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 Questions and Answers in Oil

For a change, this is not a stage by stage project of a landscape, this is quite simply answering a few of the commonly asked worries or questions that people have about oils. Because there is no doubt that oils are commonly thought of as an easier medium to paint with than watercolours although sometimes more labour intensive. There are a lot of questions asked “how do I” or “what do I” and before you even start painting there are worries like for instance there are lots of substances commonly associated for mixing in with the oil paint.

Essential Supplies

The items you will need to complete this scene are as follows:-

Oil Paint

Cobalt blue
Titanium white
Payne's grey
Naple's yellow
Hooker's green
Burnt sienna
Raw sienna
Raw umber
Cadmium red

No.18 wash brush
No.10 filbert
No.12 filbert

Oil Painting Medium


One of the most frequent statements is “I do like oils but its so smelly” well there is a simple answer to that, low odour thinners, which are just like any traditional thinners, you can use it for swashing out your brushes, mixing in the mixes to thin the paint slightly, but it does exactly what is says on the bottle in so far as there is no smell at all and so no nasty headaches or the feeling of being high by the time you are half way through your painting, which always reminds me of my art school days back in the 70s.
The other thing is “what is all this confusion about what oil or what medium do I put into my oil paint to put it on the canvas?” because there are lots of different oils and substances that traditionally you are supposed to put into the paint. Well now there is a fabulous thing called oil painting medium. This contains various substances so replaces the need for linseed oil and the rest of the paraphernalia.

So all I use are these 2 things. Low odour thinners and oil painting medium. So already we have made it easier for ourselves.


Another question I have asked quite a few times is “I can never get my skies thick enough without them looking muddy”. Well ask yourself does your sky really need to by that thick? After all the sky is a lot of vapour a long way away. Keep this fairly thin and build your thickness up in the landscape progressively as you get nearer. Still associated with skies is “I never seem to be able to get rid of the brush marks or brush strokes in my sky”. Well lets answer both of the questions “cant get my sky thick enough” and “cant get ride of my brush marks” in one easy sky.

For this sky I am using a bit of Daler board which is a very inexpensive surface and my No 18 Georgian wash brush. Firstly going in with some titanium white to which I have added a little dip of my low odour thinners and painting medium. Now some cobalt with a lot of titanium white. Now in amongst that lot a little bit of naples yellow on the top parts of the white, just a few daubs and then add a tiny touch of permanent magenta to my cobalt blue and titanium white mix. And as I said I have not made any of these too thick but my word what a mess it looks.


So now lets answer the other question of “how to get rid of my brush marks” as I am turning it into a proper sky. Just with a gentle ragging together with the colours at the top, then roll the white into the blue to form the clouds, you’ve got rid of your brush marks and made that general mess into a lovely soft sky.

Another question commonly asked is can I get the same effect by using these techniques with acrylics the answer to that is quite simply yes, but obviously you need to paint the acrylics in an oil fashion rather than with loads of water and painting it in a watercolour style, but remember however you treat it, your acrylics are going to dry that much faster so work quickly.


Another common problem is that of trees. Lots of people say “can I add the light into my trees as I can in watercolours?” The simply answer to this is yes if you wish, but the difference with oils is you don’t have to do all that pre planning of where you want the light because with oils you can paint your light on top afterwards.

In watercolours you would leave plenty of white paper showing here and there. Which is a good way of getting light in. In oils, never leave white canvas. It wont look natural and occasionally when the entire painting is dried, any white canvas you have left will dry yellow. Instead paint white on, or paint light on.

Take for instance this very simple little tree that I have done, for all of that foliage I have used hookers green and burnt sienna. The I put a mixture of cobalt blue and paynes grey to make some good dark strong bits here and there.

Look at it now it looks dead and flat, until that is with addition of a little bit of light in the form of naples yellow it has a new life breathed into it with shape and depth.

One question I was asked recently is can I do that double loading in watercolours like we just did in oils, simple answer to that is no, or you could but you would have to get your watercolours so thick that it would delude the transparent quality of watercolour.

When I say double loading, this is the kind of this I mean. Have a close look at my brush you will that I have dark green mixture on one side of my brush and naples yellow on the other side of my brush and with this, this is the effect I can get. By simply tapping on with one side of my brush and then the other I can have a very simple middle distance tree.

This is the first big tree that I did, just take a look of how effective the exact same technique can be in a landscape painting, where you will notice the big tree on the left hand side is done in exactly the same way.

Another statement rather than question is “I always tend to get too fiddly with my landscapes, how can I loosen them up” well for all these bits and pieces that I have just done, I have used a number 18 wash brush a No 10 filbert and a number 12 filbert, in other words no small brushes, this will stop you getting tight and fiddly with unwanted detail. Because all of these question, queries and answers are aimed at the landscape painter, a landscape is a big free open, moving thing, don’t make it stiff and lifeless using tiny little fiddly techniques and brushes.

Lets go back to the sky that we did and make that into a very simple little picture using all of the bits I have just shown you.

With my no 10 filbert I have just scrubbed on hookers green and raw sienna, followed by hookers green and burnt sienna for a darker tone, and literally with the side of the brush just scrub it into the canvas, and look at that you have go bushes from nothing.

Now using the double loading technique that I have just shown you tap on and get a tree on there. And again with my No 12 filbert just slap on a little bit of raw sienna followed by a bit of cobalt blue mixed with permanent magenta for a bit of ground. Once the sky wash is done the rest took about 10 minutes and one big brush.