Why You Should Try Painting On Paper


This article is for all of us oil painting nerds who love experimentation. In late 2018 I began to make oil paint sketches on paper. I hadn't used paper as a substrate for oil paint before, but was encouraged to give it a try by artist Angela Piehl. After completing my first experiments on paper, I was hooked. Oil Paper offers a quick and easy way to make expressive oil paintings and try new techniques. I love using it for my monochromatic oil sketches. They generate compositional ideas for my larger paintings and enable me to explore the vocabulary of color and movement. These new works on paper have been exciting to create and have energized my painting practice.



  • Archival

  • Durable

  • Beautiful Texture

  • Portable

  • Affordable


  • Absorbs a lot of pigment during initial painting layers

  • Works on paper need to be framed

Arches Oil Paper.jpg


It was important for me to find an archival oil paper option before using it as a substrate in my regular painting practice. Many of the oil paper sheets out there are not archival and will yellow over time. I use Arches Cold Pressed Oil Paper. The paper is archival, 100% cotton, professional grade with a 140lb weight. It has an oil barrier that absorbs water, solvents, and binders, so there is no need to size the paper. I found that while the paper feels soft, it is actually quite tough and can standup to some demanding painting techniques.  

In my Red and Blue Monochrome paintings I am primarily using a Escoda Round Domed #6 Natural Bristle Brush. The brush’s characteristics (its 30mm wide and 67mm long) enable a heavy pigment load, and allows for a dynamic range in its response to pressure.  This allows me to apply paint in heavily saturated and light delicate strokes with the same brush.

Escoda Round Domed Brushes.jpg

A word of caution, when painting on paper your paintbrush will not respond in the same way that it does on canvas or panel. The paper has a soft feel on the brush and a wonderful texture. BUT, you’ll find that the paper really absorbs your paint. I mean it sucks up the first paint layers like a sponge soaks up water. Some people may find this characteristic frustrating, but if you get used to it you’ll enjoy working on paper. The paper’s absorbency requires that you deploy one of two strategies:

  1. Build up a base layer before starting your underpainting.

  2. Use a healthy load of pigment on your brush, palette knife, etc…

Framed works on paper

Framed works on paper

The Setup 

I mount the oil paper to a sheet of plywood using artist tape. The plywood can then be easily placed on my easel. This also gives me the option to fasten multiple pieces of paper to the same sheet of plywood. I love the flexibility of working on multiple paintings simultaneously. I also use the artist tape to create a half inch boarder on each sheet of paper. By masking the periphery I can create a nice crisp boarder. 

Give painting on paper a try. I love it for trying new ideas, exploring compositions, and bringing the experience closer to sketching. Let me know what you think. What’s your experience with painting on paper? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.