Virtual Art Academy

Using Thick Oil Paint to Enhance Light Areas

Snow Falls in Pianello
Snow Falls in Pianello

Cat. No. 1126 Snow Falls in Pianello – 23cm x 30.5cm – Oil on Board

When using oils, paint your darks using thin oil paint and your lights using thick oil paint (referred to as “impasto”). This enhances the quality of light in your paintings.

In general you will put the darker background using thin oil paint layers down first, and then in later stages of painting add the lighter foreground areas with thick oil paint.

By painting the darks with thin oil paint you get three benefits:

  • You prevent light bouncing off ridges of paint and destroying the dark effect when the painting is viewed.
  • It prevents the viewer’s attention getting attracted to passages of the painting that you may want to keep in the background.
  • You can layer transparent strokes of different hues on top of each other and achieve a natural looking warm cool contrast. The transparency effect gives the impression of a luminous, transparent shadow.

    By painting the lights with thick oil paint you:

    • enhance the light effect by letting light bounce off the ridges of the thick oil paint brushstrokes when the painting is viewed.
    • may attract the viewer to more interesting light sections of your painting.

    To learn more about using thick oil paint and other brushwork techniques

    To learn more about how you can use thick oil paint and brushwork to enhance the quality of your painting, see the Brushwork lessons in our year-two online painting class. Workshop F of the Virtual Art Academy Apprentice Program.

    Note: You can also use acrylic paints for this technique if you add a gel medium to thicken the paint, so that it retains your brushstrokes. 

    Thank You

    Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, and want to learn more about my Visual Music & Poetry® model, take a look at my online painting classes.

    Happy painting!

    Barry John Raybould
    Virtual Art Academy

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