Invented hundreds of years ago by mixing ground mineral pigment with linseed oil (or walnut or poppy oil) and bringing the mixture to a boil, oil paints have been the mainstay of artists. Later, it was discovered that by cooking the mixture at lower temperature and adding a small amount of bee’s wax this prevented the atypical darkness in colour evident in the previous formulation. Paintings began showing a new vibrancy in colour!
Oil paints dry very slowly which allows the artist time to work on his/her piece, capturing and adjusting tone and colour for better detail. Unfortunately, cleaning up brushes, palettes, etc … requires a mineral spirit or derivative. There have been improvements over the years regarding mineral spirits – low odour paint thinners don’t overwhelm the artist with their odour like the original thinners. However, there can be an issue with the disposal of mineral spirits, linseed oils, and thinners … be sure to check with your local authorities on their specific requirements.
As with any material, there are differences in quality in the manufacturing of oil paints. Student quality paints often use synthetic pigments and may have lessened quality whereas artist quality paints use high-quality pigments blended with linseed oil and have greater durability and light resistance. There are concerns about the disposal of some oil paints due to their organic pigment components, so check with local regulations for proper disposal.
The ‘new kid on the block’ for oils are those that can be cleaned with water. Although the jury is out on permanence, for a beginner in oils this could be the way to go. According to various manufacturers, these paints have the same characteristics as original oils – blending, smoothness of application, etc. with far less clean-up mess. You don’t need thinners like turpentine or odourless thinner!