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Hints, Tips & Techniques for Oil - Colours

Click on the headings below to discover the details about using oil colour.

Colour ranges and their combinations
Permanence
Impasto
Basic Palettes
Colour mixing
Additional colours for particular techniques (Landscape painting, Portrait painting, Secondary colours, Glazing colours, Abstract painting, Scumbling, High key colour, Low key colour)

Colour ranges and their combinations

From the 16th - 18th centuries oil colour totally dominated the world of painting. In the 19th century water colours became increasingly popular and in the latter half of the 20th century acrylics have gained a significant following. However, oil colour maintains its standing as the most professional of mediums. Its rich, voluptuous nature and smell remain unique.

There are five types of oil colours:

• Traditional Oil Colour
Traditional oil colour is generally available in two qualities. Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour provides the widest range of colours, the highest pigment strength and the best clarity of colour.

The greatest variety of techniques is possible when using artists’ quality. Winton Oil Colour is a smaller range, suitable for those artists who require good quality colour at an affordable price. It is also available in 200ml tubes which are particularly popular with artists painting on a large scale.

Winsor & Newton Oil Colour

• Fast Drying Oil Colour
Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour allows techniques from impasto to glazing to be achieved in considerably less time than traditional oils. Griffin colours also have a greater transparency than other oil colours, and when painting in layers, can dry with a more even sheen.

• Water Mixable Oil Colour
Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour is a new range of oil colours which can be mixed with water instead of solvents, yet it provides all the handling properties of of conventional oil colour. Artisan is popular in art schools and studios and with all painters who do not like the smell of turpentine or wish to cut down or eliminate the use of solvents. As a result of avoiding solvents, painting with Artisan is less hazardous. After painting, brushes and palettes can be cleaned using only soap and water.

Water Mixable Oil Colour

• Oil Colour in Stick Form
Artists’ Oilbar is oil colour in stick form. The soft, creamy bar facilitates drawing directly with wet oil colour. Oilbar has the handling properties of a conventional oil colour and not a crayon or oil pastel. The use of artists’ pigments in Oilbar also ensures considerably improved permanence to light. Oilbar is also widely used by hobbyists for stencilling.

Painterly palette• Combining different oil colours
All of the above oil colour ranges can be freely intermixed. There are however three exceptions, where care should be taken; i) thin alkyd films should be avoided over thick oil ones, ii) thick Oilbar films under oil films are not recommended, iii) once water is added to Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colours, conventional oil colours should not be used.

Permanence
Most artists like to be sure that their colours are permanent. Fortunately, the 20th century has seen enormous improvements in the lightfastness of colours. All Winsor & Newton colours rated AA or A are recommended as permanent for artists’ use.

There are very few colours which do not reach this standard and are provided only because of the lack of permanent pigments in certain colour areas. Permanence ratings are on the product labels and our colour charts. For information on the origin, composition & permanence of pigments look out for our booklet, Notes on the Composition and Permanence of Artists’ Colours.

Drying rates of colours
Different drying rates occur in oil colour because each pigment reacts differently when mixed with oil. Winsor & Newton colours are formulated individually to optimise the overall drying rates, helping artists to avoid the problems of slow drying underlayers. However, a guide to the likely variations between colours when painting is useful for practical purposes and is given here:

The relative span of drying times varies with product range;

Artists’ Oil Colour  touch dry in 2 - 12 days
Winton Oil Colour  touch dry in 2 - 12 days.
Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour  touch dry in 2 - 12 days.
Artists’ Oilbar touch dry in 2 - 7 days.
Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour  touch dry in 18 - 24 hours.

Any differences in the drying of different colours in the Griffin range are insignificant over this short period of time.

FAST DRYING COLOURS (around two days)
Aureolin, Permanent Mauve (manganese), Cobalt Blues, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna, Umbers, Flake, Foundation & Cremnitz White.

MEDIUM DRYING COLOURS (around five days)
Cadmiums, Permanent Alizarin Crimson,Cobalt Violets & Greens, Winsor Blues & Greens (phthalocyanines), Ultramarine Blues, Permanent Sap Green, Ochres, Burnt Sienna, Mars colours, Lamp Black, Ivory Black, Titanium White, Zinc White.

SLOW DRYING CLOURS (more than five days)
Winsor Yellows & Orange (arylamides), Quinacridones, Alizarin Crimson.

Painting thickly in oil colour (Impasto)
Very thick layers of oil colour may show wrinkling as the surface dries. This can be avoided by building up texture in thinner layers, allowing each layer to dry first. Using Oleopasto will also help by thickening the colour as well as speeding the drying time.

The important thing to avoid is the use of thinner layers of colour on top of thicker underlayers. This would be against the ‘thick over thin’ rule. The underlayer of impasto will shrink as it dries throughout and could cause a thin film on top to crack.

Impasto Impasto oil effectBasic palettes
Your initial palette should provide a wide colour spectrum and should have a good balance between transparent and opaque colours and between strong tinting and weaker tinting colours. Permanent colours are always desirable and the main palette should ideally be low in price. The common practice is to maintain a broad palette of about twelve colours and add to it for specific requirements.

Basic Palette Angle 01

• Artists Oil Colour
Winsor Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Cadmium Red, Permanent Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue (green shade), Winsor Green, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White.

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

• Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour
Cadmium Lemon, London Yellow, Cadmium Red Medium, Permanent Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White.

• Artists’ OilBar
Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Red, Permanent Magenta, Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Manganese Blue Hue, Winsor Green, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White.

• Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Medium, Permanent
Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue (Red Shade), Phthalo Green (Blue Shade), Raw Umber,  Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White.

Colour mixing - the six colour systemColour mixing wheel
Restricted palettes are used by both beginners and serious painters to develop their understanding and use of colour. The six colour system uses two reds, two yellows and two blues as a ‘primary’ palette.  This provides both a blue shade red and a yellow shade red for example, which will ensure clean violets and clean oranges from your palette.

The additional colours recommended in the basic palettes introduce a wider range of tones and greater variation in opacity and tinting strength. See below for colour mixing palettes.

• Artists Oil Colour
Winsor Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Cadmium Red, Permanent Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Green, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White.

• Winton Oil Colour
Cadmium Lemon Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue.

• Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour
Cadmium Lemon, London Yellow, Cadmium Red Medium, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue.

• Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue (Red Shade).

• Artists’ OilBar
Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Red, Permanent Magenta, French Ultramarine, Manganese Blue Hue.


Additional colours for particular techniques
When choosing new colours, an excellent investment is a hand painted colour chart of the range. For a small price, you’ll be able to see all the colours in graded washes, helping you to make the right choice before buying new tubes. Colours named are from Artists’ Oil Colour, although many are also available from other ranges.  A full list of chemical compositions for comparison is available in our booklet, Notes on Composition & Permanence of Artists’ Colours.

Landscape painting
New or different colours can really broaden your painting vocabulary. For landscapes, yellows, blues, greens and earth colours are always useful.

Landscape Colours
Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blues, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Ultramarine (Green Shade), Indanthrene Blue, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Turquoise, Cobalt Greens, Terre Verte, Oxide of Chromium, Viridian, Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), Prussian Green, Permanent Sap Green, Olive Green, Raw Sienna, Light Red, Indian Red, all ochres and red earths, Davy’s Gray, Lamp Black, Ivory Black, Zinc White.

Portrait painting
Portraiture needs that spark of life and character; clean, crisp colour mixtures and tones will achieve these. Pinks, violets and earth colours will make some of the subtle tones required for portraits.     

Useful Portrait Colours
Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow, Flesh Tint, Cadmium Scarlet, Vermilion Hue, Rose Doré, Rose Madder Genuine, Rose Madder Deep, Cobalt Violet, Cerulean Blue, Jaune Brillant, Naples Yellow Light, Naples Yellow, Indian Red, Mars Violet Deep, Davy’s Gray, Charcoal Grey, Ivory Black, Lamp Black, Flake White No.1 or No. 2, Underpainting White.

Secondary colours
In addition to the bright secondary colours you will achieve from your basic palette, single pigment ‘secondaries’ are important, eg. Winsor Green can make brighter mixes than if you use a green mixed from a blue and yellow yourself.

Useful Secondary Colours
Winsor Orange, Cobalt Violets, Permanent Mauve, Winsor Violet, Ultramarine Violet, Permanent Magenta, Purple Madder Alizarin, Cobalt Turquoise & Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Viridian, Winsor Greens.

Glazing colours
Transparent colours are used as thin tinting films. An overall glaze at the end of a picture unifies the image. Glazing can also be used throughout the painting to produce delicate colour effects and depth to the painting. When a thin film of colour is required, thin the colour with Liquin and solvent to prevent the glaze from being underbound.     

Useful Glazing colours
Transparent Yellow, Aureolin, Indian Yellow, Rose Dore, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Blue Deep, Prussian Blue, Terre Verte, Raw Sienna, Davy’s Gray, Zinc White. 


Abstract painting
Abstract colour areas benefit from using opaque colours. They give flat, smooth finishes, covering underlayers and not showing brushmarks.

Useful Abstract Colours
Lemon Yellow Hue, Chrome Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellows and Reds, Vermilion Hue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Chrome Green Deep Hue, Yellow Ochre Pale, Mars colours, Light Red, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Mars Black, All tints made with white.

Scumbling
Scumbling also uses the opaque colours, very slightly diluted and scrubbed on briskly to achieve a scumbled glaze.

Useful Scumbling Colours
Lemon Yellow Hue, Chrome Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellows and Reds, Vermilion Hue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Chrome Green Deep Hue, Yellow Ochre Pale, Mars colours, Light Red, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Mars Black, All tints made with white.


High key (bright) colour
These are generally the colours with high tinting strength. High key paintings are often made ‘alla prima’, using colour straight from the tube.

Useful High Key Colours
Cadmium Yellows and Reds, Winsor colours, Chrome Yellow Hue, Magenta, Permanent Magenta, Prussian Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Titanium White.


Low key (subdued) colours
These can be tints (colour plus white) or shades (colour plus black) but can also include earths and other naturally low - tinting strength colours.

Useful Low Key Colours
Flesh Tint, Rose Doré, Rose Madder Genuine, Rose Madder Deep, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Greens, Terre Verte, Oxide of Chromium, Jaune Brillant, Naples Yellows, Ochres, Siennas, Indian Red, Mars Violet, Deep, Umbers, Davy’s Gray, Blacks.