Oil Paints – Hit or Myth? – A News at TIM – Mid Week Musings Special!

Welcome to a Mid Week Musings Special!

The Pros and Pros of Oil Paints

The May Day Bank Holiday provided some glorious sunshine which resulted in me sitting in the garden rather than modelling.  Instead I sat warmly in the shade (I’m fair-skinned what can I say?) watching a series of videos on YouTube aimed at painting basics.  Before I go further let me be clear on something from the start.  I am not, and never will be an expert modeller or painter.  I can however improve particularly as I am essentially self-taught.  I mention this because even watching videos on the basics I still find myself learning things or at the very least reminding myself of things I no longer do but arguably ought to.

So, why is this relevant to the title of this post? Well, two-thirds of the way through the list of tutorials the narrator started talking about “Wet Blending and Layering” techniques which it turns out I am familiar with but not by those names (in truth I didn’t even know there were names for these things).  The principles behind these techniques if I understood correctly is to achieve an end result which provides a smooth transition from one colour to another as particularly relevant to shading and highlighting.  The narrator went on to say that these techniques were in his opinion amongst the hardest to learn due to the fact that acrylic paints simply dry too quickly.  He went on to explain how to achieve Wet Blending but to be honest I had already switched off a little having decided this wasn’t for me right now.  Why?  Because I’m happy to use my oil paints to achieve these results.

There are in my opinion a lot of myths surrounding the use of oil paints for modelling and so I thought I would produce an article to expel some of them and explain a little of what I do and why.  I also thought if there are people who struggle with Wet Blending because it’s as difficult as the guy said then perhaps trying oils as an alternative might work.  So, in no particular order …

Myth No: 1 – Oil Paints are Expensive

Wrong!  A Winsor & Newton 37ml tube in the Winton Oil Colour range will set you back about £2.75.  In contrast a 17ml pot of Vallejo Game Color will cost about £2.45.  Ah I hear you say, £2.75 is more expensive than £2.45 and you would be right but for one little thing.  Except for three colours, my oil paints have over two-thirds left in every tube and are as good as the day they were bought which was over 30 years ago!  Every model which appears in my Gallery, and that’s not everything I have ever done by any means, was either fully or mostly painted using these paints.

All in all I have 16 tubes of paint.  Two of these, Paynes Grey and Sap Green I never use.  The best Grey’s and Green’s are mixed, so really it’s 14 tubes.  From these 14 colours I can pretty much mix any colour I want using my colour wheel and because they are oils they stay mixed without drying out for as long as I need.  No need for a wet pallet.

The only three colours I have ever replaced, just once in each case was Burnt Umber, Titanium White and Ivory Black.  If I only painted figures I would not have needed to replace them but these colours, particularly the Burnt Umber, I have used a lot for base work.

Myth No: 2 – Oil Paints Only Produce a Gloss Finish

Wrong!  There are mediums wich can be added to produce a matt finish but the easiest option by far is to put out a small amount of paint onto a piece of paper and let the paper absorb some of the oil.  It is the oil that provides the sheen so once reduced it becomes more matt.  Matt varnish at the end of the painting process will also dull down any sheen.  Adding a little bit of white spirit or thinners keeps the oil paint extremely pliable if you remove a lot of the oil.

Myth No: 3 – Oil Paints Take A Long Time To Dry

Wrong!  OK, they can take longer but there are things you can do to speed the process up.  The first thing is not to put too much paint on in the first place.  It is easy to be heavy-handed with oils but the paint goes a long, long way and is best applied in thin coats in much the same way as acrylics.

The other thing you can do, and this is how I tend to paint, is to use the acrylics, particularly for the larger paint areas as an undercoat.  In this way the acrylic will absorb the oil and thus speed up the drying time.  Anything I paint these days only has to be left over night at the longest and to be fair that would probably apply too if you were batch painting so what’s the big deal?

The figure in the images below (apologies, not the best of photo, figure looks darker than it appears in the flesh!) was painted using a mixture of oil paints and acrylics which has become my preferred technique for 28mm and took a couple of hours in one sitting (yeah, yeah , yeah if I’d taken my time it would have looked better!).  It hasn’t had matt varnish applied.  I chose this figure and its colour scheme deliberately to show that you can paint a very light colour (white) up against a strong colour (blue) without merging the colours.  I’ll break the figure down in terms of how it was painted later in this article.


Myth No: 4 – Oil Paints Aren’t Very pliable

Wrong!  Oil paint goes where you put it.  It can be used for dry brushing, diluted to make effective washes for those very fine areas of detail but above all, and this brings me to where the idea for this article started, it can be easily blended!

The whole point of oils in modelling is that it can be blended easily.  Put two colours next to one another and they wont run into each other.  Take a brush and run it between the two colours and before you know it you will have created a smooth transition from one colour to another.  Yes I am over simplifying it, it’s a techniques like everything else of course and therefore needs practice but get it wrong and you just wipe the oil off and start again.  There is no danger of the paint drying out so you can add dark or light colours a little at a time to achieve the shade or highlight you are looking for.

The end of the Myths?  That’s something you will need to decide.

