5 Tips for Getting Started with Oil Paints

Oil paints can be amazingly diverse; offering great scope to help create pictures that are wonderfully rich in colour, with beautiful textures.  Yet with all this exciting possibility in mind, we can find ourselves daunted about where to begin.

1. Find a place to paint where you can leave your canvas
‘Patience pays huge dividends when painting with oils. In order to paint with clean, fresh colour you need to stop from time to time and clean the brush… and don’t think that a painting has to be finished in one go’. – Stephen Brown

Your patience will be rewarded by the enjoyment of taking your time over a painting.  No rushing, pausing for a day to come back to it can really open your mind to seeing new things in your painting!  Make sure you have a space with good light, that you will be able to leave your painting to dry, and that you can return to regularly.

2.  Pick a subject that excites you and lightly sketch it out
Please see Clara’s blog on ‘How to… Prime and stretch a canvas for painting’ to prepare your canvas for this painting adventure!  You will know your own skill level, select an image/object that applies and this will help boost your confidence!  Sam suggests using a light colour pencil, such as a yellow when sketching – this way it doesn’t disrupt the painting!  Throw caution to the wind with any ‘rules’ you might have heard, as Jen says, people often have differing opinions so do what feels comfortable for you.

3.  Have the basic tools you need available

  • Brushes – Keep in mind the size of the canvas and the level of detail you require when selecting brushes, it is good to have a range of sizes.  Stiff bristle brushes are excellent for oil paints, as they provide a greater control over the paint.  Hog hair brushes are most commonly used, but there are a variety of synthetic and other types to.
  • Palette knives – These are wonderful, for scraping and moving the paint about.  Artist Juliet Holton says:  ‘Don’t be afraid to experiment!  If you want an area to be more tactile, using a palette knife is brilliant as it adds a 3D effect!’
  • Solvents – Turpentine is brilliant as a thinner; mix it with some of the paint to alter the consistency, and these areas should dry slightly quicker.  White Spirit is ideal for cleaning your brushes and knives.  There are a lot more solvents to explore as time goes on, but to start with these two are key.
  • Paints – There are lots of varieties of oil paints available, at a multitude of differing prices so you will be able to find ones that suit your personal budget.  We recommend having a look at CassArt for inspiration: http://www.cassart.co.uk/painting/oil_colour (reminder, we are not associated with CassArt, but just think their website is rather helpful!).

4.  Next arrange the paints on the palette
‘A Palette is a flat non-porous surface where the oil paint colours are mixed.  A wooden palette should be coated with linseed oil and wiped dry before its daily use. After the palette has been cleaned at the end of a session it should be coated with linseed oil and wiped dry again.’ – Bill Martin. – Alternatively, you can buy a book of ‘sheets’ of specially coated paper palettes for holding your oil paints!

We recommend arranging your colours around the edge of your palette in a logical order, for ease of use, particularly when mixing!

5.  Lastly apply the paint thinly to stay in control!
The oil paints we buy are made from rich pigments, mixed with typically a drying oil such as linseed.  This is what gives it the gorgeous fluidity, smell (depending on your definition of ‘gorgeous’), and depth of colour.  The best way to start is to make sure that you apply the oil in thin layers, building up slowly over time.  The slow drying time can be a blessing, as you can ‘move’ the oils around by scraping, dabbing, smoothing… This can be incredibly fun!  Don’t forget to refer back to point 3 for changing the consistency and qualities of the oil paints!

We wish you lots of fun with this, and hope it inspires you to try oils.  Please let us know your tips, and we would love to see images of what you produce!

Thanks for reading!

Author: Becca Scofield

1 Response

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’m going to my first painting class, so this article is what I’ve been looking for. Especially I like the part about having basic tools like brushes, palette knives, solvents, paints prepared in advance. Now I know what I need for the first class.

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