Anatomy 101 of Original Oil Paintings

Ok what’s up? Last I checked I did not see any bones or organs within the frame and canvas of this oil painting I have been working on, so what gives? Well for hundreds of years now people have been looking at and admiring oil polyurea. One thing is clear, they seem to last a long time and they have a solidness and depth that made them popular as soon as they became understood and available to use by the artist. Artist made there living painting commissioned artwork and oil paints gave them new freedom in creating commissioned oil paintings.

In the 1400s oil paints started to be used. Before oils, fresco (using plaster and pigments) and tempura (Made with eggs and pigments) were the choices artist had to paint with. Oil paints became available as soon as they figured out how to suspend the powdered pigments in oil. They used a variety of oils like walnut, poppy and linseed.

The pigments were added to the oil as they needed them in the studio. The oil paints dried slow unlike the fast drying fresco and tempera, and they covered the surface that was being painted more evenly and thoroughly then the methods before. Artist now could rework the painting for days before it dried, they could paint thin and thick and opaque or translucent depending on the technique and the pigments. This was new and oils became the medium of choice for centuries.

Originally artist painted on boards or panels then moved to canvas. The canvas was at first linen and then cotton was used. Canvas was stretched tight over wooden stretcher strips and primed with gesso, a mixture of glue and oil paint. This sealed the fibers of the canvas so the acids in the paint did not deteriorate the canvas. This gesso also gives tooth for the paint to adhere off the brush.

These canvas panels originally took up to a year to properly dry and the use of panels before properly drying was the cause of some of the cracking of paint surfaces.

Since oils dried so slow a number of elements were added to the paint to speed the drying. Eventually these mediums added to paint became available to dry very quickly or even slower. turpentine was used to thin the paint and allow it to flow better and control it.

One of the properties of oil paint that gives the painting depth and realism is that some pigments are opaque and some are translucent letting the light penetrate through the paint and reflect off the underlying surface.

The traditional way of applying paint often referred as the old masters technique is to paint the dark or shadow areas thin and transparent while painting the lighter tones thicker and opaque. This gives the painting great depth and realism while the light penetrating illuminates the colors from within.

Paints are often put on in layers with the thin transparent layers applied first with more turpentine or similar medium and building the painting up with thicker more opaque paint with less turpentine. The old saying goes thick over thin. The artist wants the underlying layers to dry faster using more turpentine to paint ratio and the top layers to dry slower using less turpentine to more paint. With more paint comes more oil so drying is slower. This rule keeps the paint from cracking over time.

Eventually oil paints became available in a tube premixed with the oil The oil has to completely surround each pigment particle to have the paint work properly and hold up. The first tubes had problems but they worked it out and the artist could now venture out of the studio into the country side and Impressionism was born.

Dan Budde is a commission artist with a studio located in the river town of Clinton, Iowa. Dan paints oils on canvas of houses, buildings landscapes and detailed objects like riverboats and airplanes.

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