Oiling Out

Why oiling out can improve the colors in your oil painting and why artists might need to use this technique in your oil painting layers.

If you are trying to learn how to oil paint you have probably heard painters mention the technique of oiling out a painting.  Today you’ll learn when it’s a good time to oil out your painting and how to perform this technique!  This will be especially important for painters who do not complete their paintings in a single session but over the course of many painting sessions.

What is Oiling Out?

Oiling out is the process of adding a thin layer of oil over a dry layer of paint to re-saturate the colors and simulate a wet, fresh layer of workable paint. The painter can then paint into the layer of oil and blend the paint more easily.  The thin layer of oil also restores the color of any “sunken in” paint.

Why You Should Oil Out

During the oil painting process, layers of paint sometimes need to be adjusted after they have dried.  This wet on dry oil painting presents a number of challenges for oil painters:

For starters a painter working over a dry layer of paint will have a difficult time blending paint.  The newly fresh paint layer won’t seamlessly blend into the previous, dry layer.  This can cause the painting to look disjointed and lack smooth transitions from color to color.

Artists also oil out to restore the color of oil paint.  Imagine you are painting a section of your painting a vivid blue color.  You didn’t have time to finish that section and decide to finish it a few days later.  A few days later you sit in front of your painting with dreams of finished the vivid blue section… only it doesn’t look so vivid anymore.  After the oil paint dried, it lost some of its saturation.

How to Oil Out a Painting

A common use of oiling out is to be able to “blend” new paint back into existing, dried paint. Let me show you how I do this using the oiling out method below…

Step 1: Brush on a thin layer of linseed oil. (or compatible medium)

Step 2: Use a lint-free rag or paper towel to soak up all but the thinnest layer of oil.

Step 3: Paint into or around the oiled out areas.

Step 4: Blend new paint into the oil layer.  This makes it look like it’s blended into the dry layer of oil paint that was previously painted.

If there are large oiled areas that have no new paint added to them I will typically remove as much of that excess oil as possible with a paper towel.  When doing this you really have to be careful not to wipe up any newly painted work.  That would be a bummer.

This is routinely how I use oiling out during my painting process.  There are many subtle variations of what I’ll just demonstrated but in the spirit of simplicity I’ll stop there!

Horizontal Drying

After you have oiled out and completed your session you really should let your painting dry horizontally. 

If left to dry vertically, the layer of oil can crawl a bit and form pronounced drips that bulge off the surface of your painting. The thicker the layer of oil the more likely this is to happen. Play it save and place your painting flat on a horizontal surface to ensure proper drying.

Oil Painting Layers

To layer or not to layer. That is the question.  

If you are an indirect painter you will undoubtably be using many oil painting layers to arrive at your final image.  This makes indirect painters good candidates for the oiling out method.

When it comes to the painting process, I am mostly a direct painter.  Why beat around around the bush?  I go right for the correct color straight away.  But, due to timing restrictions and the fact that I’m not perfect I still find oiling out necessary on some of my paintings.

john morfis direct painting garden dibble.jpg

If you paint ala prima or in other words create your painting in one sitting or at least one layer of paint you won’t need to oil out your paintings.  Oiling out is only beneficial to painters looking to paint on additional layers of paint.

Oiling Out Medium

In the demonstration above I used an artist’s quality linseed oil to perform the oiling out.  I like using Gamblin’s Linseed Oil.  Use the alkali refined type; it yellows less with age.  

Any clear, oil painting medium will work but you must consider the drying time of each.  

Oiling Out With Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is quite runny.  I usually apply it horizontally and wipe it down/off horizontally.  Then after painting I always let me painting dry horizontally.  This is to prevent runs and drips which can build up slowly if left in a vertical position.

Oiling Out With Liquin

liquin oil painting medium

You can oil out with Liquin.  Liquin will certainly restore the saturation of your colors and allow you to paint into a wet layer if necessary.  There are some hurdles associated with Liquin, however, when oiling out!

The first being it’s rapid dry time.  Liquin dries to the touch usually in less than half a day. When you paint an ultra thin layer of Liquin, it might start drying in a couple of hours.  If you insist on oiling out with Liquin don’t expect to work into the wet layer for too long.  It gets gummy and unstable.  Work fast and/or just accept that you can only work on smaller areas each day.

The other problem with Liquin is that most amateur painters put on way too thick of a layer of liquin.  This results in an ultra glossy, slick layer of dried paint thereafter.  One in which subsequent layers of paint tend to bead up.

Closing Advice

In attempt to keep the oil painting process simple you really ought to only oil out when you absolutely need to.  When oiling out, stick to an artist’s grade linseed oil so you don’t have rapid drying problems.

Keep your layer of oil ultra thin and confined to the area you are working on.  Don’t oil out the whole painting if you are not painting back into the whole painting at that time.

And lastly, remember to let your oiled out painting dry horizontally to prevent drips from forming.

Be patient. 

Painting is a skill worth learning.


  1. Hello, thanks for the information. I have a question: I paint alla prima wet on wet but this time, for a large painting, I was unable to finish the painting and would like to work on a new layer. I used Liquin as a medium. However, to oil a large area of ​​the dry painting with Liquin I could have problems with Liquin drying too quickly and have that unpleasant problem you are talking about. Question: do you think I can oil with linseed oil and then continue to paint with colors mixed with Liquin? that is: Liquin and a thin layer of linseed for oiling out can I have problems? thank you so much!

    1. John Morfis says:

      Yes Federico, that is precisely what you can do!

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