How to Oil Paint on Canvas (A 5-Step Detailed Overview)

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Oil paints have been there long ago and continue to grow in popularity because of their quality and versatility. Classics like Mona Lisa were oil-painted.

Oil painting on canvas can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to. This article provides you with everything you need to know and more on how to oil paint on canvas.

Keep reading to find out more about oil painting!

1. Gather Good Quality Painting Materials

You will require the following supplies to start oil painting:

  • Oil paints
  • Paintbrushes, preferably made of synthetic fiber or hog hair. 
  • Stretched canvas
  • Oil and thinner
  • A palette for mixing paints
  • Painting rags
  • An easel for holding your work

Starting with a few basic colors is recommended for beginner oil painters. It allows more experimentation with color mixing, giving you a better feel for the qualities of oil paints. It is advisable, to begin with white, black, and the primary colors. You can start exploring other colors once you understand the oil painting basics.

2. Set up a Safe Space to Work

Oil paints give out a strong smell, and the solvents required for thinning them and cleaning brushes contain toxic properties. For this reason, a spot outdoors would be a favorable option for many people, but it does not mean oil painting indoors is impossible. 

You have to take care by ensuring the room is well ventilated. Also, some oil paints contain harmful chemicals that find their way through the skin. To ensure safety, use nitrile or latex gloves when handling such paints.

3. Prime the Canvas

Oil paints are typically thick, and the oils seep into canvas if gesso is not applied. Gesso is a primer and failing to use it before oil painting affects your work’s look. Over time, the canvas may also start degrading. 

Gesso allows finishing paint to adhere better to the canvas and create a binding layer that is better suited to oil paint. It also has properties that increase paint durability.

Some primers can be slightly colored to match the finishing paint’s color. If it is deep color finishing paint, tinging the primer reduces the number of finishing paint layers necessary for uniformity across the painted canvas. Primers also hide seams and joints to provide a better look.

A topcoat is a translucent or transparent coat of paint applied over fillers or primers. They provide proper adhesion to the undercoat, extra protection against harsh weather conditions, and the painting’s desired look (structure, gloss, color). For some primers, it is a requirement that the topcoat is used within a stated period after the primer has dried.

The time set to apply a top coat after the primer dries ranges from one day to fourteen days. The finishing paint is often applied before the primer completely dries to improve adhesion between the topcoat and the primer.

4. Sketch your Painting

Now your canvas is ready; next up, sketch a “notan” on scrap paper or a sketchbook with a black or gray pen or pencil. You can do the sketchings as small as you want; the intention is to get the design’s dark, medium, and light areas. Draw as many sketches as you can without worrying about the details until you are satisfied with the design.

Afterward, make a value drawing using a pencil or charcoal. It can be a detailed or loose sketch; what you’re looking for here is where the highlights and shadows are. In the sketch;

  • Directional lighting makes drawings appear more three-dimensional and makes for good realism or impressionism. The light falling on the object, person, or landscape elements should follow one direction. The shadows should also follow the same direction and be longer when it’s early or late in the day, shorter if the lamp or sun is high.
  • If you want to make an abstract, draw a loose sketch working out the areas you want specific effects like strong texture strokes or spattering. Or ignore the sketch stage and move on to the next.
  • Sketch your drawing on a canvas pad, paper, or canvas board using your violet pastel pencil or charcoal. If the shape is not the same, mark up the precise parts of the canvas on the pad or board so that everything matches the planning sketches. 

Take these sketches as pure outlines. For detailed realism, you can mark up mouths, eyes, or the crucial shapes on the drawing. You can also keep it simple to the main shapes and shadow shapes as long as it resembles a Paint By Numbers canvas once you complete the sketch. 

Mistakes are correctable; use a damp cloth to wipe off the pastel pencil or charcoal and wait for it to dry before drawing again.

5. Layer your Oil Paints

Now you want to layer up the color and paint after mixing and preparing the oil paints. Ensure you use the “fat over lean” rule that stops oil paints from taking forever to dry and cracking when dry. It takes longer for oilier (fatter) paints to dry, so you want to apply it over leaner (thinner) paints.

How long do oil paints take to dry? Depending on the thickness, it takes three months or more, thus giving you enough time to make changes until you are satisfied with the end product. Using a palette knife, you can scrape off the parts you want to change and re-do.

Final Word

Oil painting is quite straightforward. It is different from acrylics in that you work with mediums, and solvents and oil paints take longer to dry.

Dispose of all materials you use properly. Remember that oil paints contain hazardous components to the skin and body. Keep them away from pets and children’s reach.

This article takes you through how to oil paint on canvas. Whether you are a beginner artist or a professional, this information will add to your knowledge and make you a better oil painter.

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Josh Cohen

Josh Cohen

I love to paint, mostly nature and I dabble in some abstract paintings. Here I will share some tips and tricks I learned over the years.

About Me

I love to paint, mostly nature and I dabble in some abstract paintings. Here I will share some tips and tricks I learned over the years.

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