Oil Painting looking dull dead

Hi Friends,

Please help me to fix my painting issue.
I am tired of trying oilling out,glazing to get the glow back on canvas oil painting but its so frustrating thatnothing working out.
Cotton canvas with acrylic prime and medium is oil paint.

I have no idea why it is looking so dull. Specially dark area.
Ligh area are clean bit still no glow.



  • dencaldencal -
    edited April 2020

    Will likely come back to life after a couple of varnish coats.

    Are you using artists oil paint or a student range?

    Meantime, don’t use ivory black (dulling effect) and try not to use too many colours when mixing (muddy effect). Earth tones will dull as they polymerise and shrink.

    Premix the value strings and set them out on a stepped range card. This will show what the dried values look like in advance of doing the painting. Adjustments or replacements of individual values will avoid dull surprises.

    Oiling out and glazing should have fixed this problem though. Is your studio lighting adequate?

  • Another option for future paintings is to use a medium that aids with this. Liquin gives the painting a fairly gloss sheen, and also makes the paint extremely flexible - some people swear by it. I can't stand the smell. A non-toxic alternative is M Graham walnut alkyd, has the same sheen and has no solvents in it - certified "non-toxic". It's what I use now, and I love it. I've never had to oil out a painting where I used it, everything remains looking exactly as I painted it. 
  • Hi All,
    Thank you so much for all your valuable information.

    Hi Denis,

    Room lighting is kind of ok.
    Muddy Color-  Light area is ok. Only i messed up with dark. As you said to avoid Ivory Black and I used a lot ivory black bo make area dark. And slowly i iessed up putting more different darks onto top. And then oiliing out glazing so many. So dark part is dead and dull 

    What I am noticing is that, i applied some thick paint of medium dark or dark shade and it glows. But i dont  want to paint that thick. And If am applying thin then whether it it dark or light shade getting sinking issue.

    Another one point- I applied some pure color on canvas. And glow and brightness was there until it is dry. Once it is dried, brightness is gone and same time no glow.

    Is this issue because of any canvas prime coating or any thing else?
    I want to paint thin not thick how am i gonna get glow?

    1. I will avoid Ivory black
    2. I will avoid muddy color

    Thank you

  • Chumki
    Some useful extracts from https://www.artcons.udel.edu/mitra/resources
    12) “Sinking in” is something I just have to live with...
    Sinking in can be avoided by using paints that are properly bound and not overly thinned with a diluent and/or using an appropriate ground (e.g. one that is not too absorbent). Some pigments, like umbers, are prone to “sinking in” especially if they contain high amounts of clays. These pigments can be avoided or can be made fatter with small additions of the appropriate binder as long as this is kept to upper layers to follow the “more flexible over less flexible paint rule” (often termed fat-over-lean). Areas that suffer from sinking-in or appear overly matte can be addressed by carefully applying the appropriate medium over the areas to be retouched, wiping off any excess medium with a lint free cloth. If sinking in occurs after the composition has been completed, this problem can be addressed by locally applying varnish to selective areas, followed by an overall coat of varnish to create an even level of gloss or sheen (allowing the varnish to dry in between applications). Oiling out should not be performed in areas that will not receive additional paint layers as this would result in later yellowing and darkening. Please refer to the Varnishes document for additional information on sinking-in and oiling out.

    Retouch Varnishes, “Sinking In,” and “Oiling Out” - Artists tend to apply retouch varnishes when they encounter problems with “sinking in” or areas of the paint that begin to take on a matte or under-saturated appearance (this is particularly common with darker colors). Sinking-in can be a result of a) using too much solvent to thin the paint b) using a ground that is too absorbent or unevenly absorbent c) if the paint film and/or ground layers are too thin and/or c) if not enough medium is present in the paint. Sinking in can also be caused by the painter using too much thinner, which will weaken the binder’s capacity to make a film, exposing the pigment to the air. As most varnishes available today are easily removable, it is not recommended to apply them between paint layers. While extremely thin layers of retouching varnish might not cause future problems, any paint applied atop retouching varnish will be more susceptible to delamination or damage caused during varnish removal (as is often done during conservation treatments). Application of successive coats of retouch varnish or interlayers of varnish and paint can also increase a paint film’s brittleness, again leading to potential adhesion problems and cracking. Oiling out the surface of a painting can also be problematic as it can lead to problems with adhesion and long term solubility issues. Leaving an exposed layer of oil medium on a painting (i.e. regions of oiled out surface not covered by subsequent paint applications) will cause the surface to darken and/or yellow over time (in addition to becoming increasingly difficult to safely remove). Oiling out can be done carefully in between paint layers (or to cut the absorbency of the ground) during the painting process if artists consider the following recommendations listed below.

