Understanding the 3 Oil Painting rules

Understanding the 3 Oil Painting Rules
When using oil paint, a composition is usually built up using different layers of colour. For example, if you are painting a portrait, you may start with an area of background colour, on top of this you may sketch out the proportions of the portrait with another colour, and on top of that you may add further colours for the detail. The way each of these layers of colour interacts with each other is important and will affect how your finished work looks.

If you want to make the most of your painting, there are three tried and tested rules that will serve you well:

Fat Over Lean
Each successive layer needs to be more flexible than the one underneath. This can be done by adding more medium to each successive layer, which makes each new layer more flexible than the previous one and stops the painting from cracking. Think of the rule as ‘Flexible over Non-Flexible.’
Winsor & Newton has a range of mediums to help create this flexibility within layers. One of the most commonly used mediums is Liquin Original and by using it, there is no need to keep on adding oil to your colour.

Thick Over Thin
When painting with heavy colour, it is best to apply thick layers over thin layers, this is because the thin layers dry quicker. For example if you like the impasto style of the Impressionists with their thick bold brush strokes then it is important to remember that these thick layers need to be upper most – thin layers on top of impasto layers are likely to crack.

Slow Drying Over Fast Drying
It is best to use fast drying colours continuously as under layers. If a fast drying layer is applied on top of a slow drying layer then your painting may crack. This is because the fast drying layers will have dried on top of layers that are still in the process of drying out, and as the slow drying layers dry, they will pull and twist those (fast drying) layers above causing them to crack.

COMMENTS ON Understanding the 3 Oil Painting rules

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  • Dawn Kopa
    1441 DAYS AGO

    Dawn Kopa

    The Fat/Lean rule says using Liquin Orig. would increase flexibility of a layer & to use in successive layers. But Liquin also increases drying time, which means it should be used in bottom layers? Could somebody please help explain to a newby. Thx!

  • Rossana Kelton
    987 DAYS AGO

    Rossana Kelton

    I use Liquin because I work in layers and it is fast drying. As you work in layers, you have to wait between layers before you apply the next layer of paint. Liquin reduces the time it takes to apply oil to the next layer. That is the only reason I use it

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