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Repost: How to get oil paint to dry quickly

Orig­i­nally posted 20 Sep­tem­ber 2006.

Month after month, this is the sin­gle most pop­u­lar post on this site. It seems that lots of peo­ple are using search engines to answer this question.

The joy and the curse of oil paint is how long it takes to dry. It’s great to have lots of time to work with the paint, re-do mis­takes, and get those gra­di­ents and edges just right. But then, in multi-layered paint­ing, there are times where you just need to stop and let the paint dry. For days. It can be very dis­rup­tive to artis­tic momentum.

Some painters are fine with let­ting paint­ings dry for days or even weeks. They work on more than one piece at a time and come back to each one when it’s ready. But some­times you want stay with one piece, work­ing every day. Here are some ways to con­trol the rate at which oil paint­ings dry:

  1. Paint in thin lay­ers (like the thick­ness of a nor­mal coat of house paint).
  2. Avoid slow-drying pig­ments like tita­nium white and ivory black. Use fast-drying pig­ments like lead white and burnt umber.
  3. Use paints ground in lin­seed oil. Avoid paints made with slow-drying oils like saf­flower and poppy. Also avoid wal­nut oil, which dries faster than saf­flower or poppy, but slower than linseed.
  4. Use a lean lead-containing medium such as Maroger’s (in very small amounts).
  5. Add a bit of sol­vent to the first layer. Spir­its of tur­pen­tine and oil of spike inter­act chem­i­cally with the paint, caus­ing it to take up oxy­gen more rapidly and dry faster. Min­eral spir­its do not react in any sig­nif­i­cant way, but all sol­vents will make the paint layer thin­ner, which does make paint dry faster. Don’t add so much sol­vent to paint that it becomes washy or watery. Just add a lit­tle bit.
  6. Paint on a panel primed with glue-chalk gesso. The first layer will have some oil absorbed by the gesso, so the paint dries more quickly.
  7. Add small amounts of metal­lic dri­ers to the paint. I pre­fer lead napthen­ate. I add one tiny drop (from a tooth­pick) per blob of paint on the palette and mix thor­oughly. Exces­sive use of dri­ers will dam­age the paint film, but that much should not be any prob­lem. I gen­er­ally add dri­ers only to slow-drying pigments.
  8. Paint on a cop­per panel. The first layer of your paint­ing will dry more quickly.

Some painters also use alkyd medi­ums such as Liquin, Neo-Meglip, and Galkyd. I don’t use alkyd medi­ums and I don’t rec­om­mend them. How­ever, they do make oil paint dry faster.

When I need to, I can get oil paint dry in a day, so I don’t usu­ally have to wait for a layer to dry before I can paint over it. Some­times, I choose to use a medium that makes the paint dry more slowly, or I use a slow-drying pig­ment like tita­nium white. But when I do that, I know that the paint will need extra time to dry. My glaz­ing medium (a 50/50 mix­ture of black oil and Venice tur­pen­tine) is some­what slow-drying, so glazes usu­ally take two or three days to dry.

It’s also the case that I often com­plete one sec­tion of a paint­ing at a time. That way, it doesn’t mat­ter whether yesterday’s paint is dry, because today I’m work­ing on a dif­fer­ent part of the picture.


Updates

Update 22 Feb­ru­ary 2007: In a com­ment on this post, Louis R. Velasquez pointed out to me that some sol­vents do cause oil paints to dry more quickly via chem­i­cal action. I have cor­rected the infor­ma­tion in this post. I am grate­ful to Louis for point­ing out my error.

Update 19 Feb­ru­ary 2008: Added paint­ing on cop­per pan­els as another way to make oil paint dry more quickly.


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8 Responses

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  1. daniel chow says

    i started paint­ing about 6 years ago in asheville, nc. i bought my first set of oil paint and started exper­i­ment­ing. i was learn­ing every­thing on my own, and i was so naïve and impatient.

    i started a paint­ing and wanted it to dry soon so that i can con­tinue work­ing on it, so i placed it inside my dryer with the dryer’s sneaker attach­ment so that the can­vas won’t tum­ble inside. after a few more failed attempts to dry my oil paint­ing in the dryer, i finally remem­ber my chem­istry lessons. DOH!!! (x10) that was my ulti­mate homer-simpson moment.

    from that day, i real­ize that i have plenty learn about paint­ing. first, i have to under­stand the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the dif­fer­ent types of paints and how they behave, and with dif­fer­ent mediums.

