Why Is My Oil Painting Cracking?

Why Is My Oil Painting CrackingSo, you’re getting into oil painting and you’ve finished a few paintings and then the worst happens… a crack! If you’re wondering ‘why is my oil painting cracking’ then I’ll give you a few reasons to consider. Oil paintings can crack from a few different things. One common reason is a thick lower layer that wasn’t completely dry can ‘pull’ from the layer above. Age can also cause cracking, as the oxidation process of oil paint continues long after the paint is technically dry.

In today’s article I’ll talk a little more about oil painting, cracking, and what you need to know to help minimize this or to repair a cracked painting. Let’s take a closer look at what causes those awful cracks!

What causes cracks in oil paintings?What causes cracks in oil paintings

Most commonly finished oil paintings can become cracked due to something that was done when it was actually being painted. Below you’ll find some tips that can help to minimize this that I hope you will find useful:

  • Avoid substitutions – It’s not a good idea to use household solvents or other mediums in place of those designed specifically for your oils. You never know how they will react chemically in the short or long term, and this can lead to disaster.
  • Paint ‘Fat over lean’ – A thick lower layer that hasn’t fully dried will likely cause cracking if you paint a thinner layer over it while it’s still drying. Make sure those layers are fully dried or simply get in the habit of painting a thin layer and THEN a fatter layer.
  • Don’t hang them near a heat source – Never hang a painting over a fireplace, radiation, in the kitchen… anywhere it’s going to get hot, moist, or smoky. If the support expands, your paint might well crack!
  • Avoid mixed drying rate mediums – Don’t mix slow and fast drying mediums in the same painting. A good example is using an alkyd and stand oil in the same painting. It will stress the drying paint and you don’t want that to happen. Just stick to the same medium throughout the painting process so that everything can dry at the same rate.

Can you fix a cracked oil painting?

Can you fix a cracked oil paintingCracked paintings can be fixed, but it’s recommended that you go with a professional when it comes to this. While there are some home hacks that you can employ that essentially boil down to gluing, sealing, and then painting over the spot, there’s a big chance that you might make things worse if you do it on your own.

Professionals essentially do it the same, but it’s a very time-consuming process getting the flaked and cracked bits assessed, re-adhered, and then repainted with specific pigments and revarnished. If you have a cracked painting then this really is the best way to go and you want to do it as soon as possible. Once the painting gets a significant crack then the damage is only going to worsen over time and become harder or even impossible to repair.

So, if you have a painting at home that is cracking which is valuable either monetarily or sentimentally, in my opinion it’s worth your time to hire a restoration service. While it’s not free, you know that it will get done right. Just think of it like this – would you do your own automotive repair or plumbing?

It’s always best to go with an expert so that you know it will be done right.

Will all oil paintings eventually crack?Will all oil paintings eventually crack

With older oil paintings, some cracking is actually quite common and this is known as ‘craquelure’. These are present in the form of very small cracks and they generally have to do with the aging of the paint itself or the material that was commonly used as canvas in the era it was painted in. In most cases, it is considered quite natural provided that the cracks are very tiny, and many restoration professionals don’t see them as a need to get the painting repaired.

You’ll see these hairline cracks quite often with antique paintings in the museum if you look closely. So, essentially the answer to ‘will all oil paintings crack’ is going to be ‘yes’, but depending on the paints used, the canvas itself, and the overall care it could very well be centuries before this happens.

Interestingly enough, with acrylics they might last virtually forever due to their ‘plastic’ composition, but that’s a subject which we’ll get into another day!

In conclusion

In this article I’ve told you a little bit about why oil paintings crack and what you can do to prevent it. Most often, oil paintings will either crack from natural aging (if they are very old), not painting ‘fat over lean’, or from using homemade solvents or other ‘substitutions’ during the painting process. Inadvertent stretching of the canvas is also a common cause of cracking which may occur.

A great 3rd party article that can tell you a little about avoiding cracking or ‘crazing’ may be found here and has some excellent tips that I hope you will enjoy. Just be sure that if your painting is already cracked that you have it restored professionally if it is of monetary or sentimental value – you don’t want to try any hacks that you find online unless you are comfortable with the possibility that it might get worse!