The Top 3 Misconceptions About Oil Painting

Evolve Artist
5 min readMar 26, 2020

Stop letting myths about oil paint hold you back from trying this medium!

Old Holland Oil Paints (Credit: Old Holland)

Have you ever wanted to try oil painting, but been put off because of things you’d heard about the medium?

It’s toxic! It takes years to dry! It’s impossible to use!

I’ve met many artists who haven’t even tried oil paints because they believed these myths.

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about oil painting and oil paints. But with some clear information, I think you’ll find that oil paints are a safe, quick-drying, and easy-to-use medium. So let’s dispel some oil painting myths!

Myth 1: Oil Painting is Toxic

This misinformation is fairly common. However, the vast majority of oil paint is not toxic. In fact, unless you eat your oil paint (which is never recommended) there are no adverse effects to most oil paints.

Oil paint is made up of natural oil and pigment, and the majority of pigments are completely safe and non-toxic.

There are a few toxic ones, like lead-white, cadmium, and cobalt, but they are only toxic if you eat or breathe in the dry pigment before the oil is mixed. These colors can also be substituted out for synthetic alternatives, which are even safer to use.

Rather than oil paints, there are mediums like turpentine that are the toxic components of oil painting. However, these toxic mediums can be swapped out for safer mediums like linseed oil. (Photo by Old Holland)

​A lot of people believe that there is a toxic smell that accompanies this paint. However, oil paint itself has very little to no smell. The unpleasant, toxic smell many people talk about comes from the solvent (turpentine or white spirits) many artists use to help the fluidity of paint, cleaning, or drying time.

Leaving open turpentine lying around will indeed fill a room with a toxic fume. However, there are safer alternatives to use, like linseed oil, which is a fairly scentless, safe alternative to turpentine.

Brushes can also be cleaned with a bar of simple ivory soap, rather than turpentine to keep children, pets, and yourself away from the smell and touch of turps.

In addition, if you are using high-quality paint, you can get away without using a medium, using the paint straight from the tube. Medium is only necessary to change the characteristics of the paint. It can speed or slow drying, increase transparency, or increase fluidity, but can also be left out of your painting process entirely.

So the myth that oil painting is toxic really has little to do with oil painting, and more to do with unsafe practices and unnecessary mediums.

Paintings done in an impasto technique may take longer to dry, but a thin layer of oil paint will dry in several hours. Credit: Abbie Rugg

Myth #2: Oil Paint Takes Forever to Dry

This common oil painting myth can be true in certain circumstances, just like any other type of paint. Oil paint only takes a long time to dry in very certain circumstances and if the paint is applied in very thick layers. Depending on the color, some oil paints will dry a bit slower than others, but if you are working with a smooth, thin, opaque layer of paint, your painting will most likely be dry within 24 hours.

However, certain colors like white may take a bit longer to dry depending on the application thickness. Painters who use the impasto technique, or puddling, will often have to wait a week or two for their paint to dry. Very, very thick impasto can take several months. But if you choose to work in a thinner manner, your paint will dry very quickly.

A medium can also change the drying time of the paint. Linseed oil helps paint to tack up and dry within six hours and be fully dry in about 24. Using just an alkyd, your paint will start to dry within four hours. But if you choose a medium like clove oil, your paint may stay wet for several days to weeks.

These mediums can be helpful if an artist likes to work into wet paint, but certain mediums can also help to speed up the drying time.

The myth that oil painting takes too long to dry really depends on how you are painting, and in general, oil paint dries quite quickly.

Myth #3: Oil Paint is Difficult to use

This misconception has to do with education. The majority of people who try oil painting and struggle to learn it have the same struggles with any other medium. Learning how to oil paint is no more difficult than any other paint type, but if you don’t have a proper education, art is difficult.

As I’ve said before: art doesn’t require rules, but education does.

So if you’ve been trying to learn how to oil paint and you’re giving up because it’s difficult, I want you to consider that it may not be the materials, it may be the instruction.

Materials don’t make us better or worse, so if you are struggling, consider finding a teacher to guide you through learning how to oil paint. This medium is a fantastic way to express your creativity, and the right teacher can guide you to success.


There are many oil painting myths, but by looking a bit deeper, we can see that they can easily be disproved. Oil painting is a simple, safe way to create art and paintings and is suitable for students and professionals alike.

Now that you know some of the truths behind common oil painting myths, you’re ready to tackle the medium and discover the benefits of oil painting. If you want to learn more about oil painting, click here!



Evolve Artist

Teaching art students how to get the technical skills they need to become working artists. Learn more at