What are the Main Oil Painting Techniques?

Confronting art techniques for oil painting for the first time may overwhelm the beginner on the diversity on offer. Fine art painting books would suggest that oil painting requires complex practices and materials, but this is not necessarily the case. The beginner may enjoy simple oil painting techniques with effective results, and which will give the fledgling artist satisfaction.

Basic Oil Painting Techniques

The beginner in oil painting may begin with all prima, which simply describes a painting completed in one session and therefore in one paint layer. Quick oil painting sketches of landscapes or skies, for example, are typically completed in alla prima. Such a technique requires the application of neat oil paint straight onto the painting surface.

Oil painting impasto complements alla prima, in that impasto describes a thick paint layer, and one which may enhance the painting with brisk brush marks or other textures within the paint. Thick paint or impasto can be manipulated with wide bristle brushes, palette knives or other mark making instruments.But the beginner need only require the oil paint, a few brushes and primed artboard in order to begin oil painting.

Oil Painting Glazing

In opposition to the two oil painting techniques just described, glazing with oils describes the completion of a oil painting by the application of several layers of oil paint and over several sessions. Each layer or “glaze” will be translucent in appearance in order to modify the colour beneath, to enrich the colour or to alter its tone. The paint will usually be thinned with either linseed oil or an alkyd medium such as Liquin. Many old masters practiced glazing, applying in as much of ten or more before satisfied with the result.

My Youtube clip below, showing Bacchus from Titian’s painting Bacchus and Ariadne, shows the combination of 2 art techniques: the background had been completed in glazes for smooth detail. The Bacchus figure, as can be seen, was completed in one paint layer (alla prima).

Sgraffito Oil Painting

Sgraffito provides special paint effects by adding textures to the oil paint. Any mark making implement can be used, from old combs and toothbrushes to pencils. By applying a conflicting colour beneath the painting, this colour will be revealed when the upper layer is etched off, introducing an element of movement and energy to the oil painting.

Scumbling is an oil painting technique that gives a finish to the paint, adding atmosphere to clouds or landscapes. Constable practiced scumbling in his later paintings.