Oil painting rules

Oil painting rules

Are there any rules for oil painting? This thought-provoking question puzzles me as a contemporary artist. Reflecting on the origins of oil painting in art history, I am reminded of the Dutch painter Jan van Eyck, who is often credited with popularising this technique. However, it is believed that oil paints were already known and used in painting long before his time. Jan van Eyck, along with his brother Hubert, developed a groundbreaking recipe for paints using linseed oil and pigment, eliminating the need for water or protein.

The advent of oil painting revolutionised the artistic landscape, offering artists a myriad of possibilities compared to the traditional tempera technique.


Rules for oil painting

Naturally, this new approach required adherence to specific rules for preparing the canvas and paints. Linseed oil, acting as a novel binder, effectively fused the color pigments and bestowed a unique quality upon the paint. The production of paint and the preparation of the canvas were subject to certain guidelines. Consequently, canvas gradually replaced wooden boards as the preferred surface for painting. This shift allowed artists to work in layers, without any significant limitations. The painting process itself could span years, resulting in the creation of timeless masterpieces that we still admire today.


Rules of oil painting in the studio of the contemporary artist

Contemporary artists now enjoy a level of freedom and liberty that was unimaginable a century ago. This newfound freedom is the outcome of various social, political, and technological advancements. Consequently, artists today have an extensive array of artistic materials at their disposal, allowing them to explore and express their creativity through any technique they choose. As a result, the works of these free artists are created using a multitude of techniques, unbound by any rules or restrictions. If Jan van Eyck were able to witness the creation of a contemporary artwork, he would undoubtedly be astonished by the vast possibilities and innovative approaches employed. He would certainly be surprised also at the speed at which contemporary artists paint pictures. These days, there is no time to paint a picture for months, or years. And it probably took that long to create the masterpieces of painting that we now admire in museums. They were created at a time when the rules of oil painting were the rule in art schools and artists’ studios.