Updated: Dec 6, 2021
I love oil paint because it never ceases to amaze and intrigue me. With each brush stroke there is something new to experience. Its long history is testimony to its incredible qualities.
Throughout time artists have continually challenged the way they make paintings. Subsequently they have developed techniques and materials that will best articulate their ideas. This has been an on going process
Oil paint was first used in the beginning of the 15th century and by the end of the century was very popular. Its popularity was due to its flexibility giving greater manipulation of the painting surface than that of the commonly used egg tempera. Egg tempera was inflexible and gave little opportunity to correct or change works in progress. Oil paint on the other hand allowed a greater opportunity to experiment, alter, and correct paintings.
Bushscapes: Alchemy of Gold by Ellen Michel
The transparent qualities of oil paint make it perfect to create glazes, applied thinly and mixed with oil medium, over dried under painting, gives depth and luminosity of colour superior to that of egg tempera.
Oil paints not only excellent for producing glazes which are thin and transparent but it is capable of being used for very thick paint (impasto) which is opaque paint , paint mixed with white and applied in thick dabs or slabs. The impasto thick buttery paint enables a textural quality in the painting which produces ‘high lights’ on its peaks.
Oil paint allows the artist to work a wet layer of paint on top of a dry layer without risk of destroying previous layers. Another valuable property of oil paint is its ability to dry slowly due to the oil component. This allows for manipulation of the paint on the surface of the canvas like blending colours to achieve a blurred edge between the two. This technique used in-conjunction with layers of transparent glazing, allows artists to achieve the illusion of surfaces observed from the world around them (hair, glass, fruit, skin, flowers, petals).
And finally, oil paint has the ability to retain colour, lustre, texture and transparency for hundreds of years if it applied correctly, making it the most used medium in Western Art History.