Painting with Oils on Paper - What You Need to Know

There are many reasons why you might choose to paint with oils on paper rather than the more traditional canvas, linen, or art board. Paper can be more affordable and is less bulky, which makes it easier to store flat in a portfolio, take with you to the classroom or send by mail. Other considerations artists may think of when deciding on using paper for their oil painting project are that paper offers alternative framing choices and is ideal for quick studies or for practicing a piece before committing it to canvas.

If you are going to use paper for your oil painting project, you will either need to prepare the surface before painting or choose specially treated paper like oil painting paper or canvas paper. We’ll look at all three options to help you decide which one is right for your art project.

Let’s start by looking at watercolour or printmaking paper. Because paper is a natural fiber, you’ll need to treat it similarly to canvas or linen before you begin painting, so it should be primed first. This will prevent the oil paint from absorbing into the paper which can cause the paper to deteriorate or result in the paint cracking and flaking over time.

To start, choose a paper that has the weight and texture you are after, thicker is usually better. Next, you’ll want to apply acrylic gesso primer – we suggest Liquitex Gesso in white, but options include black, grey and clear acrylic gesso. Depending on the acrylic gesso primer you used, or how thoroughly you want to seal your paper, you may want to apply multiple coats – make sure you allow the first coat to dry fully before adding the second coat. Using a soft brush will help keep the surface smooth, or you can create texture by using a stiffer brush. Once the acrylic gesso primer has dried completely, you’re ready to begin painting.

A second option for using oil paints on paper is to use oil painting paper like Arches Oil Paper which is available as individual sheets or in 12-sheet pads with either 9x12 or 12x16 sized sheets.

What makes oil painting paper unique is that it is specially coated to keep the paint from being absorbed into the paper, which will eliminate paper degradation, will keep the paint from flaking or cracking and will ensure that the colours will remain bright for many years.

The benefit of oil painting paper is that you can paint oils directly onto the paper without having to prime the paper first, so you can get starting on your art project the moment inspiration strikes.

Arches Oil Paper is one of our favourites because it is incredibly durable; it holds up extremely well to palette knife work and we’ve been known to create an image, scrape it off and paint over it again and it withstood our experimentation time and time again.  It is the same paper stock as Arches 140lb Cold Press watercolour paper, but with their proprietary clear primer.  The effect is like painting on unprimed paper, but without the staining and bleeding.

Another reason we can’t get enough of this oil paper is its versatility: it can be used for a variety of painting techniques and is suitable for mixed media work, it can be used on either side which gives you a choice of a smoother or more textured surface. We like that it’s 100% cotton and acid free, feels like traditional Arches paper, and it really is a fantastic value which means we always have a few sheets on hand making spur-of-the-moment projects possible.

We also like Strathmore Canvas Paper Pads for sketching, colour studies or other practice pieces. This heavyweight paper is acid free and coated with a textured surface that mimics canvas, eliminating the need for priming before painting.

Students and beginner painters find the canvas texture perfect for learning before moving to painting on actual canvas; it is very forgiving and durable making erasing and reworking possible before starting to paint, and it can hold up to multiple layers of paint. An affordable alternative to traditional canvas and wonderfully versatile, Strathmore Canvas Paper can be used with oils, pastels, and acrylics. Its portability makes it easy to take with you to the classroom and the 10-sheet pads in multiple sizes means there is a size just right for any project.

Have you tried painting on paper with oils? Tell us in the comments if you prefer using primed watercolour paper, oil painting paper or canvas paper and why.

And if you are curious to know more about painting with oils on paper, reach out to our team at Wyndham Art Supplies and we can guide you on choosing the best paper for your oil painting project.

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