The oil painting technique traces its roots all the way back to a time between the fifth and ninth century when it was first used in Western Afghanistan, yet it was made famous and the premier means of expression by the Renaissance movement in the 15th century by men like Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael (Davide 46). The reason the oil painting technique gained this newfound popularity was due in large part to its ability to convey things such as human flesh more accurately while also giving the painter weeks in drying time to work.
However, in order for us to properly understand the oil painting technique, we must first understand its composition and ability to create. The paint itself is created using two elements: pigments and oil. The pigments are dry colorants, such as mineral salts and other earth types, ground-up into a fine powder and separated by color. But since the pigments could not adhere to the painting alone, oil was used as a binder to do just that. Typically, linseed oil was used because it can polymerize, and therefore is a drying oil (Mayer, Ralph, and Sheehan 123).
However, other oils such as walnut oil, sunflower oil, and tung oil are also used, especially if the artist would want to alter the drying times of the paint or lessen faint colors. A good example of an artist who even used different oils in the same painting was Leonardo Da Vinci, who “… used a combination of oils while painting Adoration of the Maji, which some speculate was for the benefit of the artist to takeover this unfinished work” (www. henryfordgroup. org). Additionally, there are other elements to the composition of the oil painting that help altar the paint.
In order to make alterations and correct elements, artists like to paint multiple layers; this also gives them the luxury of stripping off the paint already applied to the gesso (white glue that covers the medium on which the painting will be applied) without ruining the portions, which they would like to remain permanent. However, for the artist to do this, they need to apply thin layers of paint initially (‘under painting’), meaning they must mix the oil with a solvent such as white spirits or turpentine to dilute the oil.
This is especially good for the artist using the “fat over lean” ethod, where each layer of paint contains more oil than the previous layer. Additional additives would also include varnishes that are usually made from damar gum crystals dissolved in turpentine, thus sealing the work and giving the painting a greater glossiness (Davide 47). The advantages of oil paintings include durability and versatility; oil paintings completed using proper drying time and properly created are very durable. Oil itself is non-polar and hydrophobic, meaning it will repel water, a key element in the deterioration of many pieces of art.
Furthermore, oil actually dries through oxidization, in which “…non-polar covalent bonds are governed by the ionic forces between functional groups and the metal ions present in the pigment” (Mayer, Ralph and Sheehan 125). The consequential result is a stable film that’s bit of elasticity helps prevent any bleeding or flow from gravitational pull. In terms of versatility, varnishes allow for one to work on and complete independent elements over a vast time frame, while also the stripping of the varnish allow for the proper cleaning of paintings after many years of display.
Moreover, the fine pigments ground into the oil allow for greater optical effect and translucency, which makes things such as human skin appear far more life-like. And with the use of a smooth surface greater lightness is reflected in the oil painting, which the varnish will help accentuate color and depth (Mayer, Ralph and Sheehan 125). This is due to the multiple refractions the varnish helps create, thus creating more perspective in the painting itself. There aren’t many disadvantages when it comes to oil painting, yet there are issues with drying time, aging, and blending.
Drying time is an advantage to quite a few artists, yet those who like to use a sequence of washes in quick succession often find the oil painting technique difficult (Davide 48). Also, most curators would tell you that it takes from 60-80 years for an oil painting to finish drying. Aging concerns also are a major disadvantage, especially when artists use linseed oil, which tends to yellow or darken with age. However, this aging can be stifled if the artist has the proper tools.
Finally, blending can also be a key concern because the oil tends to blur together causing the painting to become muddy and taking away from istinctive properties. The oil painting technique is typically applied to a canvas that is composed of a linen or cotton cloth and wooden “stretcher. ” The canvas can then be coated with animal glue and primed with a mixture of white paint and chalk. This medium has been very popular since the 16th century; however, other mediums for oil paintings such as panels, linoleum, paper, and slate were also used (Davide 48). The canvas, though, was highly regarded for its lightweight, cheaper, and not prone to warping like a panel.
In conclusion, the oil painting technique is still a very popular method used by artists today. However, many artists don’t make their own paint, rather they buy tubes from specialty stores, but still many of them stress the importance of knowing the components of the paint in which they are using. And as a result, those artists are able to showcase their works to the best of their abilities, because their understanding of the materials allows them to make adjustments and highlight key elements, thus putting their knowledge on par with the great painter’s of the Renaissance.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 19 December 2016
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