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Three Common Misconceptions about Oil Painting


Three Common Misconceptions about Oil Painting

Oil painting is a versatile and beginner friendly medium, contrary to popular belief! Keep reading to learn more about it. (Photo by Jason Walcott)

Have you ever wanted to try oil painting, but been put off because of things you’d heard about the medium?

If so, you’ll know that there are plenty of myths and misconceptions about oil painting and oil paints. Many people who have not tried oil painting can have preconceived notions and ideas about the negative effects of oils, and these ideas hold them back from ever trying the medium.

Don’t let misinformation hold you back from learning how to oil paint and becoming a great artist. Keep reading and let’s debunk a few oil painting myths!

Rather than oil paints, there are mediums like turpentine that are the toxic components of oil painting. However, these toxic mediums can be swapped out for safer mediums like linseed oil. (Photo by Dick Blick)

Oil Painting is Toxic

This oil painting myth is fairly common. However, the majority of oil paint is not toxic. In fact, unless you eat your oil paint, which is never recommended, there are no adverse effects to most oil paints. Oil paint is made up of natural oil and pigment, and the majority of pigments are completely safe and non-toxic. There are a few toxic ones, like lead-white, cadmium, and cobalt, but they are only toxic if you eat or breath in the dry pigment before the oil is mixed. These slightly toxic colors can also be substituted out for synthetic alternatives. 

​Oil paint itself has no smell. The unpleasant, toxic smell many people talk about comes from the solvent (turpentine or white spirits) many artists use to help the fluidity of paint, cleaning, or drying time. Leaving open turpentine lying around will indeed fill a room with a toxic fume. However, there are safer alternatives to use, like linseed oil, which is a fairly scentless, safe alternative to turpentine. Brushes can also be cleaned with a bar of simple ivory soap, rather than turpentine to keep children, pets, and yourself away from the smell and touch of turps. 

In addition, if you are using a high-quality paint, you can get away without using medium, using the paint straight from the tube. Medium is only necessary to change the characteristics of the paint. It can speed or slow drying, increase transparency, or increase fluidity, but can also be left out of your painting process entirely. 

So the myth that oil painting is toxic really has little to do with oil painting, and more to do with unsafe practices and unnecessary mediums. 

While some oil paints are expensive, because they are high quality and well pigmented, they last much longer, saving you money. (Photo by Old Holland)

Oil Painting is Too Expensive

Investing in top tier oil paint can be expensive, but lower quality paint lends a less desirable effect. Consider this: if you could invest in very pigmented, expensive paint that lasts longer and get better results, wouldn’t you take that over watery, inexpensive oil paint? 

The lower quality paint, while more affordable, can hold you back. Better paint won’t make you a better artist, but as you learn, it won’t hold you back. 

Student grade paint often yields the same result. Because extra binders (oil) is added to stretch the paint, there is less pigment and an excess of oil. This makes painting more difficult because the tools will prevent you from making your best work.

Investing in quality paints will also mean your tools last much longer. Because of the density of the pigment, the paint can be stretched farther with medium (and you can choose a safe one, like linseed oil). So rather than purchasing cheap paint constantly as you run out, a top-quality tube of paint can last much longer, saving you money.

Some techniques, like impasto or puddling, do take longer to dry. But by working in thin layers or directly painting, the oil paint is dry within 24 hours. (Puddled painting by Michael B.)

Oil Painting Takes Too Long to Dry

This common oil painting myth can be avoided. Oil paint only takes a long time to dry in very certain circumstances. Depending on the color, some oil paints will dry a bit slower than others, but if you are working with a smooth, thin, opaque layer of paint, your painting will most likely be dry within 24 hours. 

However, certain colors like white may take a bit longer to dry depending on the application thickness. Painters who use the impasto technique, or puddling, will often have to wait a week or two for their paint to dry. Very, very thick impasto can take several months. But if you choose to work in a thinner manner, your paint will dry very quickly. 

A medium can also change the drying time of the paint. Linseed oil helps paint to tack up and dry within six hours and be fully dry in about 24. Using just an alkyd, your paint will start to dry within four hours. But if you choose a medium like a clove oil, your paint may stay wet for several days to weeks. 

These mediums can be helpful if an artist likes to work into wet paint, but certain mediums can also help to speed up the drying time. 

The myth that oil painting takes too long to dry really depends on how you are painting, and in general, oil paint dries quite quickly. 

