Jun 02, 2021
Photo caption: What are the best oil paints for artists? The answer depends on a number of factors, including the artist’s professional goals.. Image by Aida KHubaeva from Pixabay.
Oil paint. Just saying the words conjures up visions of vibrant dabs of paint, gloriously thick and rich, yet these same paints are also capable of creating the thinnest and most glowing glazes. These brushstrokes of paint are laid down by the artist’s hand on brilliant white canvases, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes with boldness, but always with beauty in mind.
But while oil paint is capable of turning even the beginner artist into a virtuoso with time, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that few artists really know what goes into their oil paints. However, it’s important to know what’s in oil paint, because this knowledge allows an artist to achieve even the most seemingly impossible effects.
In other words, in order to create the highest quality art pieces, you need to have a good understanding of what’s in your oil paint and how the colors will look on the canvas. This is particularly true once you understand how your warm and cool colors translate onto canvas. (More on that later…)
Finally, you also need to understand how your oil paint will stand the test of time. The paint you use can play a significant role in your artistic voice, allowing you to create an heirloom piece whose power remains long after you put your signature at the bottom. Knowing about oil paints is a big part of becoming a professional artist.
So with no further adieu, read on to learn:
Classic Artist Oils: What Ingredients Are in Oil Paint?
The simplest answer to this is pigment + oil (most commonly, linseed oil). The not-so-simple answer is that the ingredients can vary widely, depending on the pigments and oils used. There are different brands and often there are differing grades depending on these ingredients. Here are some need-to-know facts about oil paints.
Oils are the binder for the color pigments in oil paint. Cold-pressed linseed oil is one of the most common oils used. It is extracted from flax seed and used quite often as a preservative. It does seem that linseed oil yellows slightly more than other oils. However, linseed oil is the most resistant to cracking over time.
Other oils that can be used in oil paint include poppy seed oil, safflower oil, and walnut oil. There are other possibilities, but these are the most common. Although these oils yellow less over time, they are thinner and have a stronger tendency to crack as a painting ages.
It’s interesting to note that paints with different oils have been used to specifically create different effects. In Raphael’s The Mond Crucifixion, he used a yellowing oil for the figures and ground and the clearer oils for the bright, blue sky because he didn’t want that paint to yellow.
Oil paint pigments can be classified as synthetic or natural and organic or inorganic.
Historically, pigments were made from natural sources that were either organic or inorganic. Pigments came from varying plants, charred animal bones, rocks, minerals, etc. These were the pigments used by the Old Masters.
Synthetic pigments are chemically developed from petroleum substances, acids and other chemicals. Some of these include quinacridone, phthalocyanine and dioxazine, although they continue to use the natural names that were used historically.
What Is the Difference Between Artist Grade and Student Grade?
Not all oil paint is equal. There are two main grades or classifications of oil paint: artist (or professional) and student. You may also find some variations in addition to these depending on how the oil paint is made. Here are some more facts about oil paints that you should know as an artist.
Artist Grade Oil Paint
Artist grade oil paint, sometimes referred to as professional grade, contains a very high pigment content. The color on the best professional oil paints is rich and pure. The viscosity is also thick and creamy. It’s a little stiffer as you apply it to your canvas. However, it will cover well and your painting will be more bold and vibrant because there are no fillers in this paint. These artist grade paints make it possible for the viewer to fully enjoy the color symbolism in your work.
It’s lightfast and will age well, retaining its vibrancy and true color. Artist grade paint also mixes well. The colors remain true even when mixed. Although this paint usually has a higher sticker price, in the long run it will be more economical because of the intensity and quality of the paint.
Student Grade Oil Paint
Generally speaking, student grade paint has a very low percentage of pigment. To compensate for that, manufacturers will add more oil and fillers, such as chalk. These extra fillers do reduce the cost of the paint so initially you won’t be spending as much money.
However, the characteristics of student grade paint are of a lower quality. You may need to use more to get rich, vibrant tones on your canvas. When mixed, these paints tend to turn muddy and lose their true brilliant color. In addition, they are often not lightfast and will fade over time. The lower quality of these paints will often make this a less economical purchase.
Taking the time to determine what you’re painting to see whether you’ll need the higher or lower quality paints. If you’re doing a higher priced commission, you’ll want to produce a higher standard painting and need to use artist grade paints.
There may be other times when you don’t need thick, rich paints that will last, so you can use the more economical student grade paints. It’s important to consider these things before you start painting.
Video caption: Why Are Some Oil Paints so Expensive?
What Characteristics Are Important In Good Quality Oil Paint?
We touched on some of these when comparing artist and student grade oil paints. These are some of the main characteristics you want to ensure that the paints in your professional oil painting kit have.
Knowing and understanding the characteristics of the oil paints you choose determines the quality of painting you’ll create. Understanding how light hits your painting and bounces back is also important, depending on the results you want. When the light bounces on underlayer glazes, you’ll create a glow as opposed to thicker, opaque layers that have a matte finish.
Additional Oil Paint Categories
There are four additional categories of oil paints—warm, cool, transparent, and opaque. These categories are important because they affect how your finished painting turns out. In other words, knowing how to use your paints, based on their temperature and thickness, allows you to achieve the effects that you want from classic artist oils.
Final Thoughts on Oil Paint
And you thought it was just paint.
Painting with oils is exciting. You can create stunning artwork with these pigment rich and creamy paints. You can use a variety of techniques from the Old Masters to more contemporary mixed media techniques that finish in oils.
As you prepare your next creation, think through what you want the viewer to see, what effects you want to create, and how you plan to leave your brushstrokes visible for a more painterly look.
Will you use artist or student grade? Where will you use warm? And cool? Will you create transparent glazes? Or opaques for a matte finish?
We’re excited to see it!
One Last Word on Oil Paint
Video caption: A First Look at the Milan Art Institute Oil Paints
We are SO EXCITED to share that we have created our own line of oil paint—Milan Art Oil Paints!
These paints are high quality, lightfast, richly pigmented, thick and creamy. They have a beautifully well-blended smooth texture that doesn’t separate. Their colors are vibrant and intense. When you mix them they retain their true color. Even when tinting with our brilliant white, you will still see a rich color true to its original.
There are 27 colors that can be mixed to create whatever warm or cool color you need. For example, there’s no need to buy separate radiants because you can create myriad values with our brilliant white and any of the colors. You can even get colors that aren’t normally available like a cool transparent orange… just mix our cool transparent red and yellow.
One of the best features is our labeling. There is no more guessing. Each label clearly states the temperature and category—warm transparent (WT), warm opaque (WO), cool transparent (CT), cool opaque (CO), or neutral (N). They also provide a gauge that lets you know the intensity of temperature. Truly, these paints are an asset to painters, whether they’re just starting out or on their way to becoming a professional artist!
Learn More Facts About Oil Paints & Artist Brushes Below
50 Ways to Lay Down Paint: A FREE Online Oil Painting Class
What Are the Best Oil Paint Brushes: 7 Things Artists Should Know When Choosing Their Brush
How To Clean Your Brushes for Oil Painting