Technical things with the layered method you may be having problems with.

Hi All, 

A fan wrote me the other day, and since it seemed appropriate, I thought the questions were great and would serve to help others,

My fan has given me permission to post them here, so here we go.

From ??? to Delmus Phelps
Sent Dec 21, 2011

Hello There!

The fat over lean rule has become a nightmare. Even if I had started with the wet-on-wet technique it still scared me so I switched to Acrylics. I so badly want to go back to oil painting but I need to get my confidence back...

The cracking is an issue, so this is the easiest way for me to combat that problem while painting.  Cracking is caused by the upper layer of paint (that is too thin) drying faster than the under laying film.  A simple fix, in your mixture cup, only add oil.  Understanding that your first few layers are going to be thinned with an oil and turps or OMS, and as you save your mixture and paint, only add more oil to the mixture.  This insures a fatter mixture for subsequent layers.  

My question is, do you wait for every single layer of paint to totally dry before you add another? I tried this but became impatient. Some layers were not dry even after a week. And so I set my oils aside for the main reason that I didnt want to make any mistake that would end up ruining the painting. No matter how much I read online about oil painting for some reason I'm still afraid to just go for it...again.

Purist will tell you it takes 7 weeks for a layer to dry.  There are drying mediums (like Liquin) that make drying in 24hrs possible.  There are other mediums that speed up the drying, but not that fast.  Yes, the layer must be dry (take a soft cloth, dip in oil, rub the painting.  If no color transfers, it is dry)  If you proceed painting into the wet paint layer, you risk lifting it all together and it becomes lost.

I love your discussions (step-by-step) and makes me want to try oils again!!! I just need someone to tell me how to do it right. ^_^ When do you tell yourself "okay that needs to set for a few days and then I will continue"? Or how much layer can you put before you need to really let it dry? In your latest discussion I read that you waited a few days after doing some blending on the petals... so that was really necessary? I mean you cant finish it without waiting for that layer to dry?

The umber under painting usually can be done in one sitting.  If you find you've run out of time.  When you return to the canvas the next day, only wipe the areas you intend to work with the oiling out, (acts as a lubricant for blending), and continue.  In the other layers, I usually quit when additional paint is only making work difficult, or the details are needed but can't be accomplished because of the wet paint muddying up the fine lines.

Am I asking too much?   I have been wanting to ask you these beginner's question ever since I first saw your work here on the Art Colony :)

Anyway, Happy Holidays to you and your family and Thanks for sharing your artwork.

A Fan!

Thank Fan for the great questions. I hope you too have had a wonderful Holiday.  Mine sure was.  Being close to family, and food ;)

Best wishes,


PS, for those that are more formally trained in oil painting, please add any advice and correct any bad advice I may have given.  As I'm a self taught artist, some things I've read about, some I find through practice.  And I'm always on the look out for better techniques!

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It is a much longer process than I am used to but I think it will work for me in the long run. I am finding that even with the Liquin it is taking awhile to dry.  I have to get used to the patiently waiting scene.  I guess I just am not too patient.  But trying.  Take care.


I have the same problem, that is why I stopped using oils, but then someone gave me some so I started using them again. So I try to have 2-3 paintings going at once, so while one dries I can work on another one. Then my impatience doesn't get the better of me.

Think of the many weeks between layers not just as drying time, but more importantly, as time to look at your canvas with a critical eye, reflect, study, imagine, prepare and project in the added light of that newest layer.

I understand masters painting in layers often have several canvases in various stages at the same time. 

Hey, Delmus......You are one of my oil painting HEROS.  So glad to see you posting here.  I greatly enjoy your work!!

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