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Mixing Oil Paints "Technique Guide"

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Mixing pigments within an oil medium is different than mixing pigments in water-based media, oils actually, with their delayed dry times, enable the artist to make full use of his brilliant pigments.

Why Mixing Oil Painting Is Essential?

Paint is a dispersion of small, colored, insoluble particles (pigments) in a liquid medium composed of solvent (turpentine oil or clove oil) and binder (Linseed oil and Safflower oil).

Oil pigments straight out of the tube can be challenging to use due to aggregations and consistency, when mixing oil paints, The artist needs to break the aggregated pigments into fine particles and disperse them into the oil medium of choice, which means it would be a thin film of oil around every pigment particle.

How To Mix Oil Paints?

The "fat over lean" rule is key, the primary layer is to be leaner in terms of oil than the successive layer above.

Fat over Lean refers to the oil painting principle that applying paint with a higher ratio of oil to color pigments over paint with a lower ratio of oil to color pigments can ensure a more flexible paint film that will not crack later.

Using a palette knife, which is a painting tool that consists of a blade and a handle. the palette knife is made of a solid piece of plastic while the higher quality palette knives are typically made of metal (stainless steel) and a wooden handle.

Professional artists use high-quality brushes, which are really expensive, for example, Pure Kolinsky Sable Brush, Mixing paint with a brush will decrease its useful lifespan, Paint mixing with brushes really mangles the nicely formed shape of the bristles.

Also worth noting is that it’s really hard to do a thorough job mixing multiple colors together if using only a brush. The two or more paint colors will not completely mix causing unpredictable colors to leach out of your brush while you’re painting.

Mixing oil paints on palette
Mixing oil paints on palette

Palette standard operation procedures.

Artists use a wooden palette, which tends to be more practical and scratch resistant than plastic ones, Set up your paint blobs around the edge of your palette. You’ll take from these colors to create your mixtures.

Consider the outer edge of the palette as your paint repository. Scoop up some paint from one of the paint blobs and place it in a clear area of your palette. This will typically be somewhere closer to the center of the palette and away from the edges. Wipe the palette knife with a rag.

This prevents colors from getting into other paint colors as your move paint around on your palette. You want to especially avoid contaminating the nice, clean paints sitting on the outside edge of your palette. Mix the two paints together by moving the palette knife in a circular motion.

Add pressure by pressing down on the metal blade of the palette knife. Scoop up the mixed paint into one compact pile. You can even move the newly mixed paint to where you’d like it to be on your palette.

  • Make sure to add enough downward pressure on the palette knife when mixing your oil paints. You are not merely stirring the paint!

  • Flip the palette knife over every once and a while to make sure all of the paints are mixed.

  • Wipe your palette knife off frequently to avoid cross-color contamination.

  • If adding thinner to your oil paints add a small amount at a time. that will help you control your paints on the palette surface, add a small amount of thinner at a time and if you need to thin your paints more you can always add some thinner.

The Best Oil Painting Recipe

Solvents, the artist's first choice is turpentine, as it increases the fluidity of oil paints but makes the binder oil dry faster while using clove oil as a solvent delays the dryness of the binder, as it delays the oxidation process.

Turpentine vapors also are intolerable to some artists, clove oil is much more acceptable.

Binder, the main choice is Linseed oil, it dries to form a strong flexible film, it tends to be yellowish than Safflower oil film (takes more time to dry).

Mixing Takes Time to Perfect...

When you’re using oil paints, you will notice that they require a lot of mixing! first, disperse the aggregated pigments, then adjust the consistency. Once you’ve got the right consistency by mixing with mediums or solvents, you’ll need to be prepared to mix your oils to get just the right color.

Oils come in many different shades, but to paint like a master you’ll need to understand how to mix to achieve different colors. This helps with shading, blending, and giving your painting depth and dimension.

For centuries great artists have been mixing oil paints to create the exact color they need, and there are a few principles to follow to help make sure that you achieve the hue you’re after. If not done properly, you may find yourself muddying your paints, struggling to get them light or dark enough, and simply wasting paint.

When mixing your colors, try a test patch on your canvas. Many colors will look different on the canvas than they do on the palette, so before blending and shading it’s important to test your color to make sure it’s right. The last thing you want to do is commit to color by using it in great quantities when it’s not the right one!

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