A Short History Lesson on Oil Painting

As a form of art, oil painting has a history that dates back to the ancient time. Tempera (fast-drying painting medium that makes use of pigment mixed with egg yolks or whites and applied onto a plastered surface) was invented in Europe and this should be enough as evidence to say that oil painting was a technique first commonly used around that region.

However, there are sources that also mention that oil painting was also widely used in Afghanistan…

There are different accounts as to the origin of the technique. Renaissance sources mentioned 15th century’s painters who hailed from northern Europe were the first to come up with the idea of using oil-based medium over wooden panels. Theophilus, however, published a treatise in 1125 that described instructions for using oil-based painting.

In its early days, oil painting was done over wood supports. By the end of 15th century, however, this tendency shifted toward canvas had become common practice. Canvas was perceived as an alternative for wood supports as it was more affordable, transportable, accommodative of works with larger scopes, and required no preparations before use. It was and perhaps is also a common practice to paint with oil-based medium over other kinds of supports such as metal, with copper plates being the most common choice.

These materials are indeed more expensive and seem to be reserved for cabinet paintings that are smaller in size. Despite this, this kind of supports is a lot firmer; they accommodate details that are way too intricate. Oil-based painting had become popular in Italy after spreading there from the North by the end of the 15th century.

As of 1540, the traditional practice of using tempera has been rendered extinct…

Traditionally, oil painting techniques begin with the artist doing a sketch over a canvas support using either charcoal or thinned paint. The solvent used in thinning the oil paint ranges from artist-grade mineral spirits to linseed oil. In addition to thinning the paint, these solvents also cause it to dry at slower pace. Common rule of thumb among painters is to apply fat over lean, which means every additional layer of paint should be thicker in oil than ones directly below it. Failure to do so would result in a final product whose surface cracks and peels. This method, however, does not lend the painting its permanence. A stable and strong paint film is achieved by using the best type and quality oil.

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