Heating oils causes the constituent long-chain triglycerides to separate and solidify. This process is commonly called ‘breaking’. There are many different types of oil paint, each with a different drying time. It may also be used to describe a painting done in this medium. The term is not well-suited for describing water-mixable oil paints (also called ‘water-soluble’ or ‘water-miscible’), which, in the technical sense, do not contain any oil.
History and etymology:
According to French art historian Andre Felibien, “the word oil, at least as it relates to painting, appears to have been introduced into Middle English from the Old French olie, which comes from the Latin word oleum, borrowed from the Greek elation for olive oil.”
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with finding that these new paint colors would not adhere to their supporting surfaces without first being bound through dryness (that is, having incompatible oil removed by solvents).
Peter Paul Rubens, the Dutch painter in the seventeenth century, was one of the more important oil paint artists. He began painting during the early 1600s on wood panels and canvas with pigments ground in linseed oil. During the twentieth century, many painters worked with oils on more flexible supports such as fabric or cardboard.
The development of portable easels and the modern framing movement helped to fuel its popularity. Sargent, John Singer, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock are well-known oil painting artists.
Oil paintings are created by applying paint:
With a brush to the surface of a smooth panel. The panel may consist of wood, Canvas (a fabric weave containing cotton), or other rigid or flexible materials. A basic tool kit can be used to complete an oil painting, consisting of a palette for mixing paint, at least three brushes (1- medium size filbert brush, 1- medium size flat brush, and 1- small round brush), and a flat-end palette knife, preferably with a broad blade. Oil paints may be used for decoration or to convey an interesting concept – such as in “The Night Cafe” by Vincent van Gogh.
A unique oil painting style has been created working on wood covered with sand (gesso) and chalk (pumice). The paintings have a rough surface, which seems to add a feeling of depth.
Although the word “oil” is used in painting for any fluid medium containing pigment, it usually refers to liquids that dry into an opaque or semi-transparent film in a relatively short time through oxidation with oxygen from the air after application. This slow drying process is the key to oil paint’s handling characteristics, making it unique among other types of fluid paints such as watercolors or ink.
Oil paint dries not only by penetration into the painting support but also at points of contact with oxygen in the air. The process is sometimes accelerated with the use of special drying oils (alkyds), but the more usual drying oils, such as linseed oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil, dry slowly. Liquid white softens too much in trying to be useful by itself; however many pigments have been developed that do not have this problem. It is often mixed with a varnish binder introduced to painting at the end of the eighteenth century, but before that, it was used quite sparingly.