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  • Writer's pictureJenny Lu

How to Paint with Oil-Wash in 8 Easy steps

By Jenny Lu | 24 March 2021

“The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is, the less there is.”-Pablo Picasso

Are you trying to communicate your ideas with a unique style? Do you feel like you need to figure out ways to finish painting with a polished-look within a short amount of time?

Well. This blog is perfect for you! Today we will introduce you to a fascinating oil-wash technique developed by a renowned illustrator called CF Payne.

The Oil-Wash method can help to create subtle color variations in your paintings.

You’ll be amazed by the degree of the subtle color changes you can get while scumbling colored pencils on top of your artwork. Best of all, this technique harmonizes all of your colors.

We’ve simplified and broken down all the essential tips into eight easy steps below. Let’s get started!

Line Drawings

You’ll be transferring your drawing onto the cold-press illustration board in this stage.

For the drawing, we recommend using either black or dark brown. You don’t want to use a color that has a lighter value because you probably will lose your drawing after you apply the oil wash layer.

Make sure you erase your under-drawings drawn with pencils before adding a watercolor layer!

Watercolor/ Acrylic Layers

Now, we are at the block-in stage. You don’t have to overthink your watercolor technique, such as color variation or gradation. Just quickly lay down all of your base colors.

You can either use watercolor or acrylic to block in for this layer. If you are using acrylic, make sure you thin down your paint with a lot of water.

However, we find that the watercolor layer will make it easier to apply the breathtaking gradation with colored pencils.

Pay attention to how saturated your colors are at this stage. You want your colors to be as saturated as possible because an oil-wash layer will usually knock down your colors’ saturation later on!

Workable Fixatif

Image Source: Jenny Lu & David Choong Lee

Applying workable fixatives is an important step to prevent the oil-wash layer from ruining your surface. We recommend you seal your watercolor layer with a workable fixative for at least three layers.

⚠️Warning: Workable fixatives are highly toxic. They contain chemicals to cause cancer and congenital disabilities, or other reproductive harm. Please use these products outdoors with good ventilation and wear a gas mask if you can.

⚠️Warning: Never use workable fixatives indoors!

Oil-Wash Layers

Pour many solvents (we recommend using Gamblin Gamsol) into a container and add a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna with a tiny bit of transparent green or blue to neutralize the color.

The purpose of adding a bit of complementary color is to make the color less intense. Then blend the color with the solvent together until they mix evenly.

Then dip your varnish paintbrush into your mixture. Apply a thin layer of the oil wash on top of your painting.

After gently applying to two layers of the oil wash, you want to place your painting flat on the table and let it dry.

You can also lay down a wash of acrylic instead of oil to unify your colors, but the painting surface results won’t be as satisfying to work with as the oil wash.

By the way, the example shown above is mixed with Cobalt Violet instead of Burnt Sienna. Generally, you can mix any colors into your solvents as long as it’s a transparent color.

Let It Dry!

Usually, it’s always good to let your oil-wash painting dry overnight. But sometimes, it only takes about 3 to 4 hours to get thoroughly dried. It depends on how thick you apply your oil-wash layer.

Are you with me? We are almost there!

Colored Pencils

Use kneaded erasers to pull the lights and apply colored pencils to add shadows, gradations, and subtle details.

Faber-Castell and Prismacolor are good brands for colored pencils. But we find that some colors don’t have strong pigments to add to the oil wash layer.

It would be best to substitute your Faber-Castell’s skin tone and white with the Prismacolor brand when applying these colors to the layer of your oil-wash.

Faber-Castell’s skin tone and white do not have intense pigments to be applied to the oil wash layer.

Acrylic, Gouache, and India Ink

Here we are at the final stage of this technique. Add acrylic, acrylic gouache or India ink to make your darker area and your darker colors come alive.

Use acrylic gouache’s Titanium White and Beige (which is similar to Naples Yellow) to add highlights to your characters. You can also mix them with other colors to lighten some spots if necessary.

Final Fixative

Once you finish everything, don’t forget to add a final spray fix layer to protect the painting surface. Now you are ready! It’s time to sell your original art!


Artists should explore and understand as many techniques as possible to avoid getting restricted by their tools.

We find this oil-wash technique is fascinating because you can get fancy color variations that are hard to achieve if using other mediums. Plus, you can finish a painting with an oil painting look within one day. What’s best is that this technique harmonizes all your colors!

What are some of your favorite illustration techniques that you like to use? Please share them in the comment below.

If you enjoy this article, subscribe to our blog. If you’d like to learn more about the oil-wash technique, click here to get more information. Stay creative and happy painting!


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