Sunday, 3 October 2010

How Can I Make My Oil Painting Look Smooth?

The artist aspiring for a smooth finish to an oil painting could be disappointed when patchy areas persist even after blending the oil paint with soft brushes. A blue expanse of sky or water betrays unwanted brush marks. How can the artist achieve an airbrushed effect with paints?

Smooth Effects with Oil Paint

Smooth Effects for Oils
Rachel Shirley
Achieving smooth effects in paint will create a high finish to an oil painting, desirable for realism, but the following practices may make smooth blends more difficult.

Completing an oil painting alla prima or in one go. This initial layer of oil paint will often leave an unfinished or broken look, which gives oil painting its freshness, but is not compatible with creating a smooth paint layer.
  • Using hog hair or bristle brushes are more likely to leave brush strokes or troughs on the oil painting, due to the nature of the stiff bristles’ scratchy effect on the oil paint.
  • Trying to blend a thin layer of oil paint is often difficult due to the transparent nature of the paint layer which will have varying thicknesses. This will be made worse if the underlying paint is of a contrasting colour, for example when painting blue paint over an orange paint layer or imprimatura.
  • Working in impasto, or applying the oil paint too thickly will leave unwanted brush marks on the paint layer, particularly when using impasto medium.
  • Trying to create smooth effects with oil paint could be made harder when applying the paint onto a rough surface, such as dried impasto, or coarse canvas.
My Youtube clip shows how to get smooth effects with oil paint in more detail. As can be seen, linseed oil, rags and soft sables have been used. See how to get smooth gradations in oil paint from dark to pale, and then how to get smooth transition from one colour to another.

How to Glaze Oil Paint for Smooth Finishes

Achieving an airbrushed effect with oil paints is possible with the following tips on glazing oil paint, but practice makes perfect.

Applying oil paint glazes is one of the best ways of achieving an ultra smooth finish. Simply apply the first layer of oil paint onto a smooth painting surface such as primed MDF or panel. Treat the paint as through it were going to be the last, even though it will never be perfect. Blend the paint as much as possible, brush out any ridges, troughs and patchy areas. Use a soft sable brush for this purpose.

Allow the paint to become touch dry over a few days. Apply the second coat with a little linseed oil. This adheres to the fat over lean rule, which adds flexibility to the upper layers of oil paint to prevent it cracking. Adding linseed oil also adds transparency to the paint which will add depth to the colour and reduce the appearance of imperfections to the under-layer.

Repeat the process a third time if necessary. I often find three layers will suffice, although some artists use four or more. The old masters applied a dozen glazes or more to their oil paintings in order to perfect their finishes.

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How to Create a Smooth Paint Layer for Oils

Another way to achieve an airbrushed finish to oil painting is a technique I discovered by experimentation. After applying the paint with a soft brush, I dab over the layer with a soft, clean rag. Apply pressure evenly and gently, adjusting the rag to a clean area as you go over the painting. Don’t worry if the rag inadvertently smudges detail, it can always be reapplied.

Like glazing, repeat the process once the first paint layer is dry. This dabbing technique is great for smoothing areas on portraits, underwater scenes, skies and other large areas of colour. Creating a smooth colour gradation in painting can be achieved by gradually shifting the colour mix in the glaze as you go along.

How to Blend Oil Paint Smoothly

A smooth paint layer is ideal for achieving superealism to an oil painting, such as large expanses of skies, seas or to create smooth effects on portraits. Old master applied the oil paint in transparent form or as a glaze, in order to reduce the imperfections beneath and to add depth to the colour. I often find two glazes enough, although more can be applied. Glazes can be applied via a soft brush or dabbed on with a soft rag. A little linseed oil should be added with each paint layer in order to add flexibility to the upper layer.

External Links on Related Oil Painting Techniques

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have been trying to solve this problem, especially for larger surfaces. I believe some artists also use rags and layers. For example, underpainting with acrylic then successive glazes of oil over. My problem is I prefer smooth surfaces -- without a texture below, this task becomes much more challenging. I've made some real messes! :)