David Cunningham
David Cunningham

What is Oil Paint Made of?

What is oil paint made of?

The quick and easy answer is pigment suspended in oil.  Well that was easy, but let’s take a closer look at each of the elements individually.

What is pigment and where does it come from?

Pigments are colored elements from which artists paints are made.  Pigments exist in a dry form as small colored particles of fine powder.  These particles of pigment are insoluble, but can be suspended in various oils, water and other liquids. Pigments come from a variety of sources, including plants, minerals, ores, and chemical compounds. A great listing of pigments, their sources, and their properties can be found at…


Oil?  What kind of Oil?

Traditionally this is Linseed (Flaxseed) oil. This is available in a variety of qualities and prices ranging from the high quality very faintly yellow expensive cold pressed Linseed oil to the cheap chemically extracted oil one finds in hardware stores which is deep yellow.  Other possible oils that are used in the making of oil paint is poppysead oil (which is nearly colorless) and walnut oil (which dries slower allowing for additional time to blend working wet into wet.

  • Linseed Oil – made from flax, linseed is the most popular due to its flexibility and resistance to cracking.  It does have a strong tendency to yellow with age, however.
  • Walnut Oil, Poppy Oil and Safflower Oil – much less likely to yellow, these thin, clear watery oils are much more prone to cracking.