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What's the difference between
an oil sketch and a painting?

©2006 by aisling d'art

An oil sketch (or an acrylic sketch) is usually the preliminary version of a painting, drawn with oil or acrylic paint. It's usually less formal, obviously incomplete, and painted with looser strokes to suggest areas of color or an element in the painting.

An oil sketch is usually completed in less than an hour or two, and the subject is often a landscape painted in the open air. It's usually a smaller size than the finished painting.

Here are a series of sunrise sketches:

six sunrise sketches

The practice of starting with a sketch began around the 17th century. Today, landscape artists often combine on-site sketches with photographs, to create a formal painting in the studio.

In many cases, the sketches aren't intended to be seen by the public. Early sketches may be an easy trial-and-error experiment with composition, light, and color.

If a painting is a commission, the patron might see a formal sketch. If the patron wants something changed, it's a lot easier to make that decision before the actual painting is started.

A painting is the term usually used to describe completed art. Technically, it's a graphic representation created with paint on any surface. But, definition also fits a sketch.

Artists may use the word "painting" to describe any art that involves paint.

However, when we get technical about our work, we usually differentiate between the quick sketch-type paintings, and the more complete and/or professional paintings that we show in galleries.

Related link: Art & architecture | Spontaneity and intention: What is an oil sketch and why did Rubens use them?

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