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Bob Ross, an American landscape artist, said that “all you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” This encapsulates both the processes of creativity and how artworks can evolve throughout the experience. Many famous artists have drawn a comparison between their own passions, frustrations, highs, and lows of creating meaning and significance through painting, and the journey of existence. Oil painting is incredibly rewarding as it allows for experimentation, the blending of color, tints, shades, and texture. The downside of oil painting, however, is the long time that it takes to dry. Below are a few guidelines on how to navigate the long drying process and enjoy the journey of getting there.
Table of Contents
- 1 Oil Paint Drying Times: Why, How, and Embracing the Challenge
- 2 Drying Oil Paint: How to Make Oil Paint Dry Faster
- 2.1 Ensure That Your Space Is Light, Airy, and Ventilated
- 2.2 Try to Work in Warmer Conditions
- 2.3 Buy Brands That Use Linseed Oil
- 2.4 Use Quick-Drying Colors
- 2.5 Start Your First Layers With Acrylic Paint
- 2.6 Thinner Layers Dry Faster
- 2.7 Use a Chemical Agent
- 2.8 Prime Your Canvas Properly
- 2.9 Use an Alkyd Medium
- 2.10 More Tips and Tricks
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions
Oil Paint Drying Times: Why, How, and Embracing the Challenge
A lot of artists can become very frustrated with the drying time of oil paints in comparison to watercolors or acrylics. It is worth learning about the nature of oil paint as a medium in order to enjoy the rich, bold, brilliant vibrancy that is unique to oil painting. In getting to know more about oils, you can also learn ways to assist the oil paint drying times as a process or simply enjoy and appreciate the ride.
Why Do Oils Take So Long to Dry?
The first step is always to understand the medium that you have chosen to work with. Here, we will look at questions around why oil paints dry so slowly, as well as how they dry. This understanding will ensure that you get the most out of your oil paints and enjoyment from the creative process.
Properties of Oil Paint
Watercolor and acrylic paints are water-soluble and therefore have quick-drying properties. Oil paint, however, has an oil base mixed with a pigment to create different colors. Today, these are safe to use and non-toxic, whereas in the past these paints often included high levels of toxicity from the use of cobalt, lead, and cadmium.
Today’s pigments can be a natural mineral compound, organically sourced, or synthetically made. This is why the drying time differs so greatly in oil paints.
Water-based paints such as acrylics and watercolors dry as the water evaporates from the surface of the paper or canvas, which makes for a fairly quick drying process. Oil paint, on the other hand, is completely different and dries through a reaction with the outside air, namely oxygen. This chemical process causes the paint to set and dry through oxidation, which takes much longer to occur.
What Affects Oil Paint Drying Times?
This is a very difficult question to answer as it does depend on a few variables. A painting can take anywhere between a day, a week, a month, and possibly even years to become properly dry. Some influencing factors are simply out of your hands, but there are some small adjustments that can be made to manipulate oil paint drying times. Some of these factors can include:
- Wind: This assists with speeding up the drying process.
- Paint Thickness: The thicker the paint and the more layers there are, the longer it will take to dry.
- Weather: Cold conditions will slow down the process of drying oil paint, and conversely, a warmer climate is optimal for drying.
- Colors: Certain colors take longer than others to dry depending on the pigment used.
- The Chosen Surface: Surfaces with more absorbency such as canvas will encourage a faster drying time.
- Paint Brand: Certain brands use different oils in their manufacturing; these may be linseed, poppy, walnut, or safflower oil. The type of oil used will influence the drying time.
- Paint Age: If the paint is older or perhaps air has gotten into the tube, oxidation may have begun. Thus, this will dry faster compared to a new tube of paint.
So, How Long Does Oil Paint Take to Dry?
Making sure that a layer of paint is completely dry can prove to be difficult. Adding another paint layer or varnishing when the layer below has not dried will cause major issues down the line. Oil paints can be deceiving, as simply touching the paint does not mean that it is actually dry.
A useful trick to check whether your paint is dry is to use a shaving blade. Gently flatten the blade on the surface at a slight angle facing you. Very gently scrape an area of paint off the canvas. This will remove a little of the paint, but will allow you to see how it appears off the surface.
