Building Permanent Paintings

Oil painting is enduring. The history of oil painting has shown us that when established techniques and guidelines are followed, oil paintings can endure for centuries.

Below are some basic tips for creating a permanent painting:

  • Paint on panel, rather than stretched canvas. Once paint layers are dry, they do not want to move. Painting on panels means less movement and a more permanent painting.
  • Keep your painting simple. Stick to one media per painting. Oil paintings should be made with quality oil painting materials.
  • Multiple thin layers are better than fewer thicker layers. This goes for applying ground, varnish and the paint layers themselves.
  • Keep the “Fat Over Lean” principle in mind while building the painting structure. Manage the ratio of solvents and painting mediums that are included in paint layers so they increasingly become more flexible, and less likely to crack over time. For additional information, please refer to our Fat Over Lean Guide.
  • Prepare your painting support with a high quality ground. Painting grounds should have a minimal level of absorbency and an adequate amount of tooth to ensure proper adhesion of paint layers. Gamblin Oil Painting Ground makes a strong, bright foundation for oil colors.
  • When painting on fabric supports, seal the fabric with PVA Size, rather than Rabbit Skin Glue. Rabbit Skin Glue is considered “hygroscopic,” which means it absorbs humidity out of the air, causing the fabric to swell and contract.  This causes unwanted movement of the painting support. PVA Size does not absorb moisture, making fabric supports more stable.
  • Use the “oiling out” technique, rather than retouch varnish within the painting structure. “Oiling out” effectively evens out the surface quality and saturates colors while bonding permanently to paint layers. For additional information on “oiling out” please visit our Studio Notes Newsletter on Controlling Surface Quality.
  • Use an easily removable final picture varnish. Varnishes that can be removed with mild solvents will pose less risk to damaging paint layers underneath. Gamblin Gamvar Picture Varnish goes on water-clear, stays water-clear and can be easily and safely removed with Gamsol. Gamvar is virtually odorless and ready to apply.
  • Use only those oil colors labeled with ASTM Lightfastness ratings of I & II.  This will ensure that you colors do not change over time. All Gamblin colors are rated with an ASTM Lightfastness rating of I (Excellent), with a few exceptions, which are rated as II (Very Good).  The only color in our line that receives a rating as III (Fair) is Alizarin Crimson, which is why we make Alizarin Permanent, which has an Excellent Lightfastness rating.
  • Extend oil colors with a mixture of solvent and binder, rather than solvent alone.  Thinning with only solvent will make oil colors too “lean” which may prevent proper adhesion and permanence of paint layers. For creating thin washes of color, we recommend Galkyd Slow Dry or a 50/50 mixture of Galkyd and Gamsol.

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