For the absolute beginner, part 3 – the finished painting

‘Oiled out’ on left side

As a beginner, you might like to bring your painting to a certain stage and leave it to dry before proceeding to the next stage. Check out part 2 on the advantages of painting in stages as opposed to finishing a painting in a single session (alla prima).

I use and would recommend ‘Liquin’ as a painting medium. Its made by Windsor & Newton and their website gives a lot of information on this medium and others they produce. On the info. page on ‘Liquin’ they say “Not suitable as a varnish or final coat”. Unfortunately, they don’t say why. Alla prima painters paint a single coat, and therefore a final coat only. So you are left guessing, should you use ‘Liquin’ or not. I can only guess that as synthetic material it remains soluble after it dries. This is a characteristic of varnish, to be removed at some time in the future as the painting is cleaned. If the layer of paint, under the varnish, had a soluble constituent (like Liquin), it would also be removed with the varnish.*

* Update 19/11/2013. W&N express concern about the speed at which Liquin dries. A painting produced in layers, each drying before the next is applied, can be prone to cracking if the final layers contain Liquin and this will seal off non-Liquin layers underneath – retarding drying. As you can imagine, a painting with a final layer of hard, dry Liquin sitting on a wet layer can only end badly when removing varnish – both varnish and Liquin will lift off the wet layer.

To return to the beginner (leaving the painting to dry between painting sessions), for various reasons the painting when dry will have dull patches and glossy patches. The matt version and the glossy version of the same paint layer will be different in colour. The matt will be lighter in tone than the gloss. There are a multitude of reasons why this would happen, some colours dry matt, paint applied over an already dry layer will tend to be glossy, etc. The reason I mentioned the ‘Liquin’ conundrum is because applying fresh paint on a dry layer from a previous session (which has dull patches) will be different from the the same paint applied previously. My solution is to ‘wet’ the area with a layer of ‘Liquin’ before I apply the fresh paint. After the ‘Liquin’ is applied the painting will look the same as it did at the end of the previous session with the advantage that the under layer won’t mix with the later applications of paint.

Even after several layers of paint there can be dull patches and some areas will have a layer of pure ‘Liquin’ (the bits you ‘wet’ and did not paint over). Varnishing is not recommended as a method of removing dull patches and Windsor & Newton recommend using an oil based medium for the final ‘oiling out’, probably because of the solubility of ‘Liquin’ and similar mediums. They recommend using a clean cloth to apply the oil checking that the colour is not ‘lifting’ by the application. This will leave a layer of oil which will bond to the dull patches and you wipe off the excess where its sits on the non absorbent glossy bits. This film of oil will harden by oxidation and in time will not be dissolved by a later layer of solvent containing varnish. At least 6 months is recommended before varnishing.

All this is about having a uniform surface on a painting. The finish can be matt, gloss or an in between satin which is dependant on the varnish used.


35 thoughts on “For the absolute beginner, part 3 – the finished painting

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  2. You’re making me realize there’s a lot I don’t know about oil-painting—especially the finishing phase. Thanks for the good info.
    By the way, I also really like this painting that you’ve used as an illustration!

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  10. Liam,
    I am at the oiling out phase and am a bit hesitant right now. If I used Liquin throughout, should I just go ahead and use that for oiling out? Others swear by oils of various mixes and even straight up. And would you oil out the whole painting, wiping off the excess, or just patches that you can see? Your suggestion? Am learning a lot and thanks you so much for all your informative work!

    • Hi Annie. If you intend to varnish the painting DO NOT USE LIQUIN to ‘oil out’. It will bind with the varnish. Its recommended to use a vegetable oil ONLY, like Linseed. Even solvent like White Spirits mixed with the Linseed might dissolve some of the paint layer. The latest Linseed Oil for artists is very thin and will spread easily without solvents. I use a brush to apply the oil and cover the entire painting. Very little is needed, just enough to wet the surface. There should be no excess if brushed on. The final look should be glossy all over. Lie flat for a few days to dry. The gloss will die down a little as the oil dries. You should wait a few months before varnishing. The finish, from gloss to matt and in between, is decided by the varnish you use. There are temporary varnishes, even aerosol, which can be applied sooner than permanent varnish. The function of varnish is to protect the painting from atmospheric contamination, not to remove dull patches. With the time involved its no wonder so many oil paintings are framed under glass.

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    • Most of my paintings are one session so I don’t have much experience or knowledge of retouch varnishes. All I know is that they are a very dilute version of final varnish which allow the paint underneath to continue to oxidize (and dry). The theory is that added fresh paint will penetrate this thin layer and bind to the layer underneath. Any varnish which is not covered will then bind with the final varnish when ever it is applied. My concern is not so much with varnish but with media which will bind with varnishes. Windsor & Newton say use Liquin but make sure the ‘final layer’ of paint is vegetable oil because of varnishing issues??. As you can imagine, in practice, this is impossible to achieve unless every part of the Liquin paint layer is overpainted with an oil medium paint. So retouch varnish is a tried and trusted technology in traditional vegetable oil painting. I would be concerned about the assumption that modern Alkyd media are the same as the old oil media. If there are problems only time will tell.