Should the paint come away in a powdery form, then you will know that the paint is indeed properly dry. If the scraping appears stringy or tacky, then the paint will need to dry further. Leave the paint for a week or so and then check the area again until it is properly dry, after which you can move on to adding another layer. You can do the same paint test using a craft knife or very lightly with a thumbnail.
Watching Paint Dry: What to Do While You Wait
Literally watching paint dry may seem very frustrating when you are in the creative zone. However, you can maintain momentum by doing other things and also use the time to take a step back and gain some perspective. Often, walking away from your painting allows you to reflect and grow your vision for the end result. A good suggestion is to work on two or three paintings at the same time, which will allow layers on each painting to dry and still keep you busy. Otherwise, here are a few other ideas to try whilst your painting dries:
- Start sketching and mapping out your next painting. You can also look through the internet or take photos for inspiration.
- Think about what you want to do with your finished paintings. Perhaps you want to gift them, sell them, or put them up in your home. There are wonderful platforms online for sharing your art and getting feedback as well.
- Reorganize your creative space by decluttering and cleaning all your materials. Make decorated tins or boxes for your brushes and paints.
- Use the time to experiment with other materials and art mediums. There are so many exciting things on the market, including mosaic kits, resin art, marbling, polymer clay, and even unicorn spit!
- Do an art or painting class to learn more, practice, and learn new tips. This can even be done online. You can never stop learning!
Drying Oil Paint: How to Make Oil Paint Dry Faster
Unfortunately, much of the drying time necessary for oil paints is out of your control. That said, there are a few ways that you can assist in speeding up this tedious process. Some of these simple tips will significantly reduce the time required before you can begin adding more layers.
Ensure That Your Space Is Light, Airy, and Ventilated
Natural sunlight is a necessary ingredient in how to make oil paint dry faster. You may be happy working outside with natural airflow, but if you work inside, be sure to keep a few windows open or use a fan, as oxygen and fresh air assist in the oxidation of the paint and speed up drying time.
Try to Work in Warmer Conditions
Warmer temperatures are much more likely to assist in drying oil paint over cold conditions. Just be aware that any extreme heat may cause the paint to crack or yellow. The best place to dry your painting is in a naturally well-lit room, preferably near a window where it is warm. You can also turn up your indoor heating slightly to speed up the drying time.
It is not advised to try things such as heaters, hairdryers, and irons, as these can damage your painting and may be dangerous.
Buy Brands That Use Linseed Oil
Different oils are used by different brands in the manufacturing of their paints. Linseed oil is the quickest to dry compared to poppy, walnut, and safflower oils. To ensure that your painting dries faster, rather stick to buying linseed-based paints.
Use Quick-Drying Colors
In order to create each individual color, different pigments are mixed with different amounts of oil. In doing so, colors will have a different chemical structure, which in turn has an effect on oxidation and oil paint drying times. A useful tip is to always do your base coats in fast-drying colors so that you can start layering more quickly.
Never use a fast-drying pigment over a slower drying one – this leaves the bottom layer still wet and as the quick-drying top layer dries, it will crack the paint.
Quicker drying colors are good to use for most parts of your painting, especially for thicker and more textured work. Use slower drying hues for smaller areas and in thin coats where possible. It is useful to know which colors fit into which group, as this will help you to plan your painting and avoid running into problems. Below is a list of quick and slow drying pigments:
- Cobalt blue
- Prussian blue
- Raw umber
- Burnt umber
- Chrome red and yellow
- Naples yellow
- Raw sienna
- Burnt sienna
- Colors that contain manganese
- Colors with lead, usually found in Cremnitz or Flake White
- Vandyke brown
- Red hues, for example, alizarin
- Cadmium yellow, red, and orange
- Zinc white
- Sap green
Start Your First Layers With Acrylic Paint
Since the water in acrylics evaporates, it dries far quicker than oils. Using acrylics does not directly affect how long your oil painting will take to dry. What it does do, however, is speed up the initial stages of getting you going. When you start your first thin layers with acrylics, this will dry in minutes, thus allowing you to layer further until you are ready to begin with oils. Starting immediately with oils can take days for each layer to dry.
This is a good way to start as a beginner, although later on, you will learn to appreciate the process of using oils from start to finish.
