Oil paint dries a lot slower than all other paint types like watercolors or acrylic paints. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
One one hand it gives you a lot of time to think and manipulate the colors on your painting. On the other hand, it might get frustrating to wait for the first layer to dry up before you put in the next layer.
The malleable nature of oil paints, in addition to the depth, and vibrancy of its pigment quality, makes oil color the choice of paint for many artists. If only there were a way you could plan out the drying time and maybe speed it up as well, so you could be more productive.
- Factors Which Decide Oil Paint Drying Time
- Environmental Conditions Like Temperature, Light, Humidity
- The Pigments and Colors You Are Using
- The Oil Color Solvent/Medium Which You Are Using
So How Long Does It Take For Oil Paints To Dry?
The short answer for this question is that, “It depends.”
There’s no definite way to know for sure how long it will take. It could be as little as a day and as long as five days to a week.
Most artists generally accept that it’s a long process and they don’t have any problems with it. Instead, they have come to love the process, because of all the time they get during painting. This time allows them to experiment and try out new and novel ideas with their paintings.
Here in this guide, we’ll list out the different factors that influence and lengthen drying time, and then we’ll write down a few methods by which you can combat these factors and speed up the process.
Factors Which Decide Oil Paint Drying Time
Environmental Conditions Like Temperature, Light, Humidity
The local climate of the place where you do your painting determines to a large degree how long it will take for your paint to dry.
The best possible environment for quick drying is, of course, dry arid areas like a desert or somewhere inland where there are no water bodies. The worst possible situation is a cold and wet place, somewhere like London.
What Can You Do To Speed It Up
Warm, dry air is best. So if you have a radiator in your house, keep it close to the radiator. But not too close though, or the oil on your painting might start cracking up.
Basements are more humid than the rest of the house. So don’t set up your wares in the basement. Instead, consider a well-ventilated area like a garage or a room with a lot of windows.
Also, try to keep your paintings in a well-lit place. Storing them in continuous darkness is going to make the paint slowly turn yellow.
The Pigments and Colors You Are Using
Each oil-color pigment (red, black, white, blue, etc.) has a different composition. This is because different colors are made from various separate sources, which can be artificial or natural.
Unlike acrylic colors, oil colors don’t exactly dry up, i.e., they do not evaporate. Instead, they get oxidized, which is a chemical reaction between the paint and the oxygen present in the air. Depending on the chemical makeup of the particular paint, it might take longer for certain colors (up to a week for some cadmium hues) or shorter for others ( one or two days for cobalt blue).
Here’s a quick rundown on how long it takes for the most common paints to dry up, oxidize.
Faster Drying Colors
Slower Drying Colors
- Ivory Black
- Sap green
- Alizarin crimson and most other reds
- Cadmium yellow, cadmium red, cadmium orange, etc
What Can You Do To Speed It Up?
While there isn’t really anything you can do about how long it takes for the colors to dry, you can’t be expected only to use colors which have a quick drying time. That will be severely restrictive for your painting. So if you want to utilize your entire color palette, here are a few workarounds which will be a big help to you.
– Paint in layers
One of the best features of oil painting is that you can paint in layers. Paint one layer, and then paint more layers on top of it to make a detailed, intricate painting which has depth and realism.
A very commonly used principle taught in most art schools and employed by most artists is the “fat over lean” principle. This principle basically means that the thin layers go under the thicker ones. The “fatter” layers are painted over the “leaner” ones.
The bottom layer or the base layer of the painting is called the underpainting. This is where you define the general layout and organization of your piece. All your basic shapes and elements get drawn on this layer.
Most underpaintings (the bottom-most layer) are made with one or two colors which are of a quick-drying type (like burnt umber.) You can expect this paint to dry up by the end of the day or take a maximum of two days. Make sure to keep the layer as thin as possible also. This will also speed up the drying process.
This technique is also known as “slow over fast.” The ‘slower,’ more detailed layers are painted on top of the ‘faster’ mono or bi-colored layers. This practice also prevents cracking of the upper layers.
