Oil painters work with one of the most versatile mediums out there. And one of the more popular and expressive paint types is — you guessed it — oil paint.
What artists love about working with oil paint is that it allows for intense colors and tonal variations. As an artist working with oils, you can create textures that bring fine art to life.
By adding more oil painting techniques to your artist skill set, you can enhance your range of skills in an incredibly rewarding way. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about here today.
Read on to learn how to create looks and effects with oil paint textures.
Prominent Oil Painting Texture Techniques
Before you grab your oils and start painting, you need to learn a bit about oil paint techniques.
We’re talking about impasto, encaustic, and glazing techniques.
Famous artists and hobbyists alike have used these styles to breathe life into their substrates. And, with a little know-how and time, you can do the same.
Here’s what to know about three essential oil painting techniques that may help you paint some of your most lifelike or abstract art yet:
Impasto is a technique that consists of layering thick coats of paint to develop unique finishes. What’s great about the impasto method is that it creates three-dimensional paintings once dry.
Rolling clouds, splashing waters, and flower bouquets you can almost smell. These are examples of the expressive results of painters using impasto to paint the world around them.
You can leave your brush strokes visible and create movement in the painting with impasto. It’s a distinct effect and allows a painter to develop a signature.
Famous Artists Who Use Impasto
Many of the world’s best-known artists have dabbled in impasto, using the technique to match and enhance their style.
A few examples of artists and their impasto work include:
- Rembrandt utilized impasto to create his 17th-century Baroque masterpieces, such as his Self Portrait. Scientists only recently discovered Rembrandt's “secret” impasto techniques.
- One of Vincent Van Gogh’s best-loved paintings, Starry Night, is another famous example of the impasto technique. Van Gogh would apply the paint from the tub to the canvas, completely bypassing the addition of a medium.
- Jackson Pollock, one of the 20th century’s most revered modern artists, used impasto to create such textural pieces as Eyes in the Heat. His use of thick impasto has made it a challenge for museums and collectors to preserve his work without chipping the paint.
What many artists and hobbyists dislike about impasto is the misconception of material costs and drying times.
We tackle that very subject and deflate those myths in our post “Impasto Painting Can Be Affordable (and Dry Faster Than You Think).”
Encaustic is an ancient painting technique also known as “hot wax painting.”
That’s because the method involves using hot wax as a medium. Artists then enhance the melted wax with their oil paint before applying the blend to a surface.
Artists use special brushes and metal tools to manipulate the paint on the surface before it cools and hardens. The encaustic technique gives artists the freedom to create colors, tones, and textures that look lifelike, vibrant, and lasting.
Famous Artists Who Use Encaustic
Painters throughout history found inspiration to use this oil paint technique to create notable artwork.
Some of the most famous examples of encaustic paintings include:
- The Fayum Mummy Portraits, Romano-Egyptian paintings from about 100–300 AD. These panel portraits have survived, thanks to the arid climate of entombment combined with the permanence of the medium.
- 20th-century muralist Diego Rivera often painted in the encaustic style to bring his work deeper color and tonality. His Creation is a superb example of the method in action.
- Jasper Johns is another modern artist who employed the encaustic technique in his paintings. Johns used encaustic as a means to reveal his brushstrokes, paint drips, and smears to viewers.
Modern artists tend to use beeswax and hot plates when creating encaustic oil paintings. No one ever said that being an artist doesn’t require the use of exciting tools!
Glazing is the process of adding glossy film atop coats of oil paint to manipulate the color beneath. It’s a layering technique that can make a painting look as if it’s glowing.
Famous Artists Who Use Glazing
What artists love about glazing is that it produces a shimmering effect and is exceptionally versatile.
Some of the most famous glazing oil paintings include:
- Jan van Eyck painted glazed artworks, including Margaret, the Artist’s Wife, in the 15th century. The glaze makes her silk sash and glistening eyes seemingly shine with life.
- 17th-century Dutch artist Vermeer used glazing in almost every painting. His Girl With a Red Hat is an exceptional example of the technique. You can see how glazing makes her skin and velvet coat look incredibly natural.
Glazing allows you to play with the value, texture, color, and chroma. If textures that look so authentic you can practically touch them is your goal, glazing may just become your favorite oil technique.
Before you can create an impasto oil painting, you need to select your mediums. The mediums you choose will determine the look of your artwork, and there are many to choose from.
Here’s what to know about impasto mediums:
Keep in mind that they may lighten the value of the paint.
Using cold wax as a medium will thicken your oil paint and create a matte finish. Beeswax also stays put and dries quickly, two things any artist will appreciate.
Cold wax is gaining popularity in modern art, most popular in the works of Pennsylvania painter Randall Graham.
Dry mediums, like sand, gravel, and pumice, are fun ways to add unique texture. Incorporate these if you want to make a more abstract artwork or play around with texture and mixed media.
Since oil paint is already thick and easy to layer, it isn’t absolutely necessary to blend in an additional medium.
