Do You Have To Use Linseed Oil When Oil Painting

Oil painting has been one of the most popular ways to paint for many artists for hundreds of years and they have also been using linseed oil alongside the oil paint itself for a number of reasons.

What Is Linseed Oil 

Linseed oil is a substance that is made from the seeds of the flax plant and that is why it is sometimes called flax oil.  The seeds need to be ripe and then dried before the oil can be extracted. It is an incredibly useful natural oil that is used in all sorts of situations and it even comes in an edible form.

Linseed oil in painting was originally used as a binder when painters were creating their own paints; it was used so that other substances would be held together and be able to be used for painting. It was then later discovered that artists didn’t need to use it as a binder at all, but it could be used for other beneficial reasons. The main reason typically is that it helps with managing the time it takes for your paint to dry effectively.  It helps for extending the length of time it takes for the paint to dry.

Do You Have To Use Linseed Oil When Oil Painting?

No, you don’t have to use linseed oil when painting with oils. In fact, you don’t have to use any oil painting mediums. But doing so, will help for many reasons, in use and in outcome. Here are some reasons for and against…

Why Do Artists Use Linseed Oil?

Linseed oil has many useful applications when painting with oils. As previously mentioned, it can be used to extend the drying time and this is helpful when painting in multiple layers. Painting in layers can really help define the art: such as help with texture, help with depth, help with the transition of colours. Having more control and more time for layers to dry can really help an artist when they paint. When the drying time is too quick, it can lead to the artist needing to rush the painting process, ultimately leading to a finished piece that isn’t as good as it could have been, and prone to cracking in the future.

Linseed oil is also great for mixing with pigment when creating your own oil paints. Good oil paint is not cheap so being able to create your own can be a more cost-effective way of being able to paint with oils. It is also very useful as it gives the artist significantly more control over the consistency and the colour of the paint. Mixing coloured pigment with the linseed oil slowly in small amounts will help with precisely getting the colour you are looking for. If the colour is too light add more pigment and if the colour is too dark add more linseed oil. With how unexpectedly easy this process has become more and more people are choosing to learn to make their own oil paint. 

Linseed oil can be combined with the use of pigment sticks or with paint pigment itself. Pigment sticks have also in recent years become more and more popular.

People will commonly use natural oils when painting if they want to avoid using more toxic solvents. All though it is important to note that just because solvents are more toxic doesn’t mean they have to be avoided completely they just need to be more careful when using them.

What Are The Reasons To NOT Use Linseed Oil When Painting With Oils?

Linseed oil while having many advantages for its use also has its disadvantages that need to be taken into consideration when deciding on what oils to use. 

It can be quite common for paintings that have been painted with the use of linseed oil to yellow over time and even become darker. There are ways to help stop this yellowing but it might not be entirely feasible for them to be able to use these methods.

The slow drying time for many can actually be a disadvantage. For some the longer that the painting takes to dry before they can paint the next layer hinders their ability to paint as they just want to keep that artistic flow going; having to stop and wait for days at a time just isn’t conducive for them to be able to create great art. 

What Are The Alternatives?

Many people when painting with oils choose not to use linseed oil and use an alternative. Some people even use cooking oil and other oils that you can find in supermarkets and grocery stores, however, this is not recommended.

Linseed oil is one of the most popular oil painting mediums, and its good points outweigh the bad. However, if you are unable to use it for whatever reason, here are some of the common alternatives are:

Poppyseed Oil

Poppyseed oil is quite commonly used over linseed oil as it is significantly less likely to yellow over time due to it being more transparent. It also typically takes even longer to dry than linseed and on average takes up to about a week to dry. This is incredibly handy when painting using the wet-on-wet technique or alla prima as it is traditionally known.  This is the technique of applying a new oil paint layer onto an existing layer of oil paint that isn’t dry yet. 

Walnut Oil

Another alternative is walnut oil. This oil was used long before linseed oil was and it too is less likely to yellow over time than linseed oil. Both walnut oil and linseed oil have a similar drying time, but walnut oil is good when painting some of the initial layers of a painting because when it is dry the paint film is strong. It is also great when trying to paint specific textures as it has a rich almost silk like look to it. Many master painters during the baroque era used walnut oil to help when painting expensive garments and clothing. 

Safflower Oil

This oil is also less likely to yellow over time than linseed oil. It is great for pale and lighter colours due to being glossier and more transparent. Safflower oil can also make the paint much smoother and easier to paint with. Just like walnut oil, safflower oil is great for working with the wet-on-wet technique due to its drying time. Safflower oil can lower the likelihood that the paint film wrinkles, this is typically because once the paint has cured it gains less weight.