Rules and Techniques for Mastering the Art of Oil Painting

Every artist starts with a humble beginning. From picking up their first art material and creating their first artwork to discovering a natural talent in drawing and painting, developing that talent into a skill takes time before they can venture into a career in arts. Soon enough, they’ll encounter one of the most well-known painting methods - oil painting.

Oil painting can be challenging to master, but there are only three basic rules to follow. These three rules, when put to correct practice, can make your masterpiece last a lifetime:

Rule #1: Fat over Lean

This rule refers to the additives in your oil paint mixture. Adding an oil painting medium makes the mixture “fat,” while adding any kind of solvent makes it “lean.” Because of this, the first rule indicates that you begin your artwork with layers of paint with solvent and finish with layers with painting mediums added. This is because lean paint dries more quickly than fat paint.

Rule #2: Thick over Thin

Paint can be applied with layers of your desired thickness, but it is vital to make the first layers thin and the last layers thick. This is because oil paints do not evaporate but become solid due to oxidation, also known as curing. Painting over the top of a not-fully-cured layer may cause cracking for the next thin layer. This is why it is best to start with a thin layer before the thick ones.

Rule #3: Slow Drying over Fast Drying

It is good to know that some paint colors dry faster than others. The rule of thumb states that jewel tones dry longer while earth tones dry faster. But to be certain, you may check the websites of your paints’ brands to find the drying qualities and drying times of each color.

Your understanding of these three oil painting basics will go a long way, especially when you’re ready to perform the known techniques to be a master in oil painting. Here are seven techniques you should learn in an oil painting:

Technique #1: Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro increases the drama of art and creates a three-dimensional object by pushing the subject into the foreground while playing with the lights and shadow of the painting. To do this, start with one light focus and work outwards from there.

Technique #2: Scumbling

Scumbling brings more texture to an art. It is a technique that uses a dry, stiff brush to apply thin layers of paint. This results in an image not having a smooth finish, exposing some of the underpainting on the canvas.

Technique #3: Alla Prima

Alla Prima is a friend for those who like to paint quickly. Also known as “wet-on-wet,” this technique does not require painting in a dry layer instead of the three basic rules. This helps you to complete the painting in one sitting.

Technique #4: Glazing

Glazing applies transparent layers over an opaque base layer on the canvas. In essence, using subsequent color layers makes the finish glossier and showcases a multi-faceted masterpiece.

Technique #5: Underpainting

Underpainting resolves the application of color onto a blank canvas that is frowned upon by many artists. It involves “sketching” the subject in a very thin layer, and any background is blocked out, so you know where to put this subject later in the creative process.

Technique #6: Impasto

Impasto painting requires deliberate strokes of thick paint, making each mark of the paintbrush visible in the final masterpiece. Using this technique focuses on the most critical areas and makes them more prominent.

Technique #7: Grisaille

Grisaille was commonly used in the Renaissance period when portraying sculptures but not as popular in this modern time because of the wide range of colors available today. Grisaille is the art of painting in monochrome, showing light, dark, and shades by utilizing black, white, and grey colors.


Mastering oil paintings does not mean practicing all of these techniques. It is still more focused on the basic rules mixed with the vision of the artist. Picking at least one technique will heavily depend on your identity and the artworks you see yourself showcasing to the world. Nevertheless, this knowledge helps you explore different styles for your next craft.

Improve your skills one step at a time with E. John Robinson’s instructional oil painting lessons online. Unleash your potential to be a master in oil paintings through digital downloads, DVDs, or books on compact discs. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help!

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.