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Getting to Know Oil Paints

As a now recovered anti-oil painter, I can say from experience that oil paints are like marmite: you love them or hate them. What I've come to learn is that there doesn't seem to be an in-between.


Go back two years and I would have safely told you that you couldn't have paid me enough to complete an A3 sized oil painting, let alone the ceiling high murals I've been tackling recently. One gone-wrong experience with a Francis Bacon painting had convinced me that I'd be put-off oil paints for the rest of my life. 2015 came by, two long years after being sure that I had to be allergic to the stuff, and my art teacher approached with the idea of experimenting with the dreaded medium in an expressionistic portrait. And here I am today! Now turned, and still painting huge canvases in the same style. So, what changed?

Well, there seems to be a stigma surrounding this medium that implies oil paints can only be used in the traditional sense, that they're thick and sticky (which sometimes, they can be) and stubborn. I had fallen trap to this misleading reputation after mistakenly and habitually dipping my paint brushes into water one too many times and, frustratedly, wondering why Bacon couldn't have just used watercolours to portray the brooding portrait of a man. What I was later enlightened to was white spirit: the liquid that acts as a diluting agent to oil paints and virtually turns them into the consistency of water but with no compromise to the colour. This is also the technique that the likes of Salgado use, the dripping and splattered brushstrokes so fluid as to be mistaken for other mediums like water-soluble acrylic paints.

If you are thinking of taking the leap from acrylic to oil paints, as I did two years ago, my advice would be to just go for it! They certainly take some getting used to: the drying time, for example, is much longer. But they are not limiting as many people seem to think, and your work will improve the more you practise with them!

Recently, I went and stocked up on all my major colours, and it's clear to see that I'm now fully invested. But I'm still not a fan of the washing-up process!

More oil paintings coming soon!

- A



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