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Choosing your Oil Paints

Oil Painting Hints & Tips - Choosing Your Oil Paints

Vibrant and versatile, Oil Paints have been a firm favourite amongst artists for centuries. Working with thick, buttery oil colour can be a rewarding creative experience and whether you're an absolute beginner or a seasoned professional we will have an oil paint suited to you. Choose from the finest artist quality paints or student grade if you are working to a budget. Find out more about our range below.

Taking your first steps in the oil painting world can feel a little daunting. With traditions that stem back hundreds of years, oil painting has developed its own techniques and nomenclature that can be a little hard to get your head round if you are only just starting out. Recent developments in oil paint manufacture have introduced a whole range of new products to the market that have provided beginners with even more choice than ever. The information below should help you narrow down your choices and settle on a type of oil paint and colour palette best suited to you.

Which type of Oil Colour should I choose?

If you're just starting out with oil colour it can be rather overwhelming to settle on a particular type of oil colour given the amount of choice available. All different types of oil paints have their own benefits, but it can be tricky to select the one that will best suit you. Below you will find a short summary of all the different types of oil paints that we sell and what characteristics they will bring to your oil painting practice.

Traditional Oil Colour

Traditional Oil Colours are as the name suggests; created using traditional manufacturing methods they are the closest manufactured equivalent to the oil paints of the old masters. Developments in production techniques mean that contemporary oil paints are now much more chemically stable and permanent. These types of oil paint are fully mixable with traditional oil painting mediums such as drying oils, solvents and thinners. You will have to choose whether you want to go with student or artists quality. Artists quality colours are smoother and highly pigmented but carry a higher price tag. Student colours offer a more affordable alternative and are made to the same high standards but using less expensive pigments.

Alkyd Oil Paints

Alkyd Oil Colours are made using the same methods as traditional oil colours but include an oil modified alkyd resin to speed up the drying process. Alkyd paints will dry much quicker than traditional oils, but slower than Acrylics; ideal for artists that want to give oils a try but are put off by their slow drying time. Most Alkyd oil colours will be touch dry in 24 hours, meaning that you can complete an oil painting in one sitting. Alkyd oils can be used with traditional oil painting mediums to adjust their working properties.

Water Soluble Oil Colour

Perhaps the most revolutionary recent development in oil painting has been the introduction of Water Mixable Oils. As suggested by their name, these types of oil paint are fully mixable with water. They are a brilliant choice for those who have wanted to try oils but who wish to avoid using potentially harmful solvents. If you're in a shared studio space or use oils in school or college then these paints can be a great alternative to traditional oils as they do not require the use of strong smelling solvents and mediums. Your brushes and accessories can also all be cleaned using water; no need for solvents at all, just soap and warm water. We currently stock one artists quality water mixable oil range and two student quality. Cobra (Artists') is much more finely milled and offers high pigmentation. Artisan and Georgian (Student) use less expensive pigments and offer a more affordable alternative.

Oil Bars

Oil Bars are sticks of pigment bound with drying oil and wax. They remove some of the distance between you and your painting and allow you apply colour directly to the canvas without the use of a brush. As there is no need for brushes or painting knives, these bars offer a great way to create loose expressive marks and can be useful for laying down quick visualisations of ideas and compositions. They are a particularly good medium to use for sgraffito effects. Use these bars with all the mediums and solvents that you would use with traditional oils. Unlike oil pastels, oil bars form a skin as stick of paint dries.

Intermixing Different Ranges

In most cases you can freely intermix different brands of oil paints, although there are certain things to bear in mind before doing so. Mixing artists and student quality paints together will affect the quality of the artists colour. Some student rages include fillers or driers that can have an impact on your artists' oils. Fast drying Alkyd layers should not be applied over thick traditional oil layers; the thicker layer will be slower to dry and will cause cracking on the top layer. Thick OilBar films should also be avoided under oil layers, as they are also much slower to dry. It should also be noted that while traditional oils can be mixed with water mixable oils, doing so will essentially render your water-mixable oils no longer mixable with water. You will also find that if you have combined your water-mixable oils with water, they will not be mixable with traditional oils.

Understanding Drying Rates

The pigments used to manufacture oil paints all have their own specific characteristics, and these properties will determine what ratio of oil to pigment is used to produce that colour. Consequently the oil content of each paint will vary from colour to colour. Each pigment is formulated individually to optimise the overall drying times, helping artists avoid the problem of slow drying underlayers. It is useful, however, to have a general idea of the usual variations in drying times between particular groups of colours for pratical purposes. The average drying spans across our oil paint range:

Oil Paint Range Touch-dry in
Winsor & Newton Artists' Oils 2-12 days
Winsor & Newton Winton Oils 2-12 days
Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oils 2-12 days
Winsor & Newton Oilbar 2-7 days
Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyd Oil Colour 18-24 hours
Cobra Artists' Water Mixable Oils 3-5 days

It should be noted that different colours within a particular range will have different drying rates. This also includes the Griffin Alkyd range, although as they are fast drying the difference in drying times ismuch less pronounced. The table below can be used as a guide to determine whether your colours will be fast, medium or slow drying colours.