Don't let misconceptions hold you back from learning how to oil paint! 


There are many oil painting myths, but by looking a bit deeper, we can see that they can easily be disproved. Oil painting is a simple, safe way to create art and paintings and is suitable for students and professionals alike. 

Now that you know some of the truths behind common oil painting myths, you’re ready to tackle the medium and discover the benefits of oil painting

How to Develop Professional Art Skills in Less than 12 Months

How to Varnish an Oil Painting


How to varnish an oil painting

Varnishing an oil painting is an essential part of the painting process. (Photo by Will Kemp)

Varnishing an oil painting is an important part of the painting process. If you’ve completed an oil painting, you’ll notice that once completed and dry, the surface of the painting isn’t quite even. It has areas that shine and others that appear quite dull and matte. 

Varnish comes into play in these situations to protect, even out, and improve the aesthetic finish of an oil painting. Along with this, it can protect a painting from environmental damage, like dust, dirt, or smoke. When a painting is finished with a removable varnish it can be cleaned by removing that layer, and the dirt from decades or centuries that has affixed to the top layer can be eliminated without damaging the painting. 

Learning how and why artists varnish their work in an important part of an oil painting. The process can be done quite easily and can improve and protect the final oil painting.

An example of before and after varnish, with the colors brought back to the luster of when they were wet. (Photo by Cowans)

What Does Varnish Do?

Applying varnish to an oil painting helps to combat the uneven drying of paint layers. Because some oil paint pigments contain more oil than others, they may dry more glossy than others. Others contain less oil and dry with a matte finish. Darker color especially tend to dry and lose their original luster. Varnish helps to even out the final painting at the very end to unify the layers and different colors of paint. 

In addition to aesthetic uses, this protective coat offers a dust-resistance and protective final coat for the painting. Many varnishes have UV light resistors to protect the paintings from fading when exposed to light. Most are acrylic, some removable and mineral spirit based rather than water-based. For this reason, varnish should always be used in a well ventilated or preferably outdoor area. 

The in process restoration of "Portrait of a lady with a dog" 1590s, by Lavinia Fontana 1552-1614, restored by Rebecca Gregg Conservation. The left side has had the original varnish removed, while it remains on the right half.

Varnish in History and Restoration

The old masters used varnishing often in their painting process, with select artists writing about their experiences. Many renaissance painters favored a glossy finish to complete their paintings, which not only increased the feeling of a glow and atmosphere but increased the feeling of dimension in the painting. 

However, many historical varnishes became cracked, dirtied, and discolored over centuries. Due to the lack of knowledge behind the proper compounds to create a clear, colorfast protective coat, many famous paintings have had to undergo restoration to remove their varnish and restore the painting’s former luster. 

Fortunately, because of the use of ancient varnishes, many masterpieces have been cleaned, restored, and preserved. A restorationist will use a removing solution to carefully strip away the old varnish, without damaging the painting beneath. The painting can then be recovered with a modern solution to protect from dust, light, and other elements. 

An unique view of the layers of a painting and the protective varnished layer. (Illustration courtesy of Gamblin)

Which Varnish Should I Use and How?

Varnishes used for oil painting are typically acrylic and can be applied by either a spray or brush. Using a brush can often produce unexpected results, ranging from uneven coverage to bubbles on the surface of the painting. Here at Evolve, we urge our students to use a spray varnish, which evenly and lightly coats the surface of the painting. 

Aside from the application process, varnish can be roughly broken down into permanent and temporary. Permanent varnish, also called picture varnish, is just as it sounds: permanent. It can only be applied after the painting thoroughly dries, anywhere from 2 months to two years. Though conservationists can carefully removed it, the permanent version usually protects paintings that will not be retouched or cleaned for many years. 

Temporary varnish, also known as re-workable, temporarily restores colors and can be reworked upon. It is thin and can be applied to the painting as soon as it is dry to the touch. Because if it's thin nature, it allows the paint to continue to deeply dry without cracking. 

Choosing a varnish depends on your painting style, but re-workable options prove a good choice for beginner painters. 

An painting in the process of varnishing by Jason Walcott.


Varnishing a painting is an important part of the oil painting process. Both for aesthetic and protective purposes, this important layer should be applied to every painting a student creates once they dry. Remember to choose a reworkable varnish, so that your painting can always be restored to its final luster. 