When you’re painting the upper layers, our suggestion is just to let nature run its course and dry the paint out over the due course of time. This is how oil paintings are meant to be done, and this is what makes them so brilliant. Be sure to store your art in a safe place, away from kids and pets.
– Make An Underpainting Of Acrylic Paints
Oil painting is incredibly versatile in that it can be used to paint even over other types of colors like acrylic. Now painting an underlayer with acrylic has its advantages and disadvantages.
The primary advantage is that acrylic dries a lot faster than oil colors. It will take a maximum of 30 minutes and will dry almost instantaneously if you’re painting outdoors.
The disadvantages, however, are that acrylic becomes considerably darker when they dry up and also give off a plastic feel that many artists intensely dislike. It simply lacks the fluidity of an oil painting. Because of these disadvantages, it is very rarely used by artists in spite of it’s exceptionally fast drying time.
If you’re hard pressed for time, this is the best method you have to speed up your painting considerably, maybe at the cost of a little quality.
– Work On Multiple Paintings Simultaneously
This is another trick widely utilized by painters everywhere. While one of your paintings is drying, follow up and continue on an old painting or start a new one.
This technique will help you to be productive while not losing touch with your creative process in the middle of long breaks while your paint dries.
The Oil Color Solvent/Medium Which You Are Using
The amount of oil used in your painting and the oil-to-color ratio is also a very important factor in the drying time of your paints. The less the amount of oil used, as in the ‘thinner’ the paint layer is, the faster it will dry.
There are also different types of oil solvents available on the market. You choose the most suitable one depending on the amount of fluidity and consistency you want in your painting.
Safflower oil is a moderately fast drying oil while the slowest drying oil is Poppy Seed oil.
Most people use linseed oil for painting, whereas poppy seed oil is excellent for keeping your paint brushes wet in between painting sessions. Alkyd oils are not a traditional, natural solvent and are made out of an alkyd resin.
What Can You Do To Speed Up The Process
You are not entirely at the mercy of the elements when it comes to the kind of oil solvent you are using. There are a few methods you can apply which can significantly expedite the process of drying of your paints.
– You can use a paint thinner
Paint thinners are usually made of an odorless mineral spirit like ether or they are made out of turpentine. Applying these thinners to your paint thin the oil paint layer itself, which makes for quicker drying. Remember when we said, thinner layers dry faster than thicker layers.
These solvents aren’t without their set of problems though. The first problem is that they give your oil painting a watercolor-like consistency. Thus you should ideally only apply these solvents to the first layer or the underpainting.
The second problem is that if you apply too much of these thinners, your painting might dry so fast that it peels off. This again makes paint thinners suitable for only the bottom-most layer where it won’t cause serious harm to your painting.
Make sure you get the artist grade products as the standard variants are incredibly harmful to the environment and also produce toxic fumes. If you’re really in a hurry, we would suggest you use turpentine over mineral spirits like ether as they generally work much faster.
– Use an alkyd medium
Alkyd colors are also frequently used to hasten drying times and have of now, become a staple in most studios. They are made of pigment and oil-modified alkyd resin, which acts as a binder. This causes the paint to dry more rapidly.
Alkyd oil colors offer all the buttery feel and the versatility of oil colors but with a much quicker drying time. They start drying an hour into the application but remain wet, as in, workable for many hours after that. Some artists think alkyd paints are a little sticky as compared to traditional oil colors.
A good idea would be to substitute some of your most frequently used oil colors with alkyd replacements. Because these colors will be used in a number of mixtures, it will speed up the overall process of painting.
However, do remember that although regular oil paint can be layered over alkyds, alkyds should never be layered over oil. The less flexible alkyd may crack, ruining your whole painting.
Although the techniques mentioned above will help speed up the process of drying, most of them are best utilized in the bottom layers only.
You can use paint thinners in the top layers, but that might hamper the fluidity of the painting which defeats the purpose of oil painting in the first place.
We recommend you use the techniques mentioned above on the underpainting and then paint the layers above the traditional way. The fluidity and buttery feel is what gives oil painting it’s edge and drawing “naked” will help you get a better appreciation of how the colors work and blend together to create a masterpiece.
Well, that’s it from us. Thank you for reading. Until next time!