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Beginner's Guide to Oil Painting: Part 1

I’ve been drawing and painting for most of my life and love sharing tutorials and tips to help anyone who wants to learn about art.

Beginner's Guide to Oil Painting - A step-by-step guide that teaches you the basics of painting with oil.

Beginner's Guide to Oil Painting - A step-by-step guide that teaches you the basics of painting with oil.

Are You Ready to Oil Paint?

Whether you're brand new to painting or have already painted in other mediums such as watercolors or acrylics, you'll find that working with oil paints is definitely fun but takes some practice.

Artists love oil paints for their rich colors, durability, and their slow drying time, which allows plenty of time to work on a painting.

Even if you have no background in art, these simple, easy-to-follow steps can get you on your way to creating your first oil painting.

What Oil Painting Supplies Do I Need?

You can find all of these supplies at your local arts & crafts store, art supply store, or an online art store like DickBlick.com, JerrysArtarama.com or Utrechtart.com.

You don’t need to purchase the exact brands I show. This is just to give you an idea of what you should be looking for.

  • Stretched Canvas
  • Gesso
  • Paint Brushes suited for Oil Painting
  • Oil Paints
  • Covered Palette
  • Oil Painting Mediums
  • Turpenoid
  • Small Easel
  • Sketch Pad

Learn more about each supply below!

Poll: Learning to Oil Paint

Canvas for Oil Painting

For your first painting, it's easiest to choose a fairly small stretched canvas with staple-free edges that you can display without a frame.

The small square canvas shown below is 5.5” x 5.5” and about 1.25” thick. It’s from the Squangles line at Darice.com. I like these little canvases for a few reasons:

  • They don’t need to be framed.
  • They stand up on their own, so they make a pretty decoration for a dresser or table.
  • Because you can paint the sides, the painting has a unique 3-D effect.

If you can’t find this exact size, a similar size canvas works just as well.

Gesso

Gesso is an acrylic-based primer that you will need to prime your canvas. It helps the paint “stick” to the canvas much better. You only need a small bottle of gesso when you’re just starting out—A little goes a long way, and you won’t need much to prime a small canvas.

An assortment of brushes for a small oil painting.

An assortment of brushes for a small oil painting.

Paint Brushes for Oil Painting

For a small painting, you’ll only need about four to six brushes of various sizes. Be sure to choose ones that say they’re suitable for oil painting so the bristles can handle the paint and solvents.

Choose a selection of small to medium-size brushes. You will need a few with rounded edges for smooth strokes and shading, a couple with square edges for crisp lines, and at least one slim pointed brush for tiny details.

Either natural or synthetic bristles are fine. Brushes can either be purchased individually or in sets. Brushes can get pricy, so use student quality ones if needed.

Oil Paints for Beginners

It’s up to you whether you'd like to buy a set of oil paints with a pre-selected assortment of colors or purchase tubes individually.

For those just starting out in oil painting, student paint sets are a good option. Two of my favorites are the Grumbacher Academy Oil Paint 10 Color Set and the Gamblin Artist Oil Colors Introductory Set. Both are high quality for the price and have a good selection of commonly used colors.

If you prefer to use artist quality oil paints, a few options are:

  • Holbein Artists' Oil Colors
  • Grumbacher Pre-Tested Artists’ Oil Colors
  • Rembrandt Artists' Oil Colors.

Since most people use lots of white paint for mixing colors, I also suggest purchasing a tube of white Permalba in addition to a tube of white oil paint.

Basic Oil Paint Colors to Buy

  • Cadmium-Barium Red Medium
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Cadmium-Barium Orange
  • Cadmium-Barium Yellow Medium
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Thalo Yellow-Green
  • Sap Green
  • Cobalt Blue
  • French Ultramarine Blue
  • Violet
  • Burnt Umber
  • Raw Sienna
  • Black
  • White

Covered Palette

A palette with a lid can be tightly sealed to keep air out and prevent your paints from hardening or drying out between painting sessions. Your tubes of oil paint will go much farther, and you won't be throwing out the excess each time you paint.

This is also a way to save time mixing paint because you can pick up right where you left off at your next painting session.

Oil Painting Mediums

Unlike acrylic paints or watercolors that can be thinned with water, oil paints must be mixed with a medium to help the paint flow on the canvas. There are many types of mediums to choose from depending on the type of effect you want.

To keep things simple for your first painting, I recommend trying either Liquin Original or Refined Linseed Oil. Liquin is great because it dries faster than an oil medium. Refined Linseed Oil slows the drying time and gives the paint a nice gloss.

  • Purchase the smallest size bottle of either of these since you won’t need much for now.
Weber Turpenoid

Weber Turpenoid

Turpenoid: Clean Up After Oil Painting

When you’re done painting, you’ll need to clean your brushes thoroughly so they aren’t ruined by hardened paint. Water doesn’t dissolve oil paints, so you should consider purchasing a small bottle of Turpenoid. It’s a turpentine substitute that will clean your brushes and remove paint from surfaces.

