Oil Paintings

Oil painting of Waverley made by Joseph Purcell in 1986, based on historic photographs, drawings and paintings.

Oil paints use oil as a binder for the pigments and are not water soluble. Painting with oil on canvas has long been the preferred media for artists, but the qualities of this medium makes it difficult to successfully use in the field. While the pros of oil paints include the vibrant, long-lasting colours (far longer than watercolours when exposed to sunlight) and that their slow drying time allows for quite a bit of experimentation in applying (and removing) the paint to the canvas over an extended period of time, the downside of oil paints is also that slow drying time. This means that most oil paintings were executed in a studio, where the painting could dry undisturbed for as long as necessary.

Artists would often sketch the intended views in pencils and watercolours, and then work from these sketches to create a final oil painting in their studio. Contemporary artists will often use photographs instead of sketches for the same purpose.

Historical landscape oil painting of Waverley by Forshaw Day.

The Waverley Goldfields, Nova Scotia c. 1865, by Forshaw Day.

Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada.

While the portability of oil paints greatly improved from the 1850s onwards with such developments as tubes of paint and the box easel, the easels, paints, solvents, stretched canvas and palettes still meant that while an artist could work outside of a studio, it was unwieldy and was best used for short distances from studio spaces. It still was no match for watercolours for expeditions and it was only as photographic technology developed that watercolours fell out of extensive in-field use.