  2. David says

    @daniel chow -

    Daniel,

    It is use­ful to real­ize that oil paint hard­ens by oxi­da­tion, not by evap­o­ra­tion. Heat will act as a cat­a­lyst to speed chem­i­cal reac­tions in the dry­ing oil, but not nec­es­sar­ily in ways that are good for cre­ation of a sta­ble paint film.

  3. Jade says

    I’ve really enjoyed read­ing through your blog, thanks for shar­ing all your thoughts and knowl­edge. __I have been using Liquin as I’m still learn­ing to paint, and have found it use­ful to get things dry so I can learn quicker. How­ever I have not been happy with how it tends to flat­ten and, well, suck the life out of the paint really. The colour dulls and I’m assum­ing it will dis­colour a bit with age because the liquin build up around the cap on the bot­tle is discoloured.__I’m still using it a bit, because I am so strapped for time, though hope to stop using it soon when I start work­ing on larger works that don’t have to be ready yesterday!__I was won­der­ing, what your rea­sons were for not using Liquin or other alkyd medi­ums, per­haps this will help me stop using it sooner lol

    • David Rourke says

      Jade,

      I don’t use alkyd medi­ums such as Liquin for sev­eral reasons:

      1. I dis­like the way they smell.
      2. I don’t think they improve paint han­dling. They tend to make the paint slightly sticky while dilut­ing it some­what. Sticky I can do with­out and I can dilute the paint in other ways.
      3. Some alkyd for­mu­la­tions can cause some discoloration.
      4. Some painters have reported that alkyd medi­ums seem to occa­sion­ally cause delam­i­na­tion in multi-layer paint­ings. I have never heard of this hap­pen­ing in single-layer paintings.

      So far as I can tell, the only pos­i­tive effect of alkyd medi­ums is fast dry­ing, and I have bet­ter ways to get that to hap­pen. There may be alkyd medi­ums that work bet­ter than the cou­ple I have tried, but over­all I just don’t see the ben­e­fit. They don’t solve any prob­lem I have.

  4. Tim says

    I often use the faster dry­ing Win­sor and New­ton Alkyd paints, par­tic­u­larly the whites, mixed with nor­mal oil paint. I do this when I want to speed up things. None of the paint­ings that I still have painted with mixed Alkyd/Oil show any sign of dete­ri­o­ra­tion although I don’t think any of them are older than about 15 years. Some peo­ple don’t like the speed of dry­ing or the con­sis­tency of Alkyds but it never both­ered me. Also, all the alkyd paint­ings I’ve ever painted look like they were done in oil, and although I don’t use Alkyd medi­ums like Liquin much, I’ve never had a prob­lem with “lam­i­na­tion”, and I usu­ally paint on smooth board.

    • David Rourke says

      Tim,

      If alkyds are work­ing for you, then you should def­i­nitely con­tinue to use them. I make no claim that any­thing on this site rep­re­sents any­thing other than my own opin­ions. As far as delam­i­na­tion goes, many artists seem to have no prob­lem what­so­ever using alkyd medi­ums in multi-layer appli­ca­tions. I’ve only heard of a few hav­ing problems.

  5. Joanna says

    I’ve never had prob­lems with oil paint­ing at all—suddenly, now, with black, in two dif­fer­ent paintings…in one 5 years later devel­op­ing a bloom-like look (am tak­ing to a con­ser­va­tor friday)

    Now in another large paint­ing, i was wait­ing for­ever for my black to dry—we’re talk­ing months, here, and i do work in lay­ers, and i was using lamp­black. Each morn­ing I wiped at the sur­face with my fin­ger to see if it were dry. It left some residue, but seemed to be dry­ing. So today, I used Liquin to wipe off what was wet (!) and it recon­sti­tuted the paint which came off the can­vas extremely black onto paper tow­els. Never in all of my life have I had paint recon­sti­tute after dry­ing so long. What in the world?

    • Sandy says

      I am hav­ing the same prob­lem with black in my lat­est paint­ing after weeks of dry­ing in a hot win­dow. Did your liquin appli­ca­tion work?



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