What Should You Know About Oil Painting?

Guide to the history of Oil Painting

What should you know about oil painting?

What is an oil painting? What are some distinctive features of an oil painting technique? What was the first oil painting ever made, and who made it? What is an oil paint and drying oil? What are some famous oil paintings in the world? If you are here, you have likely been asking all these (and more!) questions. We have prepared a comprehensive guide about oil painting. We hope you enjoy the article.

What is an Oil Painting?

Oil Painting Pioneer

Portrait of St. Veronica by Robert Campin (1378-1444) is considered one of the first pioneers of oil painting in Europe.

Oil paintings are made through the application of pigments, which are bound by a medium of the drying oil. The most commonly used drying oils include walnut oil, poppy seed oil, safflower oil, and linseed oil. Why is there such a variety of drying oils? Different drying oils produce different properties of the oil paint. Those properties include drying time, yellowing, sheen, and consistency of the paints. With that feature in mind, an artist may utilize several different drying oils on one painting to achieve desired final effects.

Who were the pioneers in oil painting?

As National Geographic reports, an international archaeological team has discovered Buddhist murals in the famous Bamian caves in western Afghanistan. These old murals are claimed to have been created between the 5th and 9th century A.D. They were likely made by the Indian and Chinese painters.

Surprisingly, European oil painting had not become popular until the 15th century A.D. The practice of utilizing the oil paints likely spread from the East to the West in the Medieval Ages. In Europe, Flemish artists initiated oil painting. The introduction of this new painting technique almost completely supplanted the use of tempera paints in the Renaissance.

Oil Painting Technique

In the traditional technique of oil painting, an artist begins with sketching objects with charcoal or thinned oil paint. The fundamental rule of the technique is that a less-thinned paint should be applied on top of the more-tinned paint. In other words, each additional layer of paint should contain purer and more condensed cover of the oil paint. This rule allows for an appropriate drying of the piece, and thus its durability.

Some inexperienced artists do not realize the dangerous consequences of abandoning the traditional technique. If the rule described above is abandoned, and a painter applies additional layers of paint containing less condensed substances, the surface of the painting will overtime be subjected to cracking and peeling.

There are many additional media that could be used in the creation of an oil painting. Those media include but are not limited to cold wax, resin, and varnishes. These additions help a painter customize transparency, sheen, density, or structure of a painting.

The paint dries in the process of oxidation, and not evaporation. In the traditional oil technique, a painting becomes dry in 2 weeks after the last layer has been applied. Interestingly, art conservators claim that the oil painting done in a traditional technique is completely dry only after 60 to 80 years. To preserve the high quality of the painting, it is best to apply varnish on the surface of the painting no later than from 6 months to 12 months


In most recent years, water miscible oil paint has come to prominence, and it practically replaced traditional oil paint with its long-established oils. Deemed as a revolution in the painting technique, water-soluble paints can now contain emulsifiers, which allow paints to be thinned with water (as opposed to solvents). This new technology has also decreased drying time from 1 to 3 weeks (with traditional oils) to 1 to 3 days.

We do remain appreciative of the new inventions in the oil painting technique. However, we remain committed to the long-established traditions of the technique, and we therefore use only traditional oils, paints and thinners. This allows us to create paintings of the highest quality and longest durability.


Painting brush

As one of the tools used in the oil technique, brush perfectly combines paints to get the desired color.


While a brush is considered the most traditional painting tool, painting knives and cloths are also commonly used.

The extended drying time of the oil paints makes it easier for a painter to change the color, texture, and shape of painted objects. Until a certain point, a painter may also remove the entire layer of paint, and begin artwork from the scratch. This can be done with the cloth and turpentine for as long as the paint is wet. However, as soon as the paint dries, it needs to be mechanically scratched from the surface.


How to Combine Colors in Oil Painting?

Oil paintings usually represent a wide variety of colors and hues. In order to get desired colors, an artist need to use a specific process of mixing and combining paints.

The palette, which is a foundational surface for combining colors, does not have to be purchased at an expensive art store. In fact, a thin natural plywood or a plain smooth wooden board will suffice. A palette does not have to be thrown away after each painting. New paints can be mixed and combined on the previous, old and dry layers of paints. However, if there are any bothersome lumps or coloristic mish-mashes, it would be better to get a new palette.

How do artists hold a palette? In fact, there are as many choices as many artists. It is a very personal decision, and would likely depend on what is easiest and most convenient. We, at NoblePortrait, do not hold a palette at all because we paint all days long, with so many hours devoted to single elements like hair, nose, or ears. Therefore, we appreciate the convenience of having a palette placed on a bar stool right by the canvas.

