They don’t let you touch those oil paintings at the museum, but they sure do look smooth when you are viewing them. Are oil paintings smooth? Actually, oil paintings have quite a bit of texture to them, because they are applied in careful layers of varying thickness. If you ever get the change to turn an oil painting to the side a little and look at it that way, it almost looks like a 3d map. Acrylics, by contrast, will look quite a bit smoother.
Today I’ll talk a little bit about oil paintings and the texture just to satisfy the curious out there. Let’s explore oil painting texture and the reasoning behind it!
Do oil paintings have texture?
Oil paintings definitely have a texture to them. Acrylics, by contrast, tend to dry out quite smooth unless a thickening agent is employed. It’s all about the composition of the different paints and the ways that you paint with them.
With oils, you apply careful layers of varying thickness, let said layer dry, and then paint on top of it. This produces a subtle little buildup from those layers that is almost invisible when viewed from the front, but when you look at it from the side you can almost always see it. With acrylics, if you turn the painting to the side it will tend to look smoother, but almost rubbery. This is because acrylics tend to ‘plasticize’ when they dry.
So, if you are trying to tell what medium was used on a painting, simply try to look at it at an angle and you should be able to see the texture on it. If it looks rubbery, it’s probably acrylic, and if it looks like a 3d map when you are most likely looking at an oil painting.
What kind of texture is oil painting?
Oil painting textures come in many varieties, because of the many ways that you can apply it. For instance, if you use it right out of the tube without adding linseed oil then you’ve get a thick texture indeed. You could also use only very stiff brushes in your application of the paint and this is going to create a texture like it’s been ‘raked’ as it produced visible brushstrokes. If you’ve never tried oil painting by using your palette knife to swirl thick colors around, you really should, as this too produces a thick and interesting texture (it’s a bit like spreading soft butter onto the canvas, but it’s a lot of fun and produces interesting effects).
It boils down to the thickness of the paint itself and what you are using to put it on canvas, along with the amount of layering that you do. The texture of each painting is going to be unique but it’s definitely there whenever you work with oils.
Why is oil paint not smooth?
There is another good reason that oil paints have much more texture to them than acrylics. It all has to do with diluting them with linseed and other oils. If you add too much of these oils, then your oil paints won’t stick. That means if you want a ‘glasslike’ smoothness to your painting, it’s not so much a matter of thinning it out with linseed (that will make it bind poorly and it might flake off), but rather a method of employing a few little tricks to reduce visible brushstrokes. Try one or more of the following to get a smoother texture to your oil paintings:
- Herringbone 90 – Hold your brush at a 90 degree angle and you’ll want to lightly paint by employing a left to right herringbone pattern onto the canvas.
- Frequent drying – Wipe your brush on a handy rag between brushstrokes to ensure that it is dry for each.
- Fan brushes – Fan brushes are a great way to minimize visible brushstrokes in your work, ensuring a much smoother texture when you are done.
Today I’ve answered the question ‘are oil paintings smooth’ and we’ve explored the reasons why that is definitely not the case. Oil paintings are going to have a definite texture to them. This is going to be caused by the paint layers, the thickness of the paint itself, and the brushstrokes and type of brush employed onto the thick paint. Due to this, looking at a painting from an angle is one way to quickly determine if the painting is an oil painting.
If you want to make your own oil paintings a little smoother, then you want to hide your brushstrokes using some of the tips that I’ve outlined today, and you can also find a few more tricks at this 3rd party link here.
Until next time, happy painting!