Sunday, July 3, 2011

What is Oiling Out?

Blog reader Mark asked a good question: “I've asked a few of my oil painting friends about what the term 'oiling out' means and they don't know what it is. Do you know what artists are referring to? I get the idea that they're rubbing oil onto the painting for some reason.”

Yes, Mark, you got it. “Oiling out” means rubbing a little linseed oil or clear painting medium over a dry surface of paint that you worked on earlier. You can apply the oil with a clean, lint-free rag, cheesecloth, or scrub it on with a large bristle brush and remove most of it with a rag. Edit: Some people recommend using odorless mineral spirits and Galkyd (an alkyd painting medium) for the oiling out medium.

Here's a video from Gamblin showing the process. (link to video)

That oil layer resaturates the colors and makes the paint surface more receptive to the new layer of wet paint, so that it will look like it was all done at the same time. Without oiling out, the new paint application goes on too dry and scrubby. You don't need much oil to get the job done--just a hint of oil.

An oil painting manual from 1845 by J.S. Templeton defined oiling out like this: “The surface of colours in drying, frequently assumes a state that renders it difficult to lay fresh colours thereon properly. To correct this, previous to commencing work, the picture must have a little oil, (either Linseed or Nut) sparingly applied to it with a brush and then perfectly removed by wiping it with a soft silk rag, this will be effectual.”

My wife tells me it’s like putting on makeup. Hydrating the skin with a little moisturizer makes it more receptive to make-up. Not that she paints her face very often!

Templeton quote
More information from Virgil Elliott
Video from Gamblin about Oiling Out
Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present
 Gamblin Refined Linseed Oil
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter


Marianne said...

Thanks I am relative new at painting with oil, and I have been wondering what this oiling out means! Your blog is a great help!

MrCachet said...

Color & Light arrived today. I skimmed, then realized that if I'm going to get what I want out of this book I'm going to have to forget the skimming and read it the way you put it together. THANK YOU!

James Gurney said...

Marianne, you're welcome!

Mr Cachet, I tried to organize the book so that it builds concept by concept, but skimming is cool, too.

One of my favorite Amazon reviews says: “The way it's written, you could read it like a regular how-to book, or stick it in the john and it will be the best bathroom book you've ever read.”

elgin said...

It is my understanding that oiling out should be done some months prior to varnishing so that the varnish will give a uniform surface appearance.

Jeremy Haney said...

for those who are new to this idea I would suggest trying it on a study piece first. The first time I did this I did not heed my instructor's warning and used too much. There was much delicate wiping and cussing, and wiping and cussing. It's a great little method, but takes just as much care and thought as the rest of what you do.

Roberto said...

Hey Jimmy G-
This is a little off topic, well actually a lot off topic, but I thought you would enjoy this.

It’s an on-line art gallery called 'Art of Science,' set up by a few of the Brainiacs over at Caltech. Each thumbnail links to a different science project, with info and contacts about the authors/artists. The archive links to past years’ exhibitions/projects.
Have fun -RQ

knoxblox said...

I did my first oiling out the other day.
In addition to making the paint surface more receptive, it helps to restore the look of certain colors that have "sunk in" as they dry.
I'm partial to the colors viridian and French ultramarine, which sink in more than I'd prefer. Oiling out makes them look as fresh as the day they were applied.

I read an interview once with the artist Malcolm T. Leipke, and he says he does this every day, as he tends to be working on 30 different paintings at any given time.

Sukh said...

It's like when you're painting in the zone, man.

People will walk past and comment "Duuuuude, you're totally oiling out!"

James' explanation is pretty good too.

Richard said...

Moisturizer for faces does not add water to the skin,a fairly common misconception added and abetted by advertizing. Moisturizer covers the skin with a film of oil that prevents further water from evaporating from it.

It may be also true of oiling out. It may not add oil but merely put a thin film of oil on drier paint.


Tom Hart said...

Oiling out is one of my favorite oil painting techniques. I frequenly take many days to finish a painting, for no other reason than that my painting sessions are usually sporadic and interrupted by long stretches of what's incorrecty referred to as my "real job".

Oiling out is a quick and effective way to accomplish all that's mentioned here. On top of that it seems to sometimes serve to slightly blend and unify - in a helpful way - areas that are nearly, but not completely dry. I can't prove that last point, and it may be an optical illusion caused by the uniform "shine" (for want of a better term) that is caused. But I always feel that the painting is helped by the process.

Lenora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lenora said...

I'm interested in trying the "Oiling Out" technique. My question is: if I'm painting on a large canvas and may not apply paint to the whole surface in one session, do I apply the oiling out technique to just the active painting area or to the whole canvas surface. If I did apply oil to the whole surface, wouldn't areas unpainted that day build up too much oil over time as I repeated the technique. Thanks Lenora

James Gurney said...