Meanwhile a closer look at the little chap above.  A 28mm Artizan Alamo figure, William Travis.

When I started to paint 28mm scale figures I soon leant that there was a need to adjust the way I painted, mainly due to some of the very fine detail.  Washes in particular became important.  I also started to try out acrylic paints which until then I had never used.  The idea of not using oil paints didn’t sit well with me as I had been using them for years so I started painting using both mediums.  The figure below is such an example.

After initially priming the figure with white primer the first task was to paint the face.  This was done entirely using acrylics.  The jacket and the trousers were initially painted using blue and white acrylics respectively.  The jacket was then painted with a blue/black oil paint mix and a dry brush was used to remove excess oil paint to ensure a thin layer of paint only remained.  Black was then blended into make the shadows and a little white to creat the highlights.

The trousers were given a very diluted wash of burnt umber oil paint and then white oil paint was added to the raised areas for highlights.

The hat was painted in acrylic and later overcoated with thin oils.  Everything else – boots, belt, sword, hands – were painted in acrylics.  A demonstration piece not a master piece!













33 thoughts on “Oil Paints – Hit or Myth? – A News at TIM – Mid Week Musings Special!

  1. A good and educational read mate. I didn’t know that about the oil makes it glossy. I may have to invest in some oils. I bought so Vallejo Model White the other day and it’s thinner than water. It took no less than a Gazillion layers to make my model white. Go on say it… “I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate” haha. Stay out of the sun snowflake 😉👍🏼

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve used Vallejo for years, but I’ve recently learned, if I want a strong/base color…I’m reaching for Citadel or the Vallejo Heavy Opaque paints first!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve never tried the Citadel paints but I recently bought a couple of the washes (they now call them shades because they changed to another manufacturer apparently) that you suggested were good and I like those very much. I can see some more purchases being made Before to long!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Cool! Yea, I’ve really been enjoying the Citadel washes and I think I own almost every shade now. I bought some of the Secret Weapon Washes, partially from Azazel’s recommendation. I still need to play with them a bit. I’m finding with any of the washes, depending on what I’m doing, they sometimes need serious thinning beforehand.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes your right about thinning, my first attempts were a little heavy handed and the shade pooled a little more than I would have liked. Still we live and learn. Never heard of a Secret Weapon, will check it out.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha. The Gene God gave me the choice,I could either be a snowflake or hung like a stallion,a surprisingly easy choice! If you try out only one oil colour I would suggest buying Burnt Umber. Even if you don’t get on with oils you’ll be able to thin it with white spirit and use it as a base colour. If you like paintings put an oil canvas image against a water colour and it will give you an idea of the difference between oil paints and acrylics, exagerated probably but an indication all the same.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We’re on the same parallel as Germany, so not too hot in general. Though in recent years we’ve had some hot weeks during the Summer. Whenever that happens, I wish I was in Iceland!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article TIM, halfway through I ran off to edit my Paints post from awhile back to include a link to this one!

    Like IRO, there were a few things I really didn’t know about Oils. Or maybe I had just forgot. The other big complaint I hear about oils, which you didn’t mention is “Brush cleanup is a pain!!”. Some people don’t like to use thinner for cleaning either.

    The acrylic/oil combo is pretty interesting. Do you have a preferred brand of acrylics?

    I’ll probably be thinking about this article the rest of the day now. I won’t be switching over anytime soon, because I have too much I want to tackle in the acrylic realm currently, but I could see myself giving oils a try in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cleaning brushes is another myth in my opinion, pity I didn’t make reference to it in my initial post. All I have ever done is dip them in white spirit and dried them on a piece of kitchen paper before going to the next colour or packing up for the day. I honestly don’t think it has had a detrimental effect on the life span of my brushes.

      As for acrylics I use Vallejo. Before I started to try acrylics I did a little Google search and It seemed that many people liked them so I simply chose to go down that route. I don’t really have anything to compare to but equally I don’t have any complaints with Vallejo either. My approach has pretty msuch always been pick up the paint that’s the colour I want rather than what brand. Sometimes but not so often these days I still find myself using Humrol enamals too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting article, and what you say is true. Oils just *do* things like wet blending. Except it’s just normal blending when using them. I also learned something new with regard to wicking the oil away with paper and also painting over acrylics for a more matte finish.

    However, I can’t ever see myself using Oils for my models beyond the rare oil wash. It’s just too far out of my comfort zone these days. And I literally mean comfort. I’d have to get the oils out, clear a whole space, use turps to clean my brushes, remember not to lick my brushes, deal with the smell and Leonard the Cat’s inquisitiveness…. When I win the lottery and build my custom home, I’ll be able to have an Oils station in the studio, along with a dedicated airbrush booth, scenery and terrain making area and so forth. As it is, I’ve already taken over a huge chunk of the lounge room with what initially was a temporary painting table that has now been a permanent fixture for the past …4? years. I don’t think I can push that particular one all that much further.. 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh man, the ‘paint sprawl’ comment cracked me up! I’m not that far, but it started small for me, ‘always put paints away after every paint session’ to ‘buying a large computer desk that has space where I can store paints’ to ‘nearly every corner in the “Guest Room” has some sort of painting paraphernalia in it’. I guess my Wife should feel lucky that I probably won’t expand outside of the office. Though I do have my eye on a larger room downstairs….