But there are many reasons why artists prefer to add a medium when painting impasto, namely to:
- Help their oil paint supply stretch further
- Ensure a faster drying time
- Create a viscosity that is easier to work with and build upon
Other Impasto Materials
Don’t forget about your other tools!
To create a signature impasto texture, you’ll need stiff natural hair brushes, palette knives, and silicone modeling tools, like wedges and blades.
In terms of support, linen canvases or wood panels are best for impasto.
How to Create Looks & Effects With the Impasto Technique
Now that you have your materials, or at least know which ones to gather, it’s time to plan.
The Impasto Technique
While oil paints are the traditional choice for impasto, you can also choose acrylic paint. We only advise this if you choose an acrylic with a heavy body, though,
Next, by adding additional wet and dry oil painting mediums, you can create distinct impasto effects.
Prepare your support by underpainting it a medium tone. Use a palette knife to add your paint to the surface, blending edges with a water paintbrush or creating texture with a bristle brush.
Think about what you want to paint.
You can flick and speckle paint with your paintbrush. With metal-tipped brushes, you can scratch away layers and make fine details. Build layers and switch your tools as you work to build signature impasto depth and design.
When it comes to creating an encaustic oil painting brimming with life, it’s all about the mediums you use.
These are common encaustic mediums:
- Oil or encaustic paints
- Beeswax and damar resin crystals
- Natural hair brushes
- A griddle to keep your medium melted
- Metal bowls to hold the melted liquid
- Wax fusing tools, like a blow torch or heat gun, or encaustic iron
- Scraping tools with metal tips
- A wood board
How to Create Looks & Effects With the Encaustic Technique
Once you have your materials gathered, you can get to painting. Encaustic is so interesting because it involves unique tools to create its effects.
The Encaustic Technique
Prepare a mix of 5:1 beeswax to damar resin crystals and allow it to melt at a temperature of 220 degrees Fahrenheit in your metal pots. Stir the blend until it’s well mixed. Keep the mixture hot, melted, and pliable by setting the pots on the heated griddle plate.
Add oil paint or pigmented medium to your metal pots to create your encaustic paint. Use a natural hair brush to apply this medium to your wood board.
Create strokes and textures with the brush and cut deep grooves and gouges using your scraping tools. Be sure to fuse each layer as you go along for the signature encaustic finish.
The choice of glazing medium an artist chooses will depend on the effect they’re after, of course.
Some of our favorite glazing “recipes” include:
- Two parts linseed oil
- One part turpentine or oil of spike lavender
- Transparent pigment
- Five parts turpentine or spike oil
- Two parts linseed oil
- One part damar resin
- Transparent pigment
- Two parts stand oil (heated pure refined linseed that yellows less)
- One part turpentine or spike oil
- Transparent pigment
You can also make a solvent-free glaze by bypassing the addition of the turpentine or spike oil. However, this will make your glaze less smooth.
Always follow the fat over lean rule and layer your heavier oils over leaner oils as you layer.
Keep in mind that turpentine or oil of spike lavender thins thick paint. Spike lavender lends a glossier finish than turpentine and is less smelly.
A fat medium made with linseed oil and damar resin will create a glossy and transparent glaze. While the linseed oil helps to thin the paint, the damar resin adds strength.
You can also use linseed and alkyd, which allows for a faster drying time without too much moisture collecting on your substrate.
When we talk about transparent pigment, we recommend opting for the transparent or semi-transparent tubes of your chosen pigments. These take to glaze best.
A soft bristle brush is ideal for layering your glazes. In terms of structure, a linen canvas, wood board, or pottery are ideal substrates.
How to Create Looks & Effects With the Glazing Technique
Follow our mini-tutorial to create a shimmering, lifelike glazed oil painting all your own.
The Glazing Technique
To start, choose your preferred oil paint.
Transparent or semi-transparent oil paint colors, like ultramarine blue, are popular when you want a subtle sheen. Opaque oil paint also makes a superb undercoat choice, as it’ll add dimension and help your glaze shine.
Next, you’ll need to mix your oil paint with your choice of medium. Simply add one or two drops to your paint to create a glaze with this mixture.
Build up layers of your chosen glaze pigments to create a luminous effect.
Use a soft, dry brush and add a very thin layer of glaze to allow the color behind to shine through. Add as many layers as you want to create your desired finish.
A Few Oil Paint Texture Tips
As you gain more practice with these different oil paint textures, you will, without a doubt, feel more comfortable experimenting.
If you prefer to work in acrylic, you can do so with these techniques. Just be sure to use acrylic paint with enough heft to stand up to the rigors of these painting styles. Watercolor paint is not advisable for this reason.
Also, these techniques are perfect for when you feel like letting your hair down and expressing yourself. They stand up well to mixed media, besides what we mentioned earlier.
Try photo transfers, gold leafing, and sgraffito to enhance your skill set further.
Creating looks and effects with different oil paint textures can bring your artwork to new heights. Impasto, encaustic, and glazing techniques can turn your oil painting from flat to full of depth, intriguing, and luminous.
Remember, when you need the right tools and the know-how to paint your next impasto, encaustic, or glaze oil painting, rely on Rileysteet.