Impasto oil painting means to paint with thick paint. Impasto paint will hold the imprint of your brush or palette knife. For oil painters there are a few ways you could add bulk to your paint. This blog post presents some ideas. If you have any others, please let us know by commenting below.
1. Laying on the oil paint in large quantities
The obvious way to thicken your paint is simply to apply lots of it! However it’s also the most costly approach. But it is also the slowest drying. Oil paint hardens as it reacts with air, so if you’ve laid down a thick brush-stroke, the outer layer will harden (and shrink as it does so) while what’s underneath stays wet. This could cause cracking or wrinkling on the surface as the paint dries. The thicker you lay it on, the more unpredictable the end result.
It will help to remove some of the oil content of your paint. My favoured way of doing this is to squeeze your paints into blobs on to a piece of card a day or 2 before you’re due to paint. The oil will be drawn out of the paint and turn to a thick, putty-like consistency that is perfect for impasto painting. The painter Peter Clossick describes ‘Tonking’ his paint – blotting the paint with newspaper to get the oil out of the paint – in this blog post here.
2. Adding dry mediums
Painters have been known to add bulk to their oil paint by mixing in dry matter such as sand or marble dust into their paint. The paint takes on a different texture when this is done, losing much of its satin sheen. How fine the dust is will affect how the paint looks. Coarser grit (such as this sand) will show in the paint and make it look crumbly. Fine dust such as marble dust can give paint added elasticity. It will also allow you to get ‘stringy’ effects with the paint when you spread it across your substrate with a palette knife. Derivan Dry Mediums are worth exploring to see what interesting textures can be achieved with your impasto oil paint mixes. This post by Julie Caves shows her findings when she gave them a try with both oil and acrylic.
3. Adding impasto painting mediums
There are also a number of specially blended mediums intended for impasto effects in oil paint. Beeswax pastes are a traditional and popular choice. It thickens the paint and increases its translucency. The paint tends to look slightly more matte when you use it, and a little crumbly. Beeswax pastes have the added advantage of also having a lovely scent.
If you need something that will dry more quickly, then one of the Alkyd Impasto mediums will serve you well. Oleopasto is a favourite, and will level the brush marks of thick oil paint, while Liquin Impasto lets your brush marks show. There are also some beautiful impasto mediums to explore by Michael Harding, Lukas, Wallace Seymour, Gamblin and others – click here to have a browse.