Small Wooden Tabletop Easel

Small Wooden Tabletop Easel

Small Easel

An easel is optional since you’ll be working with a small canvas for your first painting, but I found this really nice small wooden easel at an art supply store for under $15. It’s adjustable in height and angle, so it will accommodate a painting up to 24”.

Sketch Pad

Sketch Pad

Sketch Pad

A sketch pad is very helpful to plan out your painting before you begin. Either an 8”x10” or 9”x12” will work for this.

  • I also recommend you have a pad of tracing paper on hand, either 8”x10” or 9”x12”.

Other Supplies for Oil Painting

Here are some other supplies that will help you get started with your painting:

  • A pencil
  • A ballpoint pen
  • A soft gum eraser
  • Scotch Tape
  • A small glass container with a lid to store Turpenoid and soak brushes until you clean up
  • A roll of paper towels
  • A small plastic dish or cup for gesso
  • A small plastic dish or cup for Liquin or Linseed Oil
  • Some gentle dishwashing soap (like Dawn) or liquid hand soap
  • Something to cover your work area, such as an old pillowcase or sheet
  • An old apron or painting smock

Oil Painting Supplies Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Can you thin oil paint with water?
    • Yes
    • No
  2. What two primary paint colors can be mixed to create green?
    • Red and Yellow
    • Blue and Red
    • Yellow and Blue
  3. Does gesso come in black?
    • Yes
    • No
  4. Can you mix oil paint with acrylic paint on the palette?
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. No
  2. Yellow and Blue
  3. Yes
  4. No

What's Next?

Once you have your supplies ready, please continue on to the second article in this series, "Beginner's Guide to Oil Painting: Part 2", where I will show you how to prepare a canvas, choose a subject, and transfer a sketch onto your canvas.

Questions & Answers

Question: How much oil paint should I use at a time?

Answer: Hello and thanks for your question. Oil paint is very rich and concentrated, so you don't need very much at one time if you're doing a regular oil painting. As you mix it with whatever medium you're using, it will become slightly thinner and flow easier across the surface. If you want to do an impasto technique (thick, chunky brush strokes), you will need more paint. To avoid using too much paint at one time, I would use the smallest amount you think you will need for the section of the painting you're working on, and then add more as you need it.

Question: How can I make an oil painting appear rich in texture aside from multiple layers?

Answer: You can try using an impasto medium for oil paints. This will add texture and make the paint go farther. Two to consider are Winsor & Newton Liquin Impasto Medium and Lukas Painting Butter Impasto Medium.

© 2012 carolynkaye

Comments

Gordo torres on May 05, 2020:

Like oil paint

carolynkaye (author) from USA on May 24, 2019:

Deborah - The biggest difference you'll notice is the slow drying time of oil paint. You'll have much more time to blend or change things compared to acrylics. Oil paints also have a softer texture. Even though oils and acrylics are different in some ways, I think your experience with acrylics will help you learn faster than someone brand new to painting. That has been my experience. Thank you for your question.

Deborah Kleszczewski on May 23, 2019:

I've been painting with acrylic's for a while, this is my first attempt with oils. What differences will be most apparent?

carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 27, 2019:

Thank you, Neelam. I appreciate your comment :)

Neelam Ganwani on April 27, 2019:

Great work

carolynkaye (author) from USA on June 20, 2018:

Thanks so much, Poppy!

Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on June 11, 2018:

Painting is fun but my pictures hardly turn out well. This is a great guide for those interested in getting into oil paintings. I just love art shops!

Beth Notman on January 08, 2018:

I'm a complete beginner, someone bought me a small easel and basic equipment for Christmas so am looking for some ideas on how to get started.

thanks,

Beth

Tania S Lopez from Fayettevile, NC on September 07, 2016:

I will have to give it another try! Thank you for replying! ;-)

carolynkaye (author) from USA on September 07, 2016:

Thanks, TSLOPEZ! Yes clean-up and drying time are longer, but it's still fun to try when you have time. Thanks for the comments :)

Tania S Lopez from Fayettevile, NC on September 07, 2016:

Awesome!! I love painting but I am always scared of using oil because I have never been sure on how to use it. Also, because I feel it is so much more time consuming!! lol

carolynkaye (author) from USA on December 07, 2015:

Hello aesta1, I use gesso on all my canvases from art stores. Some say they're prepared but I still find the paint sticks to the canvas so much better with a light coat of gesso.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 07, 2015:

These tips are what I need now that I plan to go back to my painting. Are the canvasses sold in art stores already prepared or so I need to use gesso?

carolynkaye (author) from USA on June 10, 2013:

Thanks, FlourishAnyway :-)

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 10, 2013:

Awesome hub! I like how you explain everything you need for true beginners, assuming we know nothing (because we truly do know nothing although we are interested in learning). Love the photos and all the tips. Voted up and more.