For one of the Evolve recommended spray varnishes, click here.

For more information on historical varnish and conservation, click here.  

How to Develop Professional Art Skills in Less than 12 Months

How to Choose the Right Paintbrush for Oil Painting


How to choose the right paintbrush for oil painting

​Choosing the right paintbrush is an important part of learning how to paint.

As any beginner artist knows, choosing the right oil paintbrush can be tricky. With hundreds of styles and sizes, finding the right brush for your painting can be confusing and even frustrating.

But utilizing the right size and style tool for the area where you are painting is an important choice. While good tools don’t make good paintings, the right tools can help you to do better work.

Fortunately, there are a few easy things to learn about paintbrushes and their styles that can help you to make an informed choice before you begin to paint. Keep reading to learn more about your brushes and find out how you can choose the right oil paintbrush!

A few different types of brushes and their styles. (Courtesy of

Parts of an Oil Paintbrush

Each paintbrush has the same anatomy, and it is made up of three parts. These three sections of the paintbrush are the bristles, the ferrule, and the handle. The bristles of the paintbrush are simply the hair that carries the paint. They can be stiff or pliable, each one leaving a unique mark. Stiffer brushes are often made of hogs hair or a synthetic bristle that can be used for scrubbing paint onto the canvas or leaving behind texture. A softer bristle, often made up of  soft hair, will yield a smoother result and more control. 

Bristles can be made of natural animal hair or synthetic hair. Natural hair brushes are often the most sought after, as they tend to be very soft and fine. However, synthetic brushes are a fantastic choice and can come in a range of very soft to very firm. Here at Evolve, our students use a range of synthetic brushes for their paintings.

The ferrule is the metal band that attaches the bristles to the handle. It holds them in place and keeps them together. It is important never to allow the paint to reach up to the ferrule. If this happens, the paint can dry close to the metal and become hard to clean. Once it dries near the ferrule, the bristles often spread, making it difficult to gain control with the brush. 

The handle of the paintbrush can be long or short  and made up of wood or plastic. If you choose a longer handled paintbrush, you can get some distance from your painting, but a shorter brush can enable you to render details with greater control. 

Difference in sizes between brush styles. (Courtesy of Artist Network)

Different Types of Paintbrushes

There are several different styles of paintbrushes to choose from. Time and practice will help you to discover which one you prefer, but the size of the are in which you are working and your painting style can also help to inform your brush choice. 

Here are a few different oil paintbrush shapes:

  • Round: Round shape with a pointed tip, that is often used for fine details with a smaller brush or signatures. The stroke of a round brush doesn’t vary, so it is ideal for control in small areas. 

  • Flat: Flat bristles with squared ends that can be used for filling large spaces or blending paint. Because they can carry more paint, they can cover larger areas and create smooth edges and encourage a sweeping stroke. 

  • Filbert: A flat brush with rounded ends that can be used to apply paint or to create softer edges. Evolve students start with mostly filbert brushes, as these brushes are ideal for blending gradients. 

  • Fan: These brushes are flat and shaped like a fan. They are excellent for blending paint or softening edges, or a well-used brush can create patterns and interesting marks. Each brush comes in a variance of sizes, ranging from very fine to larger than an inch. Keep in mind that different styles and brands of paintbrushes may vary in sizes, so always check before you buy. 

Different brush marks made by Filberts. (Courtesy Bill Martin)

Which Brush Should I Use?

Finding the paintbrush that works best for your particular situation may take some time and trials. Start with a simple filbert, maybe in a 2, 6, and 12, and see where that gets you. You may want to explore a wider brush, or perhaps a round. 

Evolve students start their painting journey with mostly filberts, and as they grow in their techniques are able to experiment with different styles and sizes. 

Consider investing in a few, quality, medium to large stiff brushes, and a few smaller soft brushes. Explore which ones fit you best in your painting style. Don’t give up on a brush if it feels uncomfortable at first, instead, hold on to it as it may come in handy later. 

Evolve Paintbrushes are, at first, mostly filberts ranging from a size 2 to a size 12.


Finding the brushes that suit you best takes time. Just remember that in order to find out what you like, you must paint and practice! 

Take your time and experiment with different brush styles until you find what works best for your painting technique. 

Remember to take good care of your brushes

How to Develop Professional Art Skills in Less than 12 Months

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