Oil Paint Q&A

Oil painting is seemingly feared by some artists and seen as a kind of alchemical approach to painting, where only the true sage-like artists have access to it. This is false. Let’s look at it in a bit more detail and answer some common questions…

Why use oil paint?– The main difference between oil and other painting mediums is drying time. Oil dries slowly, giving the artist plenty of time to mix colours. More time equals more control over your mixes. Oil is naturally glossy, so colours are more vibrant and vivid, even when dry. Whereas watercolour and acrylic look duller when dry.

Is oil painting complicated?– No. It’s the most forgiving medium of all, as you have lots of time to make corrections. I think one of the reasons that people have come to think of oil as complex comes from a time when the materials and mediums were scarcer.

Once upon a time artists had to source their own raw materials, go through the laborious process of grinding them down and turning this into a paste that would be used as paint.

Also, it’s not a water-based medium, so some people immediately shy away from it. The difference with oil is you substitute water for an oil medium, which thins the oil and makes it more fluid. Oil painting is not more complex than other painting techniques, it’s just that the possibilities of the medium are vast.

Is oil paint toxic?– In some regards it can be considered unsafe if you’re not using any common sense. Oil paint consists of oil and pigment combined. As long as it’s not swallowed, it is safe.

Again, the reputation for its toxicity comes predominantly from a time when some of the components of oil paint included lead, mercury, and sulphur! Safety issues stem mainly from the solvents used. However, the worst offender, turpentine, is not used in class.

Instead, I use a thinner called Zest-It, which is environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and smells of citrus fruit. It is a great alternative to ‘turps’, and is used to thin paint, and to clean brushes at the end of the session.

What materials do I need?– All I ask is that you bring in an old rag to clean/wipe your brushes whilst painting. This is more of a practical issue than an absolute necessity. When you’re in the midst of a painting, it is beneficial to have a rag at hand to wipe off any excess paint. Otherwise you have to find tissue or kitchen towel which takes you out of the flow of painting and becomes too much of a distraction.

All other materials are provided, which include easels, boards, brushes, palettes, brush-holder tubs, paints, mediums, thinners, and paper.

I learnt a tremendous amount about the materials, composition and painting generally over the duration of the course. I found the exercise in copying a famous artist’s painting so revealing. Overall the course was a lot of fun.


Art is a challenge, a pleasure and a struggle. It is also rewarding and a creative escape so a wonderful antidote to stress.

Since joining Peter’s Painting for Pleasure group in 2015 I have experienced all of the above. But above all, my knowledge and skills in pursuit of progress have been nurtured, nudged, directed and guided by the most skilful approach and light touch of Peters tutorledge. He invites you to join in his passion and delight of colour and mark making whilst exploring art through the ages, both classical and contemporary styles, but above all through the sheer pleasure of having a go!

The atmosphere Peter creates is supportive and inclusive of all abilities. He knows how to guide, lead, and deliver what can be a challenging subject and is able to do this with skill, humour, experience and passion. All the ingredients, in my opinion, of a much valued teacher