Oil Painting Mediums Demystified

I’ve written before about how the dizzying array of oil painting equipment available can be enough to put people off, and painting medium is one area that I feel this applies in particular.

What is a painting medium?

Simply put, a painting medium is a substance that you mix with your paint to change it’s consistency and/or appearance.

Oil paints straight out of the tube can be pretty thick, which is nice, but sometimes you need to thin those down with medium so your paint will flow better.

The number of different oils, mediums and solvents available is mind-boggling, and as such, this isn’t going to be an in-depth analysis of oil painting mediums. On the contrary, I will just describe a few mediums I like, to try and make it really simple for you, so you can pick one and get started!

Liquin Original

Liquin Original

This has mostly been my go-to medium since I started painting with oils. It’s fairly cheap, comes in a single bottle and doesn’t give off any nasty fumes, or smell strongly at all.

Mix a small amount with your paint for increased flow and faster drying time.

Ralph Mayer medium

Mayer medium

This is one I’ve experimented with recently, after hearing quite a lot of artists recommend it. The main disadvantage is you have to mix it yourself, and the ingredients can be expensive:

  • 5 parts rectified turpentine
  • 1 part stand oil
  • 1 part damar varnish

Mix them all together in a jar and shake it up. Another disadvantage is that it uses toxic solvents, which smell very strongly, so you don’t want to breathe too much of this stuff in. Make sure you have a window open when you’re using it, and keep the lid on as much as you can.

Walnut Oil

Walnut Oil

Walnut oil is my newest painting medium of choice. It does pretty much the same job as the two described above, but the big advantage is it’s non-toxic and almost odourless, so you don’t need to worry about the harm it may be doing to you!

Some artists also swear by it for cleaning brushes. I haven’t actually tried that, but if you don’t like using mineral spirit, and want to go completely solvent-free, walnut oil just might be the medium for you.

I was going to post a picture of some paint strokes using each of these mediums, but to be honest, a photo wouldn’t be much use to you, as they all have pretty much the same effect of thinning the paint and increasing the flow.

There will be some minor variations in the final effect of each one, and you can feel free to experiment with them, and any other mediums you’re interested in, but if you’re just confused and want a medium to get started with, then any of the three above should get you headed in the right direction.

Let me know what your favourite medium is in the comments.





  1. Alex Avatar

    Thanks – just read your reviews and bought a small 75ml Liquin original bottle to replace the W&N Artist’s Medium I had just bought beforehand! 🙂

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