How Do I Create or Incorporate Text In An Oil Painting?

Ideas on Incorporating text into a painting or along side a painting.

If you are making an oil painting and want to include a short poem or other text in the work or along side the work you have a number of options. 

Incorporate the Text as Part of the Painting

Depending on your style of painting and your subject matter you will want to consider whether your text will be in a formal style font or a more painterly style font. You might want to first print and cut out the exact text from your computer and play around with compositions and configurations on the canvas. Rough in with pencil your picture composition.  Consider incorporating the poem or text into a border around the main subject part of the painting. Choose a canvas that is bigger than what you want for the main subject then mark off a border according to the size and area you will need for the text and paint the border area with a layer of oil paint in a color that will work with your painting. Use a drying agent and make sure that the surface is dry before proceeding. Smooth it out so you can write out the text all around the main subject in an artistic hand. Do your writing before the painting. Use a really nice set of markers such as Prismacolor or one of the great scrapbooking markers available that have different styles of tips from a fine tip to a "brush" style tip or paint the letters using a small brush. Understand that you have reserved the central part of the canvas for the main subject. You may want to put a hard line painted border between the main subject and the text for a more formal look or you may want to blend the background of the painting softly into the text area. Paintings with text incorporated can be really beautiful and compelling. Make the text a part of the painting rather than a separate element. After your painting has dried for several months you can varnish the entire work with the appropriate oil painting varnish including the text area. 

Carve the Words Into the Wet Paint

If you are using an impasto technique you can use a stylus and carve the words into the paint while it is still wet. This will be a more painterly or informal look.

Use a Shadow Box Alongside your Painting

If your painting is a painting to commemorate a loved one you can have a brass plate with the name and dates on it and have it adhered to the frame at the bottom. The text or poem can be framed under glass and hung separately. Most frame shops have a vendor that will custom make a small plate for the frame. Be sure to choose a flat frame if you are doing this or one that has a somewhat flat area on it for the plate.

For a more formal approach you might choose to do a separate frame for the poem or text. I would recommend you consider creating a framed and glassed shadow box and include memorobilia along with the written document. A pair of glasses, gloves, jewelry or a necktie or in the case of an animal a collar or toy. Consult a good independent framer for shadow boxes and design options. See my article on Picture Framing Tips for some ideas on selecting the appropriate frame and colors.


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Judith Barton
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Posted on Aug 26, 2010
Kathleen Murphy
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Posted on Aug 26, 2010