painting Styles for Texture

Oil painting provides a range of styles for artists to explore if they want to add texture to their paintings. All have their own pros and cons and many can be used together but be careful not to over-do it as the effect will lose its impact:

Impasto

  • Definition: Impasto refers to the technique of applying paint very thickly on the canvas, often with palette knives or large brushes. The texture can be so pronounced that it comes out of the canvas in relief, and in strong lighting, it can cast shadows.
  • Use & Benefits: Artists use impasto to convey emotion, emphasize certain areas of the canvas, and add depth and volume. The tactile quality of an impasto surface can evoke a visceral, almost sculptural experience for the viewer. Vincent van Gogh is one renowned artist known for his expressive use of impasto.
  • Challenges: It requires more paint and takes a longer time to dry. Also, the thick layers can crack over time if not done correctly.

Glazing

  • Definition: Glazing is a technique where a thin, transparent layer of paint is applied over a dried layer of paint, usually with the aid of a medium to increase transparency.
  • Use & Benefits: The underlying layers provide luminosity through the transparent glaze, giving depth and a glow to the painting. It’s a way to achieve subtle color variations and can make colors appear more radiant and vivid. This technique was famously employed by artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer.
  • Challenges: Achieving the right consistency and transparency can be tricky. It also requires patience, as each layer must be fully dry before the next glaze is applied to avoid muddying the colors.

Wet-on-Wet (or ‘Alla Prima’)

  • Definition: Wet-on-wet is a technique in which fresh paint is applied on top of still-wet paint.
  • Use & Benefits: It’s especially valued for its ability to blend colors directly on the canvas and to create soft edges and gradients. This technique is particularly useful for capturing fleeting effects of light and atmosphere, which is why it was popular among Impressionists like Claude Monet.
  • Challenges: Timing is crucial. If not handled correctly, colors can get muddy. It requires an understanding of how colors mix and how they work together when blended directly on the canvas.

Dry Brushing

  • Definition: Dry brushing involves using a relatively dry brush that still holds paint. Instead of fluid strokes, the dry brush is dragged or dabbed against the canvas, leaving a broken or scratchy mark.
  • Use & Benefits: This technique can produce a range of textured effects, from soft streaks suggestive of hair or grass to bolder, rough marks. Dry brushing is great for creating emphasis, texture, and detail. It’s often used for highlights or to give an object or background a textured appearance.
  • Challenges: Requires a good brush control and an understanding of the amount of paint needed on the brush to achieve the desired effect.

Scumbling

  • Definition: Scumbling is the application of a thin, semi-opaque layer of paint over a dried layer.
  • Use & Benefits: It can give an ethereal, misty quality to a painting, softening underlying details and subtly changing the color dynamics. This technique can add atmospheric depth or create the illusion of distance.
  • Challenges: Achieving the right opacity can be tricky. Too opaque can cover underlying layers too much; too transparent makes it similar to glazing.

Sgraffito

  • Definition: Derived from the Italian word for “scratch”, it’s a technique of scratching through a wet layer of paint to reveal what’s beneath.
  • Use & Benefits: It can create intricate designs, patterns, or textures. Useful for highlighting specific elements or adding fine details.
  • Challenges: Requires timely execution as it relies on the top layer being wet.

Palette Knife Painting

  • Definition: Using a palette knife, instead of a brush, to apply paint.
  • Use & Benefits: It can produce both detailed, sharp lines and broad, impasto-like applications. The results can be highly textured and vibrant as the paint is not overly mixed.
  • Challenges: Requires a different skill set than brush painting; can consume more paint.

Dabbing

  • Definition: Pressing materials against the canvas to transfer paint or create textures.
  • Use & Benefits: Can produce organic, random textures. It’s versatile, as different materials can create different effects.
  • Challenges: Can be unpredictable; requires practice to control the desired effect.

Layering

  • Definition: Applying multiple layers of paint, allowing each to dry between applications.
  • Use & Benefits: Adds depth and richness; each layer can add a different quality or effect.
  • Challenges: Time-consuming due to drying time between layers.

Stippling

  • Definition: Creating patterns using small dots or specks of paint.
  • Use & Benefits: Can simulate textures like fabric, foliage, or any surface that benefits from a dotted appearance.
  • Challenges: Requires patience and consistency for a uniform appearance.

Frottage

  • Definition: Transferring textures from a surface beneath the canvas by rubbing.
  • Use & Benefits: Can capture complex textures and patterns quickly.
  • Challenges: It can be unpredictable; not all textures transfer well.