    Alternatives to Using Retouch Varnishes and Oiling Out
    • Consider possibly repainting an area that has become matte or sunken-in.
    To address problems with sinking-in, try adding a touch of medium (heat- bodied/thickened oil such as stand oil thinned in a solvent) to your paints or a problematic color or pigment (i.e. umbers are notorious for sinking in).
    • Experiment with different types of grounds as well as the overall thickness to see if this mitigates issues with sinking in. Note that a wide number of acrylic dispersion grounds are now become available, each with different amounts of fillers, additives, and water content and some of very dubious quality, so artists are encouraged to perform tests with their brand of choice.
    • For oiling out during the painting process or for cutting the absorbency of a ground artists are recommended to 1) apply a thin layer of oil locally as needed or globally (consider using stand oil/thickened oil thinned in a solvent if your paint/ground layers are extremely absorbent) to matte/sunken-in areas 2) remove any excessive oil using a lint-free cloth and 3) wait until the surface is dry to the touch.
    • It is particularly important to avoid applying moderate to thick layers of retouching varnishes or layers of oil during the painting process as this could lead to potential delamination and/or cracking of the paint. As most varnishes remain sensitive to solvents, varnishes should not be used as the primary paint medium or applied in between paint layers. Paint applied over a varnish layer or mixed with certain amounts of varnish can remain sensitive/soluble should the artwork require future conservation treatments.
    • If your composition is complete and some areas still appear matte, locally apply varnish instead of oil to even out the overall sheen, wait until dry, then apply a final protective varnish over the entire surface.
    • If you choose to thin your oil with solvents during oiling out take care if you are applying over fairly young oil paint as the solvents may begin to bite into the paint layers beneath.
    • If your surface is proving to be particularly stubborn once your composition has been completed, it is possible to achieve an even level of gloss by applying alternating coatings of HMW resins (Paraloid B72, MSA varnish, etc.) followed by a LMW resin (Regalrez/Gamvar).
  • Hi Denis,

    I have no words to thank you.
    This is really a great help. I will start my work from the beginning. 

    I believe this will gonna work.

    Thank you
  • Chumki

    Sinking in has little to do with the ground layer of gesso, particularly since the modern versions are primarily an acrylic polymer and glue.  When first applied fine pigment particles are suspended in a film of oil, as the brushstroke levels the pigment particles settle leaving a glossy oil film reflecting light beautifully.
    As the oil film polymerises it shrinks leaving an irregular surface that diffuses light and appears dull compared to the initial application.

    Specular Reflection vs. Diffuse Reflection

    Specular vs. Diffuse Reflection

    When a ray of light hits a surface, it bounces off or reflects and then reaches our eyes. This phenomenon by which a ray of light changes the direction of propagation when it strikes a boundary between different media through which it cannot pass is described as the reflection of light.

    Or in simpler words reflection is the bouncing of light from a smooth surface. 

    There are two types of reflection of light:

    Reflection off of smooth surfaces such as mirrors or a calm body of water leads to a type of reflection known as specular reflection. Reflection off of rough surfaces such as clothing, paper, and the asphalt roadway leads to a type of reflection known as diffuse reflection. Whether the surface is microscopically rough or smooth has a tremendous impact upon the subsequent reflection of a beam of light. The diagram below depicts two beams of light incident upon a rough and a smooth surface.
    Why Does a Rough Surface Diffuses A Beam of Light?

    For each type of reflection, each individual ray follows the law of reflection. However, the roughness of the material means that each individual ray meets a surface which has a different orientation. The normal line at the point of incidence is different for different rays. Subsequently, when the individual rays reflect off the rough surface according to the law of reflection, they scatter in different directions. The result is that the rays of light are incident upon the surface in a concentrated bundle and are diffused upon reflection. The diagram below depicts this principle. Five incident rays (labeled A, B, C, D, and E) approach a surface. The normal line (approximated) at each point of incidence is shown in black and labeled with an N. In each case, the law of reflection is followed, resulting in five reflected rays (labeled A,, B,, C,, D,, and E,).

    Hope you like the above explanation of Specular Reflection vs. Diffuse Reflection
    Please leave your comments, if you have any doubts.
  • I never knew this concept. Am using cotton rough texture surface for oil painting. Never tried linen canvas.

    Am really surprised seeing some of the video tutorials of artists where they are using very little amount of color we can say like scratching on canvas with tiny amount of color. And still that looks so bright and glowy beautiful. Even if in dark area.

    I think there are lots of thing still need to explore.
    I am really upset seeing frustrating result of my work .

    But these informations are really helpful, and I will try to execute on my work.

    I will start working on new canvas and will leave this piece as it is for now.

    Thank you so much. Thank you for your help Denis. 

  • Thank you for this information

  • I have gone through this kind of issues then I started toning and blending it with light and dark colours. For sure, varnish can help you to make it glossy but I think the use of matt oil paints could also be effective. On the other hand, the use of Liquin is also considered one of the best ideas to keep your painting glossy. If you are a beginner in oil painting then you must have a look at these guidelines https://drawingfan.com/oil-painting-for-beginners/ to overcome oil painting mistakes.

    By the way, the over the glossy look of painting also doesn't give a good impression. So, keep in mind, your paint should look natural. Best of luck. 

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