Why your oil painting is cracking – 5 Reasons

Every oil painting is unique due to its high-quality textures and finish. But these textures don’t last forever as oil paints get older like humans. These oil paints create a pathway that narrates the age of oil paintings. This pathway can be in the form of cracking or dullness of oil paint.

Cracking in oil paintings is also known as craquelure which means the separation or cracking of the upper layer within a certain period of time.

Are these cracks really forming with the period of time or there can be some other reasons? If not then why your oil painting is cracking? Let’s find out.

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Why is my oil painting is cracking?

Oil painting can be cracked because of multiple reasons including too early varnish, climate difference, time, UV rays and the use of low-quality oil painting products including oil paints, thinners, and mediums

All these reasons play a major role in the cracking of your oil paintings. The most general reason is the time period which is quite acceptable because every oil painting has its age range but cracking a lot earlier is not natural. First, understand the complete description behind cracking.

Too Early Varnishing:

Varnishing plays a major role in protecting your oil paintings from dust and UV rays. But it can be an enemy if you varnish your oil paintings too early, earlier means before the complete drying time. The complete drying time of an oil painting can be 6 months to 12 months.

Varnishing earlier often results in blocking the path for oxidation of lower layers which are not completely dry yet. As a result, they start sliding from their original positions which causes cracking.

Climate Differences:

Climate does not seem as an acceptable reason but it is really a major problem. Oil paintings that are placed in unfit places such as in front of a heater during winter or under a fan often dry unevenly.

An ideal temperature for oil paintings can be 27 to 30 Degree Centigrade but when we try to maintain that temperature by using excess heat or temperature change can cause cracking.


Time is a general cause of cracking because it takes a lot of years for an oil painting to start cracking just because of the time period. The average time can be lies between 2 years to 5 years or even more.

Mona Lisa is a great example of a cracking effect over a period of time. It is more than 600 years old but cracking also defines the unique history of oil paintings which can be visible in the Mona Lisa.

UV Rays:

Ultra Violet rays coming from the sun are also an unfamiliar reason for cracking. Beginners usually try to make their oil paintings dry fast. They place it under the sun to get quick results but after a short period of time, UV rays not just result in cracking but also affect the original glow of oil paints. They get dull!

Using low-quality products:

In most cases, low-quality products are the major reason behind cracking. Cheap oil paints contain low-quality pigments that often don’t dry evenly. Using household products to save some money also causes oil paintings to get cracked. Using multiple mediums by mixing in each other is also a similar reason.

Types of cracks in oil paintings

Dr. Spike Bucklow conducted so many experiments on the cracks of oil paintings. As a result of his study, he discovered so many types of cracks which can be found in different paintings from different origins.

Perpendicular to grain cracks: These kinds of cracks can be found in Italian paintings such as Mona Lisa. These cracks are usually jagged racks in shape.

Image showing cracks in Mona Lisa

Parallel to grain: This kind of crack can be found in old Flemish oil paintings which are usually smooth.

Perpendicular to longest side: These kinds of cracks were found in old Dutch oil paintings which were usually in the form of middle-sized islands.

No Direction: These kinds of oil paintings do not have any specific direction of cracks. These kinds of unusual cracks can be found in French Paintings of the 18th Century.

After how much time do oil paintings start cracking?

If there is a proper distribution of mediums, then it may take more than 5 years but in case of low and cheap quality mediums it may crack within a year

There cannot be a proper guess of the exact time period during which an oil painting can start cracking but on average, it takes 2 to 5 years for an oil painting to get crack. This time can fluctuate to the difference in the quality of materials, techniques, and environmental situations.

crackle effect on oil painting – Is this really worthful

“Well, crackle effect is a technique in which an artist applies a thin layer of wood glue over the oil-based paint and then slightly hit with a hammer to get a natural like crackle effect of the oil-based paints”

This technique is used on wooden utensils or doors in which oil paint is used. But a thing to remember, this technique is not for oil painters who create oil paintings with so many precautions just to avoid cracks but why would they want to create cracks by themselves?