Graining

  • Definition: Mimicking the appearance of wood grain.
  • Use & Benefits: Useful for painting objects made of wood or for creating faux-wood surfaces.
  • Challenges: Requires close observation and skill to mimic natural grain.

Using Mediums

  • Definition: Incorporating materials into the paint or layering them on the canvas.
  • Use & Benefits: Broadens the range of textures and effects achievable. Can customize the paint’s body and drying time.
  • Challenges: Some mediums can affect paint longevity and drying time.

Dragging

  • Definition: Running a dry brush or tool through wet paint.
  • Use & Benefits: Creates streaked textures and patterns.
  • Challenges: Requires a balance of pressure for even streaks.

Tonal Grounding

  • Definition: Starting with a uniformly colored base layer.
  • Use & Benefits: Can influence mood and depth of subsequent layers. Helps in establishing tonal values early on.
  • Challenges: The choice of ground color can greatly affect subsequent layers, so careful selection is necessary.

Advanced Oil Painting Techniques for Texture

Alkyd Oil Paints Utilization

Alkyd oil paints are a fairly modern alternative to traditional oil paints.

They’re formulated with alkyd resin, which acts as a binder, instead of the linseed oil found in traditional oil paints.

This change in binder leads to some differences in handling and drying times.

Here’s how alkyd oil paints can be utilized:

Mixing with Traditional Oils:

  • Blendability: Alkyd oil paints can be mixed with traditional oil paints. Doing so can adjust the drying time and texture of the paint mixture.
  • Consistency: Depending on the brand, alkyd oils may have a slightly softer or more fluid consistency than traditional oils.

Application Techniques:

  • Impasto: Alkyd paints, due to their quicker drying time, allow for faster layering of thick applications.
  • Glazing: They’re excellent for glazing techniques because of their rapid drying time, letting artists apply subsequent transparent layers more quickly.
  • Smooth Blending: Just like traditional oils, alkyds allow for smooth blending of colors directly on the canvas.
  • Underpainting: Alkyds are beneficial for underpaintings since the faster drying time allows artists to work over the initial layers without long waiting periods.

Drying & Curing:

  • Accelerated Drying Time: Alkyd oil paints typically dry faster than traditional oils, often within 24 hours, depending on the thickness of the application. This can be an advantage for artists who want to work quickly or need to meet deadlines.
  • Curing: Even though the surface dries quickly, it’s essential to allow ample time for the paint layers to fully cure before varnishing.

Finishing:

  • Sheen: Alkyd paints can have a slightly different finish than traditional oils, often leaning more towards a glossy sheen.
  • Varnishing: Due to their quicker drying nature, artists might be able to varnish alkyd paintings sooner than those made with traditional oils. However, it’s still essential to ensure the paint is thoroughly cured.

Safety & Clean-up:

  • Solvents: Like traditional oils, alkyd oil paints require solvents (like mineral spirits or turpentine) for thinning and cleanup.
  • Ventilation: Because of the solvents and the alkyd resin, it’s crucial to work in a well-ventilated area when using alkyd paints.

Extenders and Mediums:

  • Compatibility: Many of the mediums and extenders used for traditional oil paints can be used with alkyd paints. However, it’s a good practice to check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Alkyd Mediums: Some mediums are specifically formulated for use with alkyd paints to enhance their unique properties, such as speeding up (or sometimes slowing down) drying time or altering their consistency.

Alkyd oil paints offer artists the luminosity and depth of traditional oils with the added benefit of a faster drying time.

This can be particularly useful for plein air painters or those who engage in live painting sessions.

As always, getting a feel for the paint and understanding its unique properties is achieved best through hands-on experimentation.

Encaustic Mediums

Encaustic or hot wax painting involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added.

The liquid or paste is then applied to a surface, usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials can be used. 

The term “encaustic mediums” can be a bit misleading when discussing oil painting, as encaustic and oil are two distinct mediums.

Some artists experiment by incorporating encaustic techniques into their oil works or layering the two mediums.

For the purpose of creating texture in oil painting, here are a few ways one might use or be inspired by encaustic techniques:

Pure Beeswax:

  • Texture: When added to oil, it thickens the paint and can produce a smooth or textured, translucent finish, depending on how it’s applied.
  • Benefits: It adds body to the paint, increases translucency, and can produce a satin sheen.

Encaustic Medium:

  • Texture: This is typically a blend of beeswax and damar resin, which is the basic “medium” of encaustic painting. When layered, it can create rich textures, translucent layers, and interesting surface effects.
  • Benefits: The damar resin increases the hardness and raises the melting point of the beeswax, allowing for more durable layers.

