OK, OK….Why Is Oil Painting So Popular?

Darrell, you’re really, really missing the boat…….why oils? What’s the value with oils today when they’re so many other better paints like Acrylic. Don’t you realize how long oil painting has been around? Why wouldn’t you want to teach something a little more relevant to today’s technology? Veronica Winters.

Hi Veronica,

You know how to ask the tough questions. And you should. I loved your questions and your direct approach. First let me say that oils have been around since the 15th century. They’re a natural outgrowth of egg tempera, and oil paints corrected the problem of the rigidity of pigments. Now consider this…..egg tempera is still used today by many, many fine artists.

In fact, with the advent of oil painting, which the Dutch Van Eyck brothers are credited with its discovery in the early fifteenth century, the adoption throughout Europe took about 100 years before it was the most common medium for painting. It is also thought, that Jan Van Eyck (1395-1441) might actually be the first to develop the oil medium and use glazes.

Why use oils? In the words of Italian artist, Giovanni Bellini, (1430-1516), its the depth and richness of tone and color that could be had with oil painting. For hundreds of years oil painting has been popular because it is incredibly versatile and can be manipulated in many ways. Oil paint is so reszponsive because it dries slowly, allowing for colors to be modified and moved around on the surface of the painting for some time after they have been applied. This characteristic allows for the common technique, wet-in-wet, so a painting can be completed in a single sitting. This means the artist can accurately reflect what we see onto canvas and massage it in real time until the desired effect is completed.

Furthermore, once oil paint has dried, it can be overpainted in a number of ways without disturbing or dissolving the original color beneath. This means that a complex layer structure of paint can be built up to create different effects.

Oil paints of today can be used directly from the tuve, painted thickly with bristle brushes in a rich, impasted style. It has sufficient body to hold the crisp shape made by a brushstroke or a painting knife. The paints can also be thinned down with oil painting medium to any consistency desired to facilitate the flow of paint onto the canvas. Furthermore, the adage, thick paints stick to thin paints helps artists to continue layering paints upon top of paints such that the painting can be completed in a single sitting.

Oil painting allows even the most meticulous artist time. Time to paint without fear of drying. No sense of urgency, rather a sense of creativity exists where the thoughts are on the composition and technique and not the quick drying of the medium.

I don’t dislike acrylics or any of the newer paints available on the market. In fact, I even offer DVDs showing how to adapt my techniques to either acrylics or water mixable oils. But I choose oils over these two mediums for the reasons I’ve cited.

I hope this will help you to understand that choosing what types of paints is not a decision on modern technology versus older technology. Rather, its a choice of what types of paints will allow me to reflect the immediacy of response to a scene I’m painting.

Thanks for the question. I found it quite refreshing…..

Darrell