Why Do Oil Paintings Look Dull?

Do you know that many oil paintings go dull after some time and it has become a big pain for many artists? There are varied reasons behind this and the blog is aimed to highlight some of these. Primarily it has been observed that these result as many artists temper with the original oil colors to produce a somber effect. This ultimately mars the overall appeal of the work with time.

Oil painting requires some basic techniques and precautions to bring out the real substance and achieve a world-class finish. The artists have to take particular note of the under-painting, toning of the canvas, conveying volume, drying of the brushes, etc. to reach the desired goal.

Presented below are some of the most common reasons behind the fading of the oil paintings. Also, curated below are some of the pointers one has to take note of to ensure the lasting quality of your work.

Why do Oil Paintings become dull over time?


It is commonplace for many novices and even seasoned artists to complain that their works have lost the sheen and vitality with time. This phenomenon is generally referred to as ‘sinking’ and takes place when the topmost layer of the oil paint loses itself to the one lying beneath it. Experts believe that there are broadly three reasons behind it- a surface that is over-absorbent, excessive use of solvent, and/or under-usage of the medium.

The good part is that even if this extent of dullness happens, everything is not lost and the artist still stands a chance to recover the same. This is often done utilizing an oiling-out technique which helps restore the painting to its original vibrancy. Before proceeding to the cure, here are some reasons one needs to ponder over, in the beginning.

Blindly Following the Traditional View

Many artists in the struggle to be the next maestro of the art often get carried away by the age-old views and tend to overload their work with pastels, and neutral shades. This is done so that their work looks closer to Nature and perhaps adds to the originality of thought. But in this effort to reach the earthy monotones, they end up making their work very dull.

The Unwelcome Darkness

Yet another common practice that has added to the dullness of art-works is a deliberate darkening of the colors with black. Many artists add black colors to the foliage or greens to give them a fresh effect. It is also used to lend a flesh tint to the portraits.

However, the fact remains that mixing black with any bright shade results in a dirty appearance which mars the whole appearance. Hence toning down the evocative colors with dull ones like black and browns to make them less bright creates a fiasco.

Alla Prima Works

Also called ‘au premier coup’ or direct painting, the technique refers to a one-layer painting wherein the entire work is completed in one sitting. The term has been borrowed from an Italian phrase that denotes ‘at first attempt’. It is common in artworks painted directly from life. Broadly stating it involves wet-on-wet painting which on drying usually leads to a dull effect.

Overplay with Colors and Oil Pigments

Many thoughts pass an artist’s mind when he sits with his brush and paints. These are not just difficult to comprehend but also replicate. A lot goes into bringing your fantasies to life on canvas and many times in this effort the artist exceeds the required level of mixing of the colors on the palette alongside bizarre mixing of pigments of oil.

As a rule, it is said that mixing of more than three colors at a time kills the ultimate effect. Moreover, some colors are not able to give a dull tinge like raw umber, raw sienna, sepia, yellow ochre, cadmium brown, Vandyke brown, etc. Hence the choice of colors and their numbers have a lot of weightage which cannot be brushed under the rug.

Absence of Varnish

A simple yet effective way to brighten up your finish is by adding a coat of varnish over the work. It helps to underline the saturated appearance further adding to the overall richness. However, all this will require a clear appreciation and knowledge of the color theory as adding more than the required number of glazes (usually four) or missing out on the usage of the primary colors can have equally deleterious effects on the painting.

Over-Exposure to Sunlight


It has been observed when a painting gets exposed to heat and ultraviolet radiation from sunlight for extended periods, it results in damage. It is believed that this results from a chemical reaction that ultimately alters the oil paint and hence changes the colors. This kind of discoloration is often at the surface level.

It is important to take note of these reasons, alongside considering the following to add vibrancy to your work.

Key Tips to make your work more Vibrant

It is important to pick your materials wisely especially the oil pigments and paints. Also, enhancing the strokes of your brush by using the optimum quantity of oil is vital for a fine finish. Furthermore, it pays to begin by sketching followed by painting the mid-tone. Lastly, it is advised that you should begin by picking brighter colors before the addition of shadows.

The Bottom Line

Oil painting requires an appropriate technique that gets better with experience. There are no set boundaries to your imagination but there are rules which cannot be ignored. https://www.1st-art-gallery.com has always adhered to the ground rules of the art and has respected it in every genre. The reproductions are not just fine works but come with a guarantee to last so that the beauty of your priced possession never fades.