Why do my oil paintings look chalky? Understanding the common issues

Creating an attractive oil painting requires various skills and an understanding of materials and mediums. Many beginners get frustrated by the chalky appearances of their oil paintings. If you find yourself creating a lot of chalky stuff even when the original portrait should be warmer then the situation is a lot more disappointing. You are not the only one who is facing these problems in oil painting.

This blog aims to provide helpful information about why your oil paintings look chalky and what can you do to avoid the common reasons behind the whitening of oil paintings. By understanding the root causes and the factors that are contributing to creating a cooler or chalky appearance, you can enhance the quality of your oil paintings.

Your oil paintings are looking chalky because your shadows and highlights are cool and that’s why the whole painting is looking cooler and white. Here are the following reasons why your oil painting looks chalky:

  1. Using insufficient oil content
  2. Your paint quality is poor
  3. Overworking the oil paint
  4. Not preparing the surface correctly
  5. Incorrect varnishing

Your brain plays a main role in painting creation because it stored in your own brain how to create shady and dark effects with colors. If you don’t have an idea then you should need to practice the color mixing techniques.

Table of Contents

Common Reasons

A chalky appearance is also known as a white appearance that results from using an excessive amount of light colors such as titanium white, lead-tin yellow, etc. Paint quality is also a great contributor that affects the whole painting’s texture and appearance. A detailed guide on the common causes is given below:

1. Using Insufficient Oil Content

Linseed oil is the most common oil used in oil painting. Insufficient oil content means the mixture you are creating does not contain enough amount of oil. The major purpose of oil is to give a glossy, yellowish finish to the oil paints but a lesser amount of oil results in a cooler tune with no glossiness. To overcome the problem, make sure to add enough linseed oil when you mix the oil paints together.

You need to add 15% oil to the mixture to maintain an optimal amount of oil content. To examine the oil paint, take a brush and draw a line on a separate paper or board. If the paint has a glossy look with a good flow then your oil paint is ready.

As linseed oil has a tendency to crack, darken, and dry slowly, so, one should be careful in controlling the amount of oil. Excess amounts of oil can cause cracks and extra slow drying time or your painting can become too dark.

Important to know: Low quantity of oil can cause a chalky look but high quantity can cause dull look with slow drying time. So, be careful with the quantity of oil. 

2. Your paint’s quality is poor

Not just the paint’s quality responsible but the quality of canvas, mediums, and even paint brushes also matters a lot. If you want to create some professional artwork, you have to put some money into buying artistic quality oil paints and canvas. Student-grade materials are not meant to be used for high-quality oil paintings. If you are using low-quality products then there is no excuse for why your oil paintings are looking chalky.

The low-quality oil paints are actually low in pigment intensities that they fulfilled by adding duplicate items to give the same results at cheaper rates. The problem is that such oil paints are good for beginners to practice different techniques. If you are still learning oil painting, we don’t recommend switching to high-quality oil paints. Instead, you need to put effort into learning first.

For Beginners: Student-grade oil paints
For Professionals: Artist-grade oil paints

3. Overworking the oil paint

Oil paints have a natural luster that cannot be achieved by applying corrections again and again. Reworking can disturb or impact the normal film to make the painting become cooler and chalky.

Maintain discipline in your artwork and apply additional layers after drying the previous layers. Also, make sure to avoid any excessive brushing or blending to maintain the richness of the colors.

Note: Moaintain Discipline in your artwork

4. Not Preparing the surface correctly

An ideal surface should be clean, smooth, primed, and sized properly. Beginners spend most of their time learning the painting techniques but they don’t know how to prepare a surface properly and which surfaces are suitable for oil painting. The following surfaces are suitable for oil painting:

  • Canvas
  • Board or wooden panel
  • oil paper
  • Masonite

Now, let’s move to priming which is also essential for oil painting. If you skip priming, it will cause the oil paint to be absorbed into the canvas resulting in discoloration. Make sure to apply enough amount of primer to seal the pores. Thirdly, always clean the surface before you apply primer.

Tip: Don't create a portrait bigger than the life-size

Read: How to make gesso primer at home?

5. Incorrect Varnishing

If your oil painting was good b before varnishing but after varnishing it looks chalky or a little bit white that means you have done some mistakes in varnishing. Good quality varnish should be used in order to achieve suitable results.

Get indebth detail about varnishing: Improved varnishing ideas for oil painting

Varnishing with a suitable varnish can help to protect the painting from dust and dirt and deepen the contrast. Make sure that the oil painting is enough dry before you varnish it.


If your oil painting is already chalky or white and you want to fix it, we have 4 step solution for you to try.

  • If the painting is already varnished, then you have to remove the varnish first by using distilled turpentine. If you are not sure about using varnish, take a look at “How to remove yellowed varnish from oil paintings”
  • Clean all the dust and dirt from the surface
  • Apply a thin layer of oil on the painting, this process is also known as oiling out. Read more: what is oiling out and how to do it.
  • Revarnish the painting with a good-quality varnish

Things to Avoid

Next time, take note of the following mistakes and try not to repeat them again.

  • Low oil content
  • Low-quality materials
  • Excessive use of light pigments
  • incorrect varnish


Do oil paints stay the same color once they dry?

Oil paints stay in the same color after drying but keep in note that oil paintings can take up to 6 months to dry completely. Staying in the same color after drying depends upon the quantity of oil content because more oil content results in dark colors after drying. But good quality oil paints dry in the same color.

Final Words

Oil painting is something that cannot be done without in-depth knowledge about materials and mediums that’s why every beginner should give half of the time to get in-depth knowledge about different issues that other artists faced during their journey. One of the common issues is having a chalky appearance after drying oil paintings. The common reasons behind chalky appearance include the use of insufficient oil content, poor paint quality, overworking, incorrect surface preparation, and varnish. These common issues can be overcome by increasing the quantity of oil content, using artistic grade oil paints, varnishing in a correct way, and avoiding excessive use of light pigments.

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