Examples of Painting Techniques:

Oil: The pigment is suspended in oil, most often linseed oil. For those of you who cook with oil, you are already familiar with its properties. It is very slow drying and glossy in tone. The oil example is Jan van Eyck’s Man in a Red Turban, 1433. The red in the painting is glossy, glassy, and very rich in tone. Oil paints tend to be the most saturated. The red reads as rich velvet and beautifully textured. The artist was able to achieve magnificent contrasts between high value and low value areas resulting in perfectly shaded hills and valleys.



Due to the fact that oils are so slow to dry, the artists can constantly rework areas. If the area of the cheek bone does not pop out enough (not high enough as a hill on the surface of the face), the artist can go back with a little white paint and blend it into the flesh tint to increase the value (like a woman applying a little rouge to her cheek in order to slightly change her skin tone). Advantages? The color is the richest possible and artists have time to make subtle changes and rework areas. Disadvantages? Form definition is based on modulations in color, rather than on line as edge or boundary. Rarely will you see an oil painting with as sharp interior definition as in the earlier tempera example. There are no edges. We perceive where objects begin and end based on the presence, absence, or fading away of colors. Also a disadvantage is the drying time. It may take two to three months for an oil painting to fully dry, so artists must take care not to harm the unstable surface during that period.

In order to protect the unstable surface, artists apply varnishes over the oil paint. Varnishes may be of wax or a sprayed on polyurethane.  However, a problem may arise. The varnish does not breath, but the oils and support (wooden board or canvas) may contact or expand depending on the fluctuating temperature and humidity in the room. If this varnish does not ”give,” then there will be a cracking in the varnish as seen in the above example. Museum restorers are now able to remove the old varnish (which may also get yellowish over time) and replace it with a more “breathable” varnish in order to return the painting to its original condition. Museums also try to control the indoor climate to prevent as much damage as possible.