Painting Thin Lines and Fat over Lean – a blog question

I had a question from one of my Blog visitors a short while ago and thought my answer might be of use to others, so here it is –

Here’s the question

“Hi Jason,
Thanks for putting this up. Excellent info. I have some additional questions though.
I was wondering how you deal with the lean and fat rule in oil-painting since you mention a wash over previous layers. Also can you give some information about the consistency of the paint you use for whiskers? I always have trouble with these long, clean curvy lines, even with a rigger brush. The paint just doesn’t flow from the brush and when I thin the paint to improve the flow it becomes too transparent.
How fast do you paint 1 whisker, is it a quick swoosh of the brush or do you slowly drag the brush along the surface.? Hope you have some tips because these are the things that you normally don’t read in tutorials”.

Here’s my answer

“Good questions, I use Alkyd Oils which dry quite fast and hard, and currently I thin my paints with an Alkyd type thinner (I’ll find out the make and post here), similar to Liquin, which improves the flow when required, I’m not using any other oils etc so I think that takes care of any fat over lean type stuff.

I honestly don’t worry about that stuff too much myself, as I’m not doing anything to excess.

If I need the paint to slip / flow even more, eg when painting whiskers, I will also add a little odorless paint thinners to the mix. So to paint a whisker I would get some paint (white for instance) dip my brush in alkyd thinners, mix it a bit, then dip my brush in a little odourless thinners and mix that in too.

There is a fine line between too little and too much alkyd thinners and odourless thinners, which as you have found, will cause the transparency of the paint. Practice is the only way to really know.

I paint a whisker in one movement, at a moderate speed approx 1 second to do 5-6 inches.

Sometime, but not always I will need to carefully go over the whisker a 2nd time to make it nice and opaque (let the 1st layer dry 1st).

One important thing to consider is the texture of the surface you are painting on, ie if you are using a rough grade canvas it will be VERY difficult to get a nice even flowing line, when compared to a finely sanded board, for instance.

I use a fine grade canvas – often called a portrait canvas.

To make it even finer you could paint an additional layer of gesso on top, let dry fully then sand with some very fine sand / glass paper”. This will certainly make painting flowing lines MUCH easier.

Alternatively prepare your own painting panels out of MDF (UK term I think) and a few coats of Gesso, sanding between coats. This is certainly the easiest surface to paint flowing lines on and is great untill you get a lot of experience.

Hope that helps


About Jason Morgan - wildlife artist - Oils, pastel pencils and more
I am UK based professional wildlife artist with over 15 years experience in online teaching. I have one of the most popular wildlife art communities - with hundreds of members getting NEW full length painting and drawing videos each month. I also have a popular wildlife teaching site - packed with DVD discs and downloads - You can find me on Facebook here - I specialise in pastel pencils and oil paints, but also work in charcoal, graphite and coloured pencils too.

8 Responses to Painting Thin Lines and Fat over Lean – a blog question

  1. Miranda says:

    Hi Jason!

    I followed you here from your post on Wetcanvas 🙂 I love your blog so far… your tutorials are amazing and you share your technique in such a clear, concise way! You must put a lot of time and effort into them!

  2. Hi Jason, I don’t paint wildlife but it’s been a real joy to read your tips on oil painting. Your blog is so informative and of course your art is just AMAZING…love it lots!!!
    My daughter’s a real Tiger fan and loves your work. She cries when she watches programs about endangered animals and wants to become a wildlife artist one day. Thanks for inspiring us both!

  3. David Parr (Lamb) says:

    Hi Jason, Just found your blog question of Sept 2009 re
    MDF or dense fibre board.
    I was about to get into art but became incapacitated and can no longer use real turpentine. Water soluble oils don’t really appeal. Anyway that is for me to sort out.
    I have a cupboard full of rabbit glue granules, plaster and white powder pigment for making the old fashioned stuff.
    I no longer have the energy to push and pull the gesso into specially prepared canvas boards. However MDF sounds a good alternative for me and real gesso is still the best surface upon which to paint. If I give an MDF board, say 8 coats of real gesso (sanded between coats) do you think it will be stable and free from warping due to the thick coat of real gesso. I know that the old masters used great slabs of real wood glued together with rotten cheese glue (the best glue ever) and warping would have been taken into consideration also the old canvases would have been left for months to mature, I guess MDF would be the same. – Oh well, just a thought.
    As you are aware, I have just ordered your painting DVDs
    so I figured that I would do some practise on cheap canvas boards before launching myself onto the gesso.
    Just as a side issue, I have prepared a high quality illustrated guide to preparing and using real gesso.
    If you or any of your fans want an E mail copy let me know.
    It is Free, gratis and for nowt. I love art.
    All the best David.

    • wildlifeart says:

      Hi David,

      I would say the only problem with warpage would be if you only coat one side of the board with your gesso, so I would put at least 1 coat on the back too, it’s going to be a suck it and see type of thing, it might well need the same number of coats on the back, just dont bother with the sanding on the back


  4. Angela Wadsworth says:

    Hi, I have just downloaded your e-books but for some reason they will not open, how can I do this?

    • wildlifeart says:

      If the ebooks don’t open after you click the downloaded files, then you most likely don’t have adobe acrobat reader installed on your computer.

      99% of machines already have it, it is free to get though.

      Just download it here in the official site (MAKE SURE TO UNCHECK – THE INSTALL MCKAFEE SECURITY PROGRAM 1ST – YOU DON’T NEED THAT)

      After it is installed it should all work fine


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