I'm a beginner, and I'd like to paint a ghost with oil paints. The effect that I want is something similar to this picture:

enter image description here

The only difference would be that my ghost should be purplish. But that's only a detail, I suppose.

I'd like to know the steps I should take. For instance, for all I know, I would start by painting the landscape — all of it — which in this case is a forest. Then, once the paint is dry, I would add my ghost with a very thinned colour.


  • Is this the right procedure?

  • What thinner would you recommend? Can I just add as much thinner as to get an almost transparent colour?

  • I also read that thinned paints should not be used as last layer since they tend to crack. So, how can I avoid this?

2 Answers 2


Painting the background first and then adding the ghost indeed sounds like the right procedure. That way you'll ensure the transparency of the ghost is realistic.

Like you mention, be sure to let the background dry long enough first before proceeding with painting the ghost.

To thin down the paint, I'd recommend simply using a little additional oil and even less solvent, or glazing the paint.
Even though increasing the amount of oil will increase the drying period - and you need to store the painting horizontally in a dust-free environment during this time - the risk of ruining the background is minimized. You can add quick-drying medium to speed up the drying process.
Using excessive amounts of oil in relation to pigment and solvent might cause the dried paint to be glossy, so to prevent this you need at least a little thinner in the mix. It's hard to give straightforward advice on the amounts, though, since there are a lot of variables weighing in here. You can always experiment with processes like these by replicating them using similar materials.

If you use a thinner, paints already applied (in the background) might dissolve, depending on the drying time and pigments used, and mix with the current layer (the ghost), potentially causing both layers to lose their integrity.

As for the type of thinner, it doesn't matter that much when mixed with larger amounts of oil, I think. I've used turpentine and white spirit, and am currently trying out lavender (or spike) oil, which acts as a solvent, but is environment-friendly and non-toxic. It dries somewhat glossier than the other solvents when using it for glazing, in my experience, however. For that matter, if you have a well-ventilated workroom, I suggest white spirit, as it is the most matte-drying, and I think it dries the quickest as well.

Of course, if you plan on ultimately varnishing the painting using a glossy varnish, all these comments on the specularity of the paint mixtures don't really matter.

I also read that thinned paints should not be used as last layer since they tend to crack. So, how can I avoid this?

That's very strange advice, and the context seems quite important to me (e.g. what defines "thinned"?). Can you find that passage again?
As far as I know like almost all other painters, I usually thin all of my paints. The application of oil paints is based on this premise; since oil paints generally are no longer mixed manually by artisans, the manufacture of tubed versions necessitates they be highly concentrated, to facilitate their use (we can't practically increase the concentration, but we can thin it down).
The fat-over-lean rule applies here, meaning the closer you get to the surface layer, the fattier the paint applied should be to prevent it from drying before the underlying layers have dried. This can mean that the oil paints are used increasingly pure from the tube (as opposed to being mixed with thinner, which will make them leaner), but the artist can also decide to add additional oil.

  • 1
    If you are painting in transparent layers you will need to use some sort of medium. Fattier in this case does not mean more pigment from the tube, but fattier mediums. Meaning, by ratio, less solvent ("thinner"), more and increasingly heavy oils and usually some dammar varnish. The idea is to thin out the amount of pigment suspended in the medium (which can be thick), not just add more thinner. Stand oil is absolutely amazing to work with for this, and there are pre-made glazing mediums and varnishes.
    – rebusB
    Sep 22, 2020 at 21:12

As an alternative to glazing the ghost on top of a finished background painting you could also paint the ghost into the work directly using color!

With this approach you would decide on what colors the background would shift to when passing through the transparent purple film of the ghost. Then paint the ghost's figure and draping in with those new shifted colors as you paint the background around it as you would normally.

The benefit with this method is that the ghost would be much more grounded in the "reality" of the painting, and you could be more expressive in its depiction. It could be darker or much lighter and appear more saturated while still being "transparent". You could blur or deform the details of the background when seen through the ghost. And there would be no loss in any vibrancy of the color in the ghost areas that could result when layering colors.

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