In order to achieve desired colors, we squeeze out colors from the tubes onto a palette. While most of our paint is white, we combine it with additions of other paints to get the envisioned colors. It is important to frequently dip a brush, with which we mix colors, in the traditional drying oils to ensure the highest quality of paintings.

5 Most Famous Oil Paintings You Should Know

Mysterious Dutch Portrait

We do not know much about the woman from Vermeer’s oil artwork.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

We do not know much about Johannes Vermeer, an author of the Girl with a Pearl Earrring. We know even less about the circumstances in which this masterpiece, also known as the Dutch Mona Lisa, was conceived of. Even though an artist left a signature, the painting lacks the date of creation. Art historians estimated that the portrait was completed in the 17th century. And, in fact, this is all that we have been able to confirm about the painting. We do not know whether the portrait was commissioned, who the woman is, and whether Vermeer was in any way associated with her. All these things remain one of the greatest mysteries in the art history.



Oil Painted Masterpiece

Mona Lisa is visited by 6 million people in Louvre each year.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

One of the most famous paintings in the world is a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, a wife of a wealthy Venetian merchant. Da Vinci began this piece in either 1503 or 1504, and finished it just before his death in 1519. The painting was purchased by Francis I, the King of France. Until the end of the 18th, it was displayed on the exhibition in the Museum of Louvre. In 1921, Mona Lisa was stolen by a museum employee, who held the portrait in his apartment for more than 2 years, and then attempted to sell it in Italy. He believed that Italy was the appropriate place for La Gionconda. Fortunately, his attempt was disabled and the most famous painting in the world was returned to the Louvre, which is viewed by more than 6 million visitors each year.




Painted Still Nature

These painted sunflowers were sold for $83 billion dollars.

Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

Sunflowers is a name of the two series of paintings of still nature, created by the world-known Vincent van Gogh. These impressionist paintings from the first series were done in Paris. They represent cut sunflowers on the ground. In Antwerp in 1888, van Gogh began to paint a second series of sunflower, this time in the vase. The vase sunflowers have become some of the most popular pieces of the artist. In different versions, there are between 12 and 16 flowers. However, the three versions with 15 sunflowers are the ones most commonly known. The first one was purchased for $83 billion dollars by a Japanese company. The second one is on the exhibition in the National Gallery in London. And, the third one is displayed in the museum of Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam.


Impressionist Portrait

A private collector purchased this portrait for a record-breaking sum of $120 million.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream is a series of four expressionist paintings done by Edvard Munch. The paintings, considered to be iconic of contemporary art, represent a repressed object with an orange sky in the background. According to the popular interpretation, the Scream is an epitome of a contemporary human, who is soaked with existential pain. One of the versions of this painting is in the National Museum in Oslo, and the other one (made in pastel) was sold to a private collector for a record-breaking sum of $120 million. With this, the painting has entered the list of top 10 most expensively-sold piece of art in the world.




Surrealistic handmade painting

The artwork inspired Albert Einstein in his Theory of Relativity.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Also known as Soft Clocks, this painting is another most famous paintings in the world. Inspired by the contemplation over passing time, Salvador Dali made this painting in 1931. Surrealistic Persistence of Memory has become a symbol of a decomposition process, which each human existence is faced with, while dealing with the ruthlessly passing time. It is claimed that this masterpiece influenced Albert Einstein in his Theory of Relativity. The Persistence of Memory is currently on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.



Can NoblePortrait.com Make a High Quality Oil Painting?

Yes, yes, yes! Learning from the most famous art masters in the world, we strive to continue the long-established traditional painting techniques. Each artwork is hand-painted with extreme care and precision, and is allowed an appropriate drying time. By applying natural oils and resins, we ensure the maximum durability of each painting.

Our portfolio includes remakes of Mona Lisa and Klimt

Remake Mona Lisa

We have mastered traditional techniques from da Vinci, Vermeer, Picasso, and others.


Remake Klimt

Our passion for excellence and elegance comes from various styles and periods.



Our customers in the United States, Canada, and Europe commissioned their own portraits, which we treat with deep care, passion, and precision. Our most favorite art pieces include Mother and Child, Blonde Beauty, and Sailor. What are your favorite pieces from our collection?

Mother and Child Oil Portrait

Wedding Dress Oil Painting

Customized Portrait for work
You may also discover our extended portfolio of Premium Oil Portraits.


Tags: Oil Painting History Techniques Artists


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