In oil paintings, this is not worthful because the real demand and popularity of oil paintings are linked with the texture of oil paints. No texture means no worth.

Oil painting cracks when rolled

When oil paint starts cracking, then rolling the painting should be avoided. Initial cracking means the paint is in a position to pull the upper layer out of the surface. Rolling results in creating a pulling force for the inner surface which helps it to get rid of the upper surface. As a result of this rolling, the upper layer can be totally separate from the surface and come out

Why do we do oil painting on a flat and straight canvas? It is just because oil paintings cannot bear the bending. In some situations when your oil painting is even wet and you have created it recently, it can bear some bending stretch but after the drying of the upper layer, they are unable to hold any kind of stress.

Can a cracked oil painting be repaired?

Yes, the cracks in oil paintings can be repaired but you should know the real reasons behind the cracks which can help you to adopt a suitable method for restoration

How to repair a cracked oil painting? There can be multiple reasons behind cracks in oil paintings. There is a need to observe the artwork to find the root of the problem. Once, you find the cause of the problem then you can repair it. Here are some simple solutions which are given by observing certain conditions which often result in cracks.

Things to remember!
Remember that before doing any action you need to check the varnished layer if it is present or not, if so then remove it first.
  • Change the Protective layer: A protective layer is an initial layer on which you apply the gesso primer before the start of painting. Turn the canvas upside down and check the back side for any bents. These bents also start to show on the upper surface. Now separate the painting from the canvas and keep it preserved. Next time, you can attach it to a canvas to stop the tearing process.
  • Using PVA glue: In this process, you will first separate the painting surface from the canvas and then you will point out the places where the breaking process is going on. You can reattach these areas using PVA Glue. Remember this should not be done before the drying of oil painting. Now in the last step, you can oil paint those places where there is a shortage

How to fix a chipped oil painting?

Chipped parts of oil paintings can be repaired. But they require a lot of experience and practice because you may have to retouch the whole part with original-looking oil paints.

If a place is broken in the frame, it can be repaired by the Plaster of Paris by taking the original size of the chipped area. But if there are broken and separated parts in oil painting then turn the canvas upside down and place a piece of linen from the back. Use a PVA glue to attach the surface then let it dry completely. Now, it’s time for retouching, mix the oil paints to create the same color as the original one. Cover all the surface with oil paints and finally, your painting is repaired.

How to repair a tear in an oil painting?

The procedure to repair a torn surface in an oil painting is the same as for a cracked surface. You can simply check the techniques which are listed for the complete detailed procedure.

How to keep oil paintings from cracking?

If your oil painting has been older than 5 years then there are more chances that it will start breaking. But it is also important to know what steps you can adopt to give your painting a life of up to 5 years.

To keep your oil painting from cracking, use only good quality products. Only those products are intended for a specific purpose. Use linseed oil to thin oil paints and use gesso to strengthen your painting surface. You can also add linseed oil to your painting to give it a glossy finish.

Or another thing you may want to consider is not applying the varnish too early. It is a protective layer but it could cause cracking in the upper layer by shifting the positions of lower layers.

As I describe earlier, oil paintings often crack before the time due to sudden climate changes or uneven drying processes. Don’t place it directly under the sunlight where UV rays can cause cracks after some months. Avoid placing it directly under a turned On fan to let it dry. On the other hand, be patient with the drying time and place it somewhere between 27 to 30 Degree Centigrade.


Does oil paint crack?

Yes, oil paint cracks. It breaks down over time after the complete drying of the oil. In oil paints, existing oil tends to get brittle and hard which can crack after 2 to 5 years of drying.

Why is my oil paint streaky?

Your oil paint is streaky because it does not get dry properly or it may not get a proper environment for drying. Now, you can follow the above steps to repair cracks.

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