      Liked by 2 people

  5. To be honest if I could paint as well as you with acrylics I wouldn’t change either. Back in the day with just the odd magazine as reference there was very little to go on, different world now of course. I was influenced by a painting article way back when I first started painting 54mm figures which was very pro oil paints for that scale. I simply gave it a try and stuck with it ever since. I only started with acrylics about a year ago when I started this blog and began to see what you and others have achieved using them. I do like the acrylics but I’m also stuck in my ways like we all are from time to time. Right now using both in a combo form is working quite nicely and of course I am just painting figures not trying to build an army like some of you guys. My main aim of the article was to remove some of the myths. It’s one thing to stay with a preference it’s another to avoid something because of misinformation. Adopting this approach got me to try acrylics and I’m glad I did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, when I started there was just White Dwarf and the colour plates in GW’s rulebooks. Later on I was able to afford tamiya catalogues and such, though their painters always seemed a million miles away in style and content, while the work in Wargames illustrated was both a million miles different (to my eye, at least) but not nearly as cutting edge as the stuff in WD in terms of technique or even tutorials.
      Kids these days with their fancy internets and youtubes, eh? And just to GET that White Dwarf I had to catch a bus into the city which took around an hour, and THEN walk for another 15 minutes to get to the game store. No getting a phone out of my pocket and being done, oh no…
      Yeah, again you’re absolutely right in that especially for those of us who have been doing this for a longer time, we become more and more comfortable and skilled with our preferred mediums. The other thing is that acrylics have come SO, so far in the last 30 years, and have continued to improve in terms of mediums and speciality additions and so forth, so that for me it’s continued to be a learning curve as I learn to use these new techniques and products – and sure, many (most?) of them have simply been taken from other “disciplines”, especially the Model Train guys and the historical Diorama builders (there’s that Tamiya Catalogue again!) who just used products from the Fine Art store (crackle medium, weathering powder, gloss/matte mediums, pastes and textured products and on and on.) Ironically enough, I believe that’s the route that Oil Washes took to make it around to being a technique sold to the Acrylic crowd…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The lengths we had to go in the pursuit of our hobby were something else back then. One thing I’ve picked up on, even recentky, is that for some peope there is a sense of snobery. Modellers who think railway builders are in some way inferior and that gamers simply play with figures, they think they have nothing to learn from them. Such ignorance. I’ve learnt a huge amount from you gaming guys in the last year and lots of ideas for my vignettes and diorama builds have come from the model railway chaps. A good idea or tip is a good idea regardless of where or who it comes from.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Exactly. The hobbies aren’t exactly the same but there’s a hell of a lot of overlap, particularly once you get into the creative side of painting models and building environments. It’s just a childish dislike of the “other” – even within the same or almost-the-same hobby. Football teams? Xbox vs Playstation, Nintendo vs Sega, Ford vs Holden (over here).
        A relic of our tribal roots.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post I’ve got some oils that I use to waether vehicles but I only ever tried to paint a figure with them once- tried to wet blend didn’t go well as I put on far too much paint. Took the best part of a fortnight to dry. Live and learn I guess though.

    After reading this I may well give them another try on a figure.



    Liked by 1 person

  7. If you do try Pete I’d be interested to know how you get on. Using less paint and removing any excess with a dry brush would have made a difference to your earlier attempt i think. That said if you are happy with acrylics stick with it, there’s nothing wrong with them just different techniques is all.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. whoah ! matey you have opened up a can of emotional worms this time ! I have just posted a little job I’ve done, and one of my comments was how we are so relaxed and easy going as a group of happy , diverse modellers , we are ,I agree diverse which is great ,railway guys ,gamers and static folk like Dave JNV and I , We all love the creativity , and have a lot of fun doing . And as for fucking paint ,it never sticks where you wish it would just like superglue isn’t so super ,in the last day doing this bloody dio I have been stuck to everything , luckily it was to my pint mug ! .

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Every days a learning day Pat but some people close their ears and as a consequence learn fuck all. A good idea is a good idea even if it came from the wife! The wonderful thing about our diverse group is everyone seems to comprehend that and that’s why so many of us appreciate the work of others. It could be argued that it’s our maturity as modellers but that wouldn’t be fare on the younger guys who are hugely talented. Just seen and commented on your latest diorama, you deserve to have more than one pint after that mate!


  10. Thanks mate , now it’s back to painting another motley crew for my next project, the English civil war where I can try out the hawthorn bushes . On my last trip to the UK, it was walls that I was into ,this time it will be hedges , I really like the English hedges so I’m looking forward to the challenge of replicating them .Now where is that bloody paintbrush !.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great compelling post. Thanks for sharing – though I have forgone oils just because of some of the same issues Azazel brings up. Of course, I often work in molten lead and tin, so what do I know!

    Liked by 2 people

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