Acrylic paint does have a very different result and can look dark as it dries, whereas oils retain their brilliant pigment. With this technique, it only goes one way; you cannot do the converse and paint acrylic over oil. For that reason, you need to prime your canvas for acrylic paint and not oil paint.
Thinner Layers Dry Faster
Thin layers of paint dry faster as more of the surface is exposed to the air for oxidation to occur. The opposite is true of thicker layers, where the paint is not properly in contact with the air and so dries very slowly. You can also “thin” your oils by using them directly out of the tube (so that the paint is pure) and using a coarse paintbrush to apply it roughly to your canvas.
Another way of thinning your paint is to use an artists’ oil paint thinner, which is essentially turpentine. Be careful of how much solvent you use and only use it at the beginning of your layers, as it causes the paint to dry quickly and it may crack. Thinning oils such as linseed oil will also help to reduce any drying time.
One very important rule to remember is to always go thick over thin. All of the first layers should be thin with little oil, and then start to build thicker layers from there. Your thickest paint should be the very last that is applied. This will ensure proper drying and will prevent cracking.
Use a Chemical Agent
A chemical drying agent can be used to assist in drying oil paint by dropping a bit into your paint before using it. These agents do have an oily property and are therefore better used after your first few layers. Always wash your brushes properly after use, as these drying agents will cause them to become hard and brittle.
Prime Your Canvas Properly
The absorbency of your surface makes a huge difference in the drying time of your painting. If you are just starting out with painting, do not rush to the nearest craft store and buy an average, pre-primed canvas – these canvases are not particularly absorbent and your painting will take forever to dry. There are a few options when it comes to choosing the right canvas for an amazing oil painting.
Acrylic gesso is the best gesso to use for a canvas as it creates an absorbency that will help the applied oils dry much faster. More traditional gesso is mostly only used on rigid surfaces like wood as it does not have much flexibility.
Alkyd is a highly absorbent canvas primer, much more so than any oil primers, lead, or titanium. The alkyd primer may hinder your oils from spreading as smoothly and easily as usual, but the paint dries quickly as it is readily absorbed by the fabric of the primed canvas.
This surface is actually not absorbent, but oil paint on this primed material dries much faster than your average craft shop canvas or even a titanium-primed surface. This is particularly good for wet-on-wet oil painting techniques. Remember that lead is actually poisonous and is both difficult to come by and expensive. Lead primer can also lead to slight yellowing of the surface.
Use an Alkyd Medium
Alkyd as a medium is really just oil paint with a quick-drying oil base, which means that it only takes a day or so to dry. It also has many of the same sought-after properties that oils have, including workability, vibrancy, and creamy consistency. You can successfully use alkyds alone or mix them with your normal oil paints. Should you just use alkyds, a painting can be dry in a single day.
You can also experiment with using slow-drying alkyd colors combined with quick-drying oil pigments to assist with faster drying of the painting as a whole.
Alkyd mediums dry much like acrylics tend to do, coming out a little darker in color with an almost plastic-looking finish. Alkyd paint does not have as much give as oils, so it is advised not to use them on top of oil paint because this may cause the paint to crack.
More Tips and Tricks
- Stick to less layering rather than more, as this will allow the paint to have contact with the air for oxidation, and you will therefore spend less time waiting for layers to completely dry.
- Experiment with various brands on the market – different colors by different brands may have different drying times.
- Enjoy the entire process of waiting for the oil paint to dry. Oils have very special and unique qualities that no other paint has and these are well worth waiting for!
- Take time to prepare your canvas properly. A sloppy job can create an uneven surface where paint may collect and then take much longer to dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Dry Oil Paint With a Hairdryer?
This is definitely not a good idea when experimenting with how to make oil paint dry faster. Oil paint dries by oxidizing, as it does not have water in it to evaporate as acrylics do. A hairdryer will only dry out the canvas and could cause the paint to crack.
Why Is My Oil Painting Not Drying?
One reason for tacky paint is that there are too many layers that have not dried properly in-between applying more paint. The thickness of the paint is also a major cause, as this stops the air from getting to the paint.
Does Oil Paint Dry Quickly or Slowly?
How long does oil paint take to dry? Well, oil paints dry the slowest in comparison to water-based paints, which can be frustrating. However, on the positive side, you have time to blend and manipulate the paint, which is why this is the chosen medium for many artists.