My education in art began with a few courses in drawing. Very soon the next course was painting, and the instruction was in using oils. I was taught the alla prima method of painting whereas the artist puts down the color intended – there is no glazing or gradually working up to the proper color. Thus I have always worked in oils.
We were introduced to the color wheel and the three primary colors of painting: red, yellow and green. When we mixed each with the other, the result was the three secondary colors: orange, green and violet, and when set on the color wheel in order, form the familiar Roy G Biv reminder. When the primary and secondary colors are mixed, each with its closest neighbor, the result is six tertiary colors. When a color is mixed with its opposite across the color wheel, the result is a neutral, thus the center of the color wheel is neutral.
In my next phase, the instructors set up a variety of still life settings, sometimes on a table, sometimes hung on a wall, and the class was instructed to paint some or all of the parts of the display. We painted commission portrait scarves, neckties, hats and numerous other settings. For many years after that, I took a photo to class and rendered it in oils on my canvas. A few years ago, I met plein air painters and learned the joys and hazards of plein air painting.
Oil paint is made of pigment and a binder, often linseed oil, so thinning the paint is as easy as adding oil to it. Artists often use linseed oil, but also walnut, poppy seed, safflower, and other oils can be added to lengthen or shorten the drying time. Some artists use turpentine, now known to be toxic, so in some classes this is prohibited. Other mediums are also available to thin and alter the drying time of the paint.
The greatest joy of painting in oils is that they result in such soft lovely colors. When an artist begins a painting, the dark areas often are painted first in a thin wash which sets up soon. Later the artist revisits that area and paints over the first wash in what is known as wet-on-wet. One must lay on the second coat carefully and with as few strokes as possible to achieve the desired result and must be careful to not mix the two layers, else mud often results.
Oil paints are slow drying, thus allowing the artist to continue working on the painting the following day if desired. Occasionally, the. artist sees an area that needs changing and needs to mix that same color to make the correction, even though the painting is dry. This is not a problem with oils because the wet color is the same as the dry color.
I like painting with oils because I find the paints easy to use. The artist can continue to work on the painting at a later time because of the slow drying quality of the paint and the painting can easily be corrected by painting over the original work even after it is dry. The finished painting has beautifully blended colors which create a soft and lovely look. In addition, the colors of oil paintings stay rich and vibrant for a very long time.