Oil Painting Tips for Beginners

Sophie Ploeg oil painting beginners

Want to try oil paints but not sure where to start? Are you worried oil painting might be too difficult? Follow these tips and you'll