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  13. I assumed that the reason that liquin isn’t recommended as a final coat is because 1. it will yellow somewhat over time. 2. it dries faster than the underlying paint and can cause cracking 3. which is related to #2, it basically hardens to plastic so it won’t breath and the paint underneath won’t harden properly. I never thought that it might dissolve or bind with the varnish. So I took the statement that it isn’t suitable as a final coat to mean that you shouldn’t paint straight liquin onto the painting, not that it shouldn’t be in the final layer of paint. I guess I guess I haven’t thought about it too much. I usually wax my paintings…

    • After further research I’ve finally found the reason for the caution in using Liquin – it dries quickly to an impervious layer. Its said that some oil paintings can take years to completely dry (i.e. all the oil to oxidise). An impervious layer will permanently stop the oxidation of an under layer and this is what Windsor & Newton were advising against.

  14. Mr Rainsford, I would just like to say thank you for sharing your alla prima demo’s and for creating this site to share your tips. I stumbled onto your videos today, and was simultaneously inspired and depressed – Landscapes are truly a different beast entirely from portraiture and my attempts at doing them have been inadequate. I realize a lot of the problem I am having is most probably a drawing problem as I rarely practiced scenes before. so while I focus on drawing landscapes, I’ve decided to paint in grayscale with oil in order to get use to the technique removing the problem of colour.
    seeing your alla prima videos has unlocked a new process in my mind, as I enjoy doing work in a single sitting also. I’m still mind boggled about how you achieve certain things in your work but it’s something I will have to learn through practice.

    all the best. 🙂

    • Thank you Luther for your nice comment. We all have our own road to follow. You say you are depressed by a lack of drawing skill and I think I rely too much on drawing and not painting. Each painting is a journey and I try to complete that journey by finishing each painting to an acceptable state. This sometimes means abandoning the initial intention. You are right to try something different and keep changing until you make progress.

  15. HI Thanks so much for all the knowledge you share- clearly you put lots of time into helping others.
    I have played with water mixable oils- they are not really water based- but the oils used to make them are altered to be dissolvable
    in water. There is still oil in them- its just special. The advantage is you don’t need turpentine, you can thin and clean with water.
    The Lukas Berlin brand has worked well for me. The Windsor and Newton artisan was too ‘gluey’

    • Thanks George. I’ve never used water based oils. The solvent I use is White Spirits which is not as toxic as Turpentine and so I don’t have too much bother with fumes. However cleaning the brushes is a pain. For this alone I will, at some stage in the future, give the water based oils a go. I’m currently experimenting with Alkyd Oil Colours. They are solvent based, like traditional oils, but they dry very quickly.

  16. Just got to this post, out of curiosity.
    Liquin is something I was using and finding lovely for the drying time. I used it also on final layers – Liquin Fine Detail, more fluid than Original – and there is no cracking on any of paintings done that way, from 2012 and 2013. Now I don’t use Liquin.
    For oiling out I sometimes use walnut oil, although drying time is 3-4 days. But it gives very nice, rich colors and glossy, even surface.
    I paint now alla prima mostly and use orange turpentine or white spirits only, oiling out is necessary as the colors go flat when dry but I find it most convenient technique now.

  17. Thanks for visiting my blog and for this technical info – I’m another novice when it comes to this (just switched to oil from acrylics about a year ago) so I’m just painting and not oiling out or varnishing – is this a big mistake?

    • ‘Oiling out’ is really only necessary if there are dull patches on the dry painting. Darker colours when dull, are lighter in colour than when originally painted. So this process is to return the painting to its original condition. Varnish protects an unglazed hanging painting from the long term effects of exposure to the atmosphere (dust, smoke etc.). My paintings will always have dull patches because I don’t use a medium and I use lots of solvent. So I always ‘oil out’. I don’t varnish because I frame under glass.

  18. Hi Liam
    Excellent paintings and lovely technique.
    Do you give oil painting lessons on a one to one basis or in a group, perhaps in the summer?
    Regards Ian

    • Thank you Ian. For years I’ve just not had time to get involved in painting classes. YouTube has been a great way for me to reach an enormous number of interested artists with very little of my time spent doing it. My business, design and print, is my day job so painting is really only a hobby, at the moment anyway. 🙂

  19. I’ve really learnt a lot from your blog, thanks! I’ve only recently even discovered mediums, but I’m not a huge fan so I mainly stick to solvents. I paint alla prima and my colours have dulled. I’m a bit scared to try oiling out but I think it is necessary. What would you recommend to use? how long should this take to dry?
    On a side note, is it recommended to paint in layers with only solvents or are mediums required for subsequent layers?

    • I’m delighted you find the blog helpful. Paint in the tube has enough medium to be used as is. Even using a medium there will be some areas dull as some pigments dry this way, e.g. Ivory Black. So it is recommended to ‘oil out’ paintings to achieve a uniform sheen. Winsor & Newton have a video on their site about this. They use a lint free cloth to apply a very thin layer of painting medium and very little is needed to return the paint to its original colour. This thin layer will dry much faster than a layer with added medium, as in a standard painting.
      Painting in layers, allowing each to dry, requires the slowest drying layers to be applied last. Fast drying layers over slower ones could seal off the drying process of under layers and this will result in a brittle dry layer over a soft layer resulting in a lack of adhesion. I think painting in layers, with solvent only, is OK. The first layers have a head start at drying and as subsequent layers are applied you will notice that the colours are not as dull, meaning they are not losing their medium because the under layers reduce soakage. You will also notice that the later layers will dry more slowly and this is good.
      Remember the medium in the tube has a drying retarder to increase shelf life. If you notice a clear liquid when you squeeze paint from the tube, use a tissue to soak it up and don’t mix it into the paint – this will slow the drying further.

  20. Dear Liam

    Watching your videos have been so wonderfully exciting. With your limited palette the effects and atmosphere that you build up is a lesson for any artist. Just love your work. Do you have any book published. Would love to have one and looking forward to your new work.

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