Materials & Methods

A Quick Guide to Oil Painting Principles

Here's a quick guide to some oil painting principles - basic stuff that most painters have internalised but it can be good to go back to the basics if you get stuck...

Lean to Fat

Using paint mixed with a 'lean' oil painting medium over the top of a 'fat' layer can cause the paint to crack over time - so it's best to work from Lean to Fat.

Thin to Thick

Similar to the Lean to Fat principle, there's a risk of the paint cracking if thin layers are painted over the thick ones that are likely to expand and contract underneath over time.

Cool to Warm

Not specific to oil painting, more of a colour and design principle, and of course a rule to be broken... but as warm colours appear to come forward and cool ones recede, in some circumstances it can be useful to work from cool to warm in the various layers of paint.

Dark to Light

Similar to Cool to Warm, Dark to Light tones tend to work in the same way to create a sense of depth.

so the mantra goes...

  • Lean to Fat
  • Thin to Thick
  • Cool to Warm
  • Dark to Light

and perhaps we can add the universal principal of working from the General to the Specific and of course the one that has made it into everyday use of starting with the broad brush strokes... i guess, on a fresh canvas, this all means the first marks are likely to be lean, thin, cool, dark, general marks applied with a broad brush.

Oil Painting Medium Recipe

I just mixed up another batch of the medium I use for oil painting. I seem to always loose or forget the recipe so I decided to store it here for safe keeping. This is a simple recipe with damar resin, stand oil and gum turps. I don't bother with dryers or other ingredients, too lazy.

You can of course buy a ready-made medium but they generally don't tell you what's in them and also I find something meditative about preparing my own. It's a method of procrastination that feels as if you are doing something art related - anything but actually face the risky business of painting.

The recipe for the medium I use is in the proportions 1:2:5. That is, one part damar varnish, two parts stand oil and five parts refined turpentine. This gives me the base mix and I pour some off and add a little more turps for the lean underpainting as required.

See the full recipe here... and feel free to let me know if you have a variation on the theme.

Art Studio

I had a great floor in my art studio for a while. After working on Baz Luhrmann's 1992 film Strictly Ballroom, I inherited the dance floor from the film set. I rented a truck, carted it from the film sound stage and re-laid it in my art studio (with a little help from my friends).

It was a big job lugging all that hardwood but it was worth it. For the filming the floor was made to look old and dark by spraying a thin coat of paint over it. So it initially looked pretty dull when it was first installed but I sanded the whole thing back and applied a couple of coats of clear varnish and it made a huge difference.

Art Studio Floor

Art Studio Floor

When the government finally kicked us out of the wharf studio, the floor came up and went in storage for a long time. I was there for years until water got into the container and ruined it. I have had other art studios since then but none of them have had a floor quite like that. By the way, the photo' below is of the Toledo set from the Strictly Ballroom film. It was just near the studio. It was taken a while after the filming and a fence had been erected around the whole power station site. It's all gone now flattened to make way for the Sydney casino.

Toledo set from Strictly Ballroom film

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