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Oil Painting
Oil Painting

There are so many factors that influence a work of art – the medium with which an artist chooses to paint plays an undeniable role in the final product! In this three part series, we’ll be exploring various art mediums and the way they have shaped art as we know it today. 

Many artists choose oil paints as their medium of expression. Oil painting offers many advantages, like flexibility, ease of blending and a glossy, rich appearance.

Christmas Notre-Dame by Alexandr Klemens
Painting, Oil on Canvas, 47.2 inch x 47.2 inch


A History of Oil Painting

Before the invention of oil paints, artists used egg tempera. Egg tempera is created by mixing egg yolk with distilled water and powdered pigment. In this case, the egg acts as a binder, creating a paint that is then applied to the surface. Over time, egg tempera was replaced by the common mediums we are familiar with today, like oil painting, acrylics and watercolours.

It was previously thought that oil painting dated back to the 14th century. It was the medium of choice during the renaissance movement. However, in 2008, it was discovered that oil painting dated further back than it was previously thought. It was discovered that artists used oil extracted from walnuts and poppies to decorate caves in Afghanistan, and prompted the realization that the medium dates back to at least the 7th century. All to say, oil painting is a reliable medium that has a very long history.


Corridors. The project “Photos from the trash can” by Igor Shulman
Painting, Oil on Canvas, 27.4 inch x 35.4 inch


Mediums and Materials

Oil painting has a glossy appearance, and is known for its longevity and durability. They are very slow drying which provide a range of benefits as well as challenges.


The earliest oil paintings were panel paintings on wood. In the early 16th century, there was a shift towards canvas painting. Canvas is now the most commonly used surface for painting with oils. Wood panel, paper, and slate are also used, although less commonly. 


Although canvas is a popular choice, wood can be a great surface for painting extremely detailed oil paintings. The solid surface makes it easier to paint tiny details with more accuracy.


This type of paint is made by mixing oils with raw colour pigment. In the past, walnut oil, linseed oil and other more natural oils were used as oil binders. However as time went on, it was learned that those oils are chemically unstable. Today, oil paints are created with synthetic chemicals and sold in tubes that artists can then mix as needed on their artist’s palette.


Au milieu des tulipes by Diana Malivani
Painting, Oil on Canvas, 23.6 inch x 31.5 inch


Oil Painting Techniques

As previously mentioned, oil paint dries very slowly. Oil artworks are typically worked on for long periods of time. A work of art may be painted in layers, waiting for each layer to dry. This used to be the preferred method.


In the impressionist era, we saw the birth of the “plein air” approach, where artists would paint outdoors. Artists did not have the time to wait for paint to dry. This influenced a new method of painting with oils. Instead of painting layer by layer, with long drying periods in between, artists started using the wet-on-wet method.


With the wet-on-wet method, paints are blended right on the canvas.This method gave the artists more flexibility for blending and color mixing, and is still widely used today. The technique, also sometimes called Alla Prima, makes for interesting original paintings.


After Jan Van Eyck by Christopher R Inwood
Painting, Oil on Canvas, 24.0 inch (61.0 cm) x 54.0 inch (137.2 cm)


Famous Oil Painters

There are many famous oil painters, including Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Gustav Klimt and more.

The Mona Lisa, arguably one of the most famous paintings in the world, was painted with oils. Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh was also painted in oils. 


Browse Art by Medium on Zatista

Looking for an oil painting you’ll love? Browse our collection of one-of-a-kind, original oil paintings on Zatista.


Looking to explore different mediums? You can use our advanced search filters to filter art by mediums like acrylic paintings, watercolor paintings, oil paintings and more!

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