Lenora: Just the area you plan to work on. The oil should be very thin. The finish varnish should even out the final patina.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this and all your books and video! I know this is a very old post but i didn't think it would hurt to ask. I've been having this problem with oiling out in the lighter areas of a painting for a while now and can't figure out how to fix it. Its happened to me on portraits on the side of the face that is lit up. After oiling out i mix my paint and match the color and value of the area. Like you mentioned it looks like it was painted all at once. The problem is that the next day the touch up that i did the day before is dry to the touch but has now darkened. So it ends up looking like little blotches or dark spot on the persons face. I'm using a pretty standard medium of windsor newton stand oil and turp. 50/50. I've even tried other brands of stand oil. From what i read its what a lot of painters use. Would you have any idea whats going on? I love the indirect approach but can't figure out what to do. Any advice would help. Thank you

James Gurney said...

Horacio, that's a strange problem. I wonder if the patchiness comes from the paint drying to different degrees of glossiness or "matteness." If it matches while wet or oiled up, it should match when finish. The remedy might be to varnish the whole thing evenly and see if the patchiness disappears. Of course, always best to do these experiments with test work.

Unknown said...

Thank you for responding! I just read this today. I guess i forgot to check the "notify me" box. Ive tryed what you mentioned but with no luck. It does the oposite of going mat and lightening up. Ive even tryed switching brands of paint. I have also asked other painters this question but most dont know what im talking about. One person sugested i paint the areas a step lighter which to me sounded like an even bigger challenge. I have even taken pictures just to make sure the area i corrected the night before was in fact done correctly. I have been getting away with repainting an entire area like a cheek or the entire forehead insted of just a spot touch up. Ill keep trying different things. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

James, I was having trouble with oil paint on a conservation project (museum) and so asked for help by the folks at Gamblin paints. Oiling out is a little different than you describe -- but close. I've done it several times now, and it is amazing, and then found out the "old-tyme" oil painters did this regularly. It is done with a mixture of OMS and galkyd -- though yes, it used ot be done with linseed. However, linseed can turn color over years. There is a good video on the subject which I found when I wanted to tell a friend about it:

James Gurney said...

Thanks, D.Katie, that was a helpful video. I should have mentioned the idea of using mineral spirits + an alkyd medium (Galkyd or Liquin). That's a nice way to oil out, but it does dry up faster.

Unknown said...

Hi, thanks a lot about this post James. It's the best description of the oiling out process I have found on the Internet. I have a question though. Does the oiled out area of the painting stay glossy and its colours saturated when the oil has dried up?

(A bit more info if you're interested and have the time.)
I ask that because this week I've been doing the oiling out process for the first time. Initially I tested it on a small test canvas where after drying up, some areas remained glossy and saturated while some became matt again. Then I started doing it on my current work canvas and after doing it every morning, on the next day I'd find that almost all of the area I've oiled out previously has dried up to a matt and unsaturated finish. I've read on multiple sites that when this happens you should just oil out again but it has been almost a week of doing that now and little seems to change.

I'd appreciate it immensely if you've found some time for my question.

Have a great day,

James Gurney said...

Daniel, an area that has been oiled out may not dry to an even gloss. That uniform sheen should happen when you put on the finish varnish, however.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the quick response. Considering what you've said, I guess oiling out is used only as a temporary solution in order to make work for the day easier, while varnishing is final. Anyway, thanks again, and cheers on your Color and Light book, it's really useful!

Unknown said...

Thanks, I am relatively new at painting with oil, and I have been wondering what this oiling out means! Your blog is a great help! But you are used essential oils Essential Oil in Pakistan

Jon.Bolles said...

I recently oiled out a couple small canvases. I could see the benefit of it immediately as it revived some sunken areas. BUT I didn’t wipe off the excess oil (I didn’t think there was much but evidently there was) and days later my paintings remain oily and extremely tacky, as though I just applied the oil. I used W&N Artist’s Medium, applied with a brush (scrubbed-in method). Will these things dry eventually? @jon.bolles Instagram

Jon.Bolles said...

I recently oiled out a few small canvases but didn’t wipe off excess oil (I didn’t think there was too much but evidently there was) How long should this take, if done correctly? It’s been a few days and the paintings still feel oily and tacky as though I just applied oil. I used Winsor & Newton Artist’s Medium and applied with a brush (scrubbed-in method). My question is: will this oil dry but just take longer?

@jon.bolles (Instagram)

James Gurney said...

Jon, I don't know if it will dry. It depends on what's in the medium and how thickly it is applied. Generally you want to use as little as possible. (Also, it may yellow).