Today artists can buy pre-made mixes of liquids that are often added to paints to acheive a variety of painting effects, increase flow, transparency, viscosity, and increase the luminosity of the paint layers. Some make the paint dry faster, others slower. Many mdeia make the paint look very glossy. Many modern painting media are synthetic petroleum products, but in the past a large number of natural tree resins, fossil resins, waxes, plant oils, and essential oils. Various recipes still exist for making complex painting media in the studio, or pre-made media can be purchased.

Drying oils

A chief binding medium of dry pigments, and ingredient of many varnishes and painting media. Plant oils that dry (oxidize) upon contact with air, and harden into a paint film, are useful for painting, while oiles like oilve oil cannot be used because they never harden.

Thinners (Solvents)

Also called Essential oils, these include distilled plant liquids and refined petroleum products used to thin paint, lossen consistency of media, and clean brushes.


Historic oil painting varnishes consisted of a drying oil plus one or more gums, resins, or balsams. Other varnishes were spirit-based, by dissolving gums and resins in a solvent base. Varnishes increase brushability, enhance the optical effects, and seals colors from wear and tear. Historically, fugitive pigments that darken in air, such as Verdigris, Malachite, and Azurite, were sealed by adding varnishes, retaining their color. Special varnishes were also used to coat intermediate paint layers after they dried, then painted over to produce transparency and glow. Final varnsihes had different recipes to make a hard protective final coating over the finished dry painting.

Soft Resins and Balsams:

Slightly Harder Resins:

Hard Resins:

Other Mixes:

Final Varnishes:

^Various painting media, including my own recipe.

^Painting media from various recent manufacturers.

^Painting media.

^Soluvar final varnish, glossy and very weather-resistant. A superior choice for protecting the finished painting.

^Varnishes, store-bought and my recipe for Damar varnish. Some are designed to isolate intermediate layers of the painting when dry, to be painted over. Others are tough final varnishes.


HOME.....Oil Painting Contents.....Materials