How to Get Started with Oil Painting

How to Get Started with Oil Painting

How to Get Started with Oil Painting

The first time I worked with oils, I fell in love.  It was like being romanced by the fluidity and patience of the medium that stood the test of time.  It was workable and blended much better than acrylics, and the luminosity that came through was unparalleled.  I really dove deep into learning the capabilities of painting with oils when I began studying from the great masters and their techniques.  I enjoyed the process of underpainting and glazing, then went on to discover other oil mediums that speed up the oxidation process.  Oil paint does not "dry" in the traditional sense, but rather undergoes a process called oxidation.  During oxidation, the oxygen in the air reacts with the oil in the paint, causing it to form a hard, protective film.  This process takes several days or even weeks to complete, depending on the thickness of the paint layer and the surrounding environmental conditions.

The oxidation process is what gives oil paintings their characteristically rich and luminous appearance, as the oil in the paint absorbs and reflects light differently than acrylic or watercolor paints.  It also makes oil paintings more durable and resistant to fading and yellowing over time.

Some other things you should know before starting:

Rules of Oil Painting

  1. Never mix oils with water.  Oil and water do not mix, and trying to mix them will result in a lumpy, uneven paint mixture.  Also, never mix acrylics with oil.  If you do decide to work with acrylics, you should paint with that first before, allow to dry completely, then paint over with oil.  Never the other way around.  Acrylics do not stick to oils.  But oils will stick to acrylics.
  2. Use a palette knife to mix your paints. A palette knife is a flat, metal blade that is used to mix and apply paint. It is a more efficient and effective way to mix oil paints than a brush.
  3. Apply paint in thin layers. Oil paint is a slow-drying medium, so it is best to apply it in thin layers. This will help to prevent the paint from cracking or peeling.  This is called “fat over lean.”
  4. Let each layer of paint dry completely before applying the next.  Oil paint takes a while to oxidize, so it is important to let each layer dry completely before applying the next. This will help to prevent the layers from mixing together and creating a muddy appearance.  It will also help prevent future cracking, unless you are using a medium with it.
  5. Use a varnish to protect your painting.  Once your painting is completely dry, you can protect it from dirt and damage by applying a varnish.  Varnish is a clear, protective coating that is applied to the surface of a painting.

Other than these basic rules of understanding, painting is pretty much a journey of discovery of what works for you.  

Gather your materials.

Buying art supplies is like going to the candy store or wherever you feel overwhelmed with joy and just want to buy everything.  That is exactly what it’s like whenever I go to an art supplies store.  Depending on where you live, I always suggest checking out your local art shop, and supporting small businesses.  

My personal recommendations for gathering art supplies:

  1. Michael’s
  2. Blick Art Supplies
  3. Blue Rooster Art Supplies
  • Oil paints  

Oil paint pricing is typically determined by the series level of the paint. There are three main series levels: student, artist, and professional.

  1. Student-grade oil paints are the most affordable option and are typically made with lower-quality pigments and binders. They are a good choice for beginners or for projects where cost is a concern.
  2. Artist-grade oil paints are made with higher-quality pigments and binders and are more expensive than student-grade paints. They are a good choice for experienced artists who want to produce high-quality work.
  3. Professional-grade oil paints are the most expensive option and are made with the highest-quality pigments and binders. They are used by professional artists who demand the best possible results.

The price of oil paint can also vary depending on the brand, the color, and the size of the tube. Some brands are more expensive than others, and certain colors, such as cadmium yellow and cobalt blue, are more expensive than others. Additionally, larger tubes of paint are typically more expensive than smaller tubes.

  • Canvases or canvas panels 
  • Brushes - There are beginner brush sets, but I would choose some good hog’s hair brushes or brushes that are specific for use with oils. 

Types of Oil Paint Brushes:



  • Sizes: 000 to 24
  • Uses: Detail work, such as painting eyes, hair, and small objects


  • Sizes: 2 to 12
  • Uses: Blending, softening edges, and creating smooth transitions


  • Sizes: 2 to 24
  • Uses: Applying broad strokes, filling in large areas, and creating sharp edges


  • Sizes: 000 to 12
  • Uses: Detail work, such as painting eyes, hair, and small objects


  • Sizes: 1/2 to 2 inches
  • Uses: Blending, softening edges, and creating smooth transitions


  • Sizes: 0 to 4
  • Uses: Creating soft, diffuse effects, such as clouds and foliage


  • Sizes: 000 to 8
  • Uses: Painting long, thin lines, such as hair and eyelashes

Well-Known Art Brush Companies:

  • Princeton
  • Winsor & Newton
  • Raphael
  • Da Vinci
  • Escoda
  • Rosemary & Co.
  • Silver Brush
  • Holbein
  • Grumbacher
  • Fredrix

Other supplies:

  • Gesso (I highly recommend using extra coats of acrylic gesso on canvas, especially for oils) 
  • Medium (optional)
  • Turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (for cleanup) - Blick has paint thinner called “NOOD” (No Odor) 
  • Glass jar to put your solvent - Save those jars!  They come in handy!
  • Palette - Glass palette or disposable paper palette
  • Rags/Paper towels

Prepare your surface.

  • If you are using a canvas, you will need to gesso it first. Gesso is a white primer that helps the paint adhere to the canvas. 
  • If you are using a panel, you can skip this step.

Choose your subject.

  • When you are first starting out, it is best to choose a simple subject, such as a still life or a landscape.
  • As you gain more experience, you can start painting more complex subjects.

Compose your painting.

  • Before you start painting, take some time to compose your painting.  This means arranging the elements of your subject in a way that is pleasing to the eye.
  • Consider the following elements of composition:
    • Balance
    • Contrast
    • Emphasis
    • Movement
    • Rhythm
    • Unity

Start painting!

  • Once you have composed your painting, you can start painting.
  • Begin by blocking in the basic shapes of your subject.
  • Then, start adding details.
  • As you paint, be sure to pay attention to the following:
    • Color
    • Tone
    • Value
    • Texture

Finish your painting.

  • Once you are finished painting, you need to let your painting oxidize completely.
  • This can take several days.
  • Once your painting is dry, you can varnish it to protect it from dirt and damage.
  • Be sure to clean and store your brushes properly

In this blog, we have explored the basics of painting with oils, from choosing the right supplies to creating your own masterpieces.  Oil painting is a rewarding and challenging medium that can be enjoyed by artists of all skill levels.  Whether you are a beginner or an experienced artist, I encourage you to experiment with oils and see what you can create.  Most importantly, enjoy the process!  

I would love to hear from you about your experiences with painting.  What do you like most about oil painting?  What challenges have you faced?  What tips would you give to other artists who are just starting out?  Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.  


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