FAST DRYING COLOURS Touch dry in around two days.
  • Aureolin
  • Permanent Mauve (Manganese)
  • Cobalt Blues
  • Prussian Blue
  • Raw Sienna
  • Umbers
  • Flake White*
  • Foundation White*
  • Cremitz White*
MEDIUM DRYING COLOURS Touch dry in around five days.
  • Cadmiums
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Cobalt Violets & Greens
  • Phthalo/Winsor Blues & Greens
  • Ultramarine Blues
  • Permanent Sap Green
  • Ochres
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Mars colours
  • Lamp Black
  • Ivory Black
  • Titanium White
  • Zinc White
SLOW DRYING COLOURS Touch dry in more than five days.
  • Winsor/Arylamide Yellows & Oranges
  • Quinacridones
  • Alizarin Crimson
* It should be noted that these whites are included for guidance only. Winsor & Newton discontinued producing these colours due to their lead content.

Choosing Your Colour Palette

Artists generally build their palettes according to the subject matter that they paint, but it can be useful for beginners to have a little guidance on which colours to include in their first palette. If you are just starting out then there are some genera rules of thumb that are great to follow. Ideally your first palette will cover a good spectrum of colour and be balanced between transparent and opaque and high tinting and low tinting colours. Of course it is always best to go with as good a quality paint as you can afford, but many beginning this medium prefer to start with student colours and then branch out as they become more confident.

Six Colour System

A restricted palette of six colours is great for both students and professionals who want to master their understanding of colour. Theoretically you should be able to mix most colours from a palette of only six hues; two reds, two yellows and two blues. Each hue should have a warm and a cool variant to ensure clean mixes of violets, oranges and greens. Mastering mixing with these six colours can greatly enhance your understanding of colour, but as you grow confident with these colours you can introduce a wider range of tones to give greater variation in opacity and tinting strength.

Basic 12 Colour Palettes

Starting with a palette of 12 essential colours is a great way to build a foundation for your oil painting practice. Beginners will find these selections of colours particularly useful as they cover a broad spectrum and can be used to mix a range of other colours. The recommended 12 colour palette can vary from range to range; included below are some examples of popular starting palettes in the Winsor & Newton oil ranges. If you are starting out with paint from another manufacturer you should be able to identify some similar colours.

Artists Oil Colour

  • Winsor Lemon
  • Winsor Yellow
  • Cadmium Red
  • Permanent Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • French Ultramarine
  • Winsor Blue (G/S)
  • Winsor Green
  • Raw Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Titanium White

 

Winton Oil Colour

  • Cadmium Lemon Hue
  • Cadmium Yellow Hue
  • Cadmium Red Hue
  • Permanent Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • French Ultramarine
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Viridian Hue
  • Raw Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Titanium White

 

Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour

  • Winsor Lemon
  • Winsor Yellow
  • Cadmium Red Medium Hue
  • Permanent Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • French Ultramarine
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Viridian Hue
  • Raw Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Titanium White

 

Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour

  • Lemon Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow Hue
  • Cadmium Red Hue
  • Permanent Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • French Ultramarine
  • Phthalo Blue (R/S)
  • Viridian
  • Raw Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Titanium White

 

Artists' Oilbar

  • Lemon Yellow Hue
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
  • Cadmium Red Hue
  • Permanent Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • French Ultramarine
  • Manganese Blue Hue
  • Viridian
  • Burnt Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Titanium White

Expanding Your Colour Palette

As you become more comfortable in your oil painting ability, it can be useful to expand your colour palette to include some additional colours that you find you have use for. It can be handy to have some pre-mixed colours if you find that you don't have time to mix them yourself. The best way to settle on additional colours for your palette is to study the characteristics of each colour, including pigment, opacity and permanence. Some manufacturers also offer hand-painted colour charts which are the best way to get an accurate representation of the colours you are interested in.

Adding Secondary Colours

By using your six primary colour palette you should be able to create clean mixes of greens, violets and oranges. However, it can be useful to have a selection of single pigment secondary colours on your palette. Including these single pigment secondaries will aid you in creating clean mixes of tertiary colours. Some secondary colours to bear in mind for your palette include:

  • Winsor Orange
  • Cobalt Violets
  • Permanent Mauve
  • Winsor Violet
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Permanent Magenta
  • Purple Madder
  • Cobalt Turquoises
  • Cobalt Greens
  • Oxide of Chromium
  • Viridian
  • Winsor Greens

Landscapes

If you find that you favour painting landscapes, you may find that adding new yellows, blues, greens and earth colours expand your painting technique. Some colours to bear in mind are:

  • Lemon Yellow Hue
  • Cad Yellow Pale
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Blues
  • Winsor Blue (G/S)
  • Ultramarine (G/S)
  • Indanthrene Blue
  • Prussian Blue
  • Cobalt Turquoise
  • Cobalt Greens
  • Terre Verte
  • Oxide of Chromium
  • Viridian
  • Winsor Green (Y/S)
  • Prussian Green
  • Permanent Sap Green
  • Olive Green
  • Raw Sienna
  • Light Red
  • Indian Red
  • Ochres & Red Earths
  • Davy's Grey
  • Lamp & Ivory Black
  • Zinc White

Portraits

Artists who primarily paint portraits often find that the addition of some pinks, violets and earth colours can greatly expand their painting reptertiore. Portrait painting requires the mixing of subtle shades for variation in skin tones, which can be difficult to achieve with a basic palette. It will be worth considering some of the colours below if you are finding it hard to mix portrait tones:

  • Lemon Yellow Hue
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Flesh Tint
  • Cadmium Scarlet
  • Vermilion Hue
  • Rose Dore
  • Rose Madder Genuine
  • Rose Madder Deep
  • Cobalt Violet
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Jaune Brilliant
  • Naples Yellow Light
  • Naples Yellow
  • Indian Red
  • Mars Violet Deep
  • Davy's Grey
  • Charcoal Grey
  • Ivory Black
  • Lamp Black
  • Flake White Hue
  • Underpainting White

Which whites shall I include on my palette?

In some oil ranges you may find yourself faced with more whites than you know what to do with. Selecting the right white for your artwork can be a little tricky as each will bring slightly different qualities to your work. Below you will find a short description of some of the whites available to you. Some of these whites may go under slightly different names from brand to brand, but most should remain consistent. Other whites, like Flake White and Cremitz White are becoming increasingly hard to source as brands cease making them due to their lead content. therefore their descriptions should only be used as a comparison.

Titanium White

Titanium White is the most popular white you will find on most oil painter's palettes. It's a brilliant all rounder and is a good choice for blocking in. It can be used for mixing although, as it is the most opaque and brilliant white, you may find that it has a tendency to overpower some mixes. Applied straight from the tube, it will allow very little undertone to show through. It's consistency is a little softer than Flake White No. 1. It has a neutral bias, is slow drying and non yellowing and has no lead content.

Zinc White

Zinc White is the least opaque white, making it an ideal choice for glazing and tints. It has a lower tinting strength than Titanium white and is great for lightening mixes without overpowering them. When applied straight from the tube it will allow some of the undertone to show though due to its transparency. Zinc white is the stiffest white in consistency and has a cool colour bias. Non-yellowing and containing no lead, this white is slow drying and is a great addition to most palettes.

Transparent White

Tranparent White is a semi-transparent colour that is best suited for mixing tones and glazes. It has an extremely low tinting strength and will provide the palest glazes. Transparent white has a neutral bias, contains no lead and is non-yellowing.

Underpainting White

Underpainting White, as suggested by its name, was created to use as part of an underpainting. Although it may not seem considerably different to other whites on the surface, when you compare their drying times it really stands out. Its drying time is much less compared to the other whites available, making it an ideal match for underpainting. This white is opaque, has a neutral bias, is non-yellowing and has a matt, toothy finish. This colour has been discontinued by Winsor & Newton but you may come across whites from other manufacturers that share a similar name.

Mixing White

Sometimes known as Soft Mixing White, this white is useful for making glazes and tints. Neutral and transparent , this white has the softest consistency and has a lower tinting strength than Titanium White. It is comparatively quick drying and non-yellowing, and also contains no lead.

Iridescent White

Iridescent White contains a mica based pigment that has a pearlescent shimmer. This shimmer is particularly enhanced when used with transparent pigments. It is useful for creating pearlised effects and is semi-opaque with a neutral bias. This white has a medium drying rate, is non-yellowing and contains no lead.

Antique White

Antique white can be found in some oil ranges, including the Winsor & Newton Oilbar. This white has a warm colour bias and creates much more mellow mixes than when using a harsh white, such as Titanium. These whites are non-yellowing and contain no lead.

Flake White Hue

Flake White Hue has been specifically formulated to be a replacement for the lead-based Flake White No 1. It is completely Titanium Based and avoids lead based pigments alltogther. It has a lower tinting strength than Titanium white and is slightly stiffer in it's consistency. This hue has a similar drying time to its lead based equivalent and has a warm colour bias.

Discontinued Lead Based Whites

Flake White No.1

Flake White No. 1 is the traditional lead-based white. Flexible, durable and quick drying, this white was a favourite on many artists' palettes. Zinc is added to this white to improve its consistency, but overall it remains quite stiff. It is warmer than Titanium White and firmer in consistency.

Cremitz White

Cremnitz White is also made from lead, although no zinc is added into the mix which has an impact on its consistency. This white is notably more stringy and is preferred by artists who would rather use a pure lead colour. It is similar to pigments that would have been used by the Old Masters. This white is also fast drying.

Why not watch and read the notes from our Winsor & Newton Masterclass on Understanding the Difference Between Oil Whites to help select the white that is best for you.

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