Impasto with Wax:

  • Texture: By building up thick layers of encaustic medium and/or pigmented wax, artists can achieve a high-relief, sculptural texture.
  • Benefits: Provides a unique, tactile surface that’s not easily achieved with oil paints alone.

Incorporating Materials:

  • Texture: Objects like fabric, paper, or other materials can be embedded into the wax to create collage or mixed media pieces.
  • Benefits: Creates dimensional artwork and opens up a world of mixed media possibilities.

Carving and Scraping:

  • Texture: While the wax is still warm, artists can carve into the surface or scrape away areas to reveal underlying layers or the substrate.
  • Benefits: Offers unique line work, texture, and layering effects.

Fusing Layers:

  • Texture: Using a heat source (like a heat gun or torch) between layers ensures that the wax layers fuse together. The heat can also be used to manipulate the surface texture.
  • Benefits: Ensures the stability of the artwork and allows for smooth or textured layering effects, depending on how it’s applied.

Benefits of Encaustic Techniques in Oil Painting:

  1. Layering: The nature of wax allows for clear, distinct layering where each layer can be seen through the next.
  2. Luminosity: The light-reflecting nature of wax gives encaustic paintings a unique luminosity.
  3. Versatility: From smooth, polished surfaces to rugged, textured terrains, encaustic offers a broad range of surface possibilities.
  4. Durability: Once cooled, the wax hardens and provides a protective layer for the artwork.

It’s important to note that while encaustic and oil can be used in tandem in certain experimental methods, they are quite different and require different approaches, especially concerning drying and curing. 

When integrating both mediums, you need to understand each medium’s properties and potential reactions to ensure the longevity of the artwork.

Otherwise, you will find paints peeling off the surface as they cure or massive cracks appearing, leading to the early degradation of your artwork.

Cold Wax Technique

Cold wax medium is a paste-like substance made from a mixture of natural beeswax, resin, and solvent.

It’s called “cold” wax because it doesn’t need to be heated for use, unlike encaustic wax, which is heated to a molten state when used in painting.

Here’s how cold wax is used to create texture in oil painting:

Mixing with Oil Paints:

  • Blendability: Cold wax medium can be mixed directly with oil paints. This mixture increases the body of the paint, making it thicker and more paste-like.
  • Transparency: Adding cold wax to oil paint can make the paint more opaque.

Application Techniques:

  • Impasto: Due to the increased body of the paint when mixed with cold wax, artists can create thick, impasto-like layers, similar to those created with acrylic mediums.
  • Layering: The wax allows for layered applications, and because it speeds up drying time somewhat, subsequent layers can be added more quickly than with oils alone.
  • Scratching & Mark Making: The thickened texture of the paint mixed with cold wax is great for incising or scratching into, offering a variety of textures and graphic possibilities.
  • Sgraffito: This technique, where artists scratch back layers to reveal underlying colors, becomes even more pronounced with the added depth provided by cold wax.
  • Stenciling & Masking: The thicker consistency can be beneficial for stenciling or masking techniques, allowing for sharper edges and more defined shapes.

Drying & Curing:

  • While cold wax can speed up the drying time of oil paint to some degree, it’s essential to note that thicker applications of paint and wax will still require a longer curing time before they’re fully dry.
  • Even when the surface feels dry to the touch, the underlying layers might still be wet, so patience is required if you’re working with thick textures.

Finishing:

  • Once dried, the surface will have a matte finish, which is a characteristic effect of cold wax. A separate varnish or medium may be needed if a glossy finish is desired.

Safety & Clean-up:

Cold wax medium offers a broad realm of possibilities for texture, layering, and depth in oil painting.

Its unique properties open up a variety of techniques not achievable with oil paints alone. Experimentation is key to understanding how it behaves and how it can be harnessed to achieve the desired effects.

Dry Medium Technique

Dry mediums encompass various solid materials used in visual arts to create texture, dimension, and various effects.

While they are more commonly associated with mediums like pastels and pencils, they can also be incorporated into wet mediums such as oil paints to enhance texture and other visual elements.

Each dry medium offers distinct characteristics, allowing artists to choose the one that best suits their intended effect. Familiarity and experimentation are key to mastering their potential.

Here are some popular dry mediums and their utilization to create texture in oil paintings:

Graphite:

  • Types: Available as pencils, sticks, and powders.
  • Techniques: Shading, hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, and more. Graphite is highly versatile and can achieve a wide range of tones and values.
  • Finish: Typically has a shiny or metallic sheen when applied heavily.

Charcoal:

  • Types: Compressed, vine, and pencil forms.
  • Techniques: Great for rapid sketches, life drawings, and adding depth and richness to pieces due to its deep black tones. Can be smudged easily, making it ideal for blending.
  • Finish: Matte, and can be a bit messy, often requiring a fixative to prevent smudging.

Pastels:

  • Types: Soft pastels, hard pastels, oil pastels, and pastel pencils.
  • Techniques: Layering, blending, and scumbling. Their intense color and easy blendability make them suitable for both detailed and broad applications.
  • Finish: Soft pastels have a powdery texture, while oil pastels are smoother and waxy.

Colored Pencils:

  • Techniques: Suitable for detailed work, layering, and blending. Can be used for both sketches and highly detailed colored pieces.
  • Finish: Typically waxy or oily, depending on the binder. Some can be blended with solvents.

Conté Crayons:

  • Types: Made from compressed powdered graphite or charcoal mixed with a wax or clay base.
  • Techniques: Good for sketching, having a range between pencils and pastels in terms of hardness.
  • Finish: Semi-smooth, with the ability to produce both fine lines and broad strokes.

Charcoal Powder:

  • Techniques: Can be applied with brushes or fingers to create soft gradients and tones. Also used for large-scale background shading.
  • Finish: Matte for charcoal, shiny for graphite.

Sanguine & Sepia Crayons:

  • Types: These are traditional drawing crayons often used for life studies and portraits. Sanguine has a reddish-brown hue, while sepia is dark brown.
  • Techniques: Ideal for life drawing, capturing skin tones, and adding warmth to sketches.
  • Finish: Similar to Conté crayons but in specific hues.

Blenders and Tortillons:

Incorporation in Wet Mediums:

  • Mixed Media: Dry mediums can be combined with wet mediums, such as charcoal or pastels over watercolor or graphite powder in acrylic mediums for added texture.

Fixatives 

  • Purpose: While not a “medium” in the traditional sense, fixatives are vital for preserving artwork made with dry mediums. They’re sprayed onto finished works to prevent smudging or fading.

More On Impasto Painting Technique

Tools for Implementing Impasto

To achieve the impasto technique, you will need a few key tools. A palette knife is often used for applying thick layers of paint, while stiff brushes can also be helpful.

In addition, you might need impasto mediums to thicken the paint and create an ideal consistency for the technique.

Impasto Process Basics

Remember to use thick layers of paint when working with impasto painting techniques. Apply the paint directly from the tube onto the canvas.

Use your palette knife or stiff brush to spread it, making sure to leave visible brushstrokes.

Impasto painting is all about creating texture and depth on the canvas with bold and heavy strokes. Experiment with various applications to find what suits your style.

Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet are prominent artists known for their use of impasto techniques in their works. By looking at their paintings, you can learn and take inspiration from their methods.

Prominent Impasto Artists

  • Vincent Van Gogh: Known for his bold and expressive use of color, Van Gogh’s impasto technique can be seen in many of his works, such as “Starry Night” and “Sunflowers.”
  • Claude Monet: A pioneer of the Impressionist movement, Monet often used impasto to create texture in his famous paintings of water lilies, gardens, and seascapes.

By incorporating impasto techniques in your oil paintings, you can add a new dimension to your work and bring your art to life.

Remember to choose the right tools and experiment with various applications to create your own unique style.

Understanding Painting Textures

Opting for Thick Paint

When you’re working with oil paint, using thick layers can create interesting textures.

This technique is called impasto and can give your paintings a sense of depth and dimension.

Applying thick paint creates raised areas that catch light and create shadows, making your artwork more visually appealing.

Use of Thin Layers of Paint

On the other hand, using thin layers of paint allows for more canvas texture to show through.

This can be done by diluting your paint with a medium or just using less paint on your brush. Thin layers are great for creating lighter, more delicate textures in your artwork.

Variety of Interesting Textures

Achieving a variety of interesting textures can be done through different techniques.

Some artists prefer to use special brushes and metal tools to manipulate the paint on the surface, while others mix their oil paint with hot wax to create an encaustic effect.

A combination of both thick and thin layers can lead to a more intricate look.

Achieving Rough Paint Texture

Creating a rough texture is an effective way to make a painting more engaging. This can be achieved by using the texture paste or texture gel with your oil paint.

Apply the mixture with a palette knife or use unconventional tools such as a brush’s handle, sponges, or other non-traditional painting utensils.

Experimenting with these methods can lead to unique and captivating textures in your artwork. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t give up if you don’t immediately achieve the desired effect. 

Mastering Color Shades

Using Yellow Ochre

Yellow Ochre is a versatile color in oil painting. You can use it to create various shades and achieve different effects.

Try mixing Yellow Ochre with other colors, such as white or black, to lighten or darken it. Experiment with adding a small amount of other colors, like blue or red, to create unique shades that will bring depth and character to your artwork.

Mixing Different Shades

To create different shades in your oil painting, the key is to mix your colors properly.

Start with the primary colors – red, yellow, and blue – and then mix them to create secondary and tertiary colors.

Remember that a little goes a long way with oil paints, so start with a small amount and gradually add to it.

Be sure to mix your colors on your palette, not on your canvas. This allows you to have better control over the final shades and helps you achieve the desired effect more easily.

  • Primary Colors: Red, Yellow, Blue
  • Secondary Colors: Green, Orange, Violet
  • Tertiary Colors: Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange

Achieving Strong Contrast

Strong contrast in oil painting can make your artwork more dynamic and visually striking.

To achieve strong contrast, focus on using complementary colors, which are opposite each other on the color wheel.

This creates a natural contrast that will make your painting stand out.

Here are some complementary color pairs that you can use to achieve strong contrast in your oil painting:

  • Red and Green
  • Blue and Orange
  • Yellow and Violet

You can also create contrast by using light and dark colors in your painting. This can give your work a sense of depth and dimension, making it more visually appealing.

So, when working on your oil paintings, remember these tips to master the art of creating different shades, textures, and strong contrast.

Basic Oil Painting Techniques

Application of First Layer of Paint

Starting with the first layer of paint is necessary for your oil painting. Make sure your brush is not overloaded with paint to avoid excessive thickness.

Apply the paint in thin layers to build up the texture gradually. Remember, thin layers dry faster and help you to create a strong foundation for your artwork.

Smooth Surface Preparation

Preparing a smooth surface is vital for achieving the desired texture in your oil painting. Sand your canvas or panel to remove any imperfections.

You can also use gesso to prime the surface, ensuring better paint adhesion and smooth texture.

Drying Time Considerations

Oil paint can take a while to dry, so be careful not to rush the process. Giving your oil painting enough drying time between layers is key to avoiding cracks or undesirable effects. You may want to wait a few days to a week (or even longer) before working on a new layer.

Utilizing Different Shapes and Sizes

Experiment with various brush sizes and shapes to achieve a wide range of textures.

Bigger brushes can cover larger areas, while smaller brushes allow for more detailed work.

Flat, round, filbert, and fan brushes all have their unique uses and can provide different results when used in your oil painting.

Use of Different Colors

Feel free to play with different colors to enhance the texture of your oil painting.

Mix various colors on your palette and explore how they interact on the canvas.

Combine warm and cool colors to create unique effects and depth in your artwork. 

Production of Art Pieces

Creating Focal Points

When painting with oil, you can create striking focal points in your art pieces.

Use texture to your advantage by adding thick brush strokes in distinct sections, while keeping other painting parts smooth.

This can emphasize areas of interest, creating depth and capturing the viewer’s attention.

Achieving Noticeable Contrast

The key to creating dynamic art pieces is achieving noticeable contrast in textures. You can easily alter your brushwork with oil paints to generate these contrasts.

Use a palette knife for bold impasto effects and fine brushes for delicate details. Combining different techniques can demonstrate your skill and versatility as an artist.

Mastery of Smooth Transition

Smooth transitions between textures are vital in any art piece. With oil paints, blending colors and creating seamless transitions from one texture to another can be effortlessly achieved.

You can use thin layers and subtle brush strokes for a smooth texture or layer wet paint to give a more fluid effect. This can make your painting more visually appealing and harmonious.

Finishing the Painting

Once you have incorporated focal points, contrasts, and smooth transitions into your art piece, you need to finish the painting.

Oil paintings can take time to dry, so be patient and allow the layers to dry completely. The result will be a stunning, well-balanced artwork that showcases your expertise in utilizing oil paint textures and techniques.

Understanding Oil Painting

Renaissance Period Influence

The Renaissance period had a significant impact on oil painting techniques. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael experimented with oil paints, creating stunning artworks full of textures and depth.

This era brought about medium improvements, such as using different layers and glazes for added richness and complexity.

Oil Painters and Artists

Many great artists throughout history have worked with oil paints, including renowned figures like Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, and J.M.W. Turner.

They each developed unique techniques and styles, highlighting the flexibility and versatility of oil painting.

These masters inspire countless aspiring artists, encouraging them to discover their own approaches to the art form.

Significance of a Long Tradition

The long tradition of oil painting techniques influences art to this day. This rich history offers valuable lessons for modern artists to learn and adapt.

By studying the works of master oil painters, artists can refine their skills and perpetuate this timeless art form.

Oil painting’s vast potential and versatility make it an exciting medium to explore, ensuring that the tradition will continue for generations to come.

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