Brush techniques for oil painting

Written by darla ferrara
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Brush techniques for oil painting
A brush technique in oil painting often combines paint consistency with stroke to create a distinctive effect. (paint brush image by Horticulture from

The history of oil painting goes back as far as the fifteenth century and Flemish art. Over the years, oil painting has become refined and advanced. Masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Rembrandt have expanded the art to forge museum pieces like Van Gogh's "Self Portrait," and Reynolds's "The Adonis of Titian." Using a brush technique in oil painting often combines paint consistency with stroke to create a distinctive effect.


Scumbling involves applying a thin layer of opaque paint over a darker region. This method differs from glazing; it involves overlaying light colour onto dark. Artist Jess Bates suggests the best pigment for the scumbling layer is a claylike product, although any pigment will work. Clay-like pigment binds well and tends to be brittle. The artist drags or scrubs the lighter colour over the dark space to create a reflective coat. The lighter the scumbling colour, the more the light will reflect. Fat layering is a variation of this technique. Fat layers consist of scumbling with each successive colour containing higher oil content. Lean paint goes on the bottom and heavier paint, in lighter shades, at the top. Fat layering protects the piece from the paint cracking associated with oils.


Impasto is an Italian word the means dough or paste. Oil paint, in its original form, is stiff, much like toothpaste. When painting in oil, you thin the paint with turpentine or linseed oil. For the impasto method, the paint application is undiluted. This creates a raised texture on the canvas. Add paint from the tube to your palette. Load a brush or knife with the thick substance, and apply it onto the picture in order to create texture. The brush technique involves dabbing the paint to raise the texture. The classic masters of oil, Renoir and Van Gogh, made this approach popular. It is one prevalent style noted in Van Gogh's "Twelve Sunflowers."

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a technique used to implement highlights. Paint is loaded to a brush free of any solvent or oil. After loading your brush, tap it onto a paper towel or cloth to remove excess paint. Application should be quick and delicate. Instead of adding a thick section of colour, dry brushing creates individuals strokes with every application. What would have been a solid line now breaks up into several thin marks. Highlighting adds distinction and depth to a piece. It creates light in shadowed regions to develop perspective. Dry brushing is a subtle detail and common form used to create contour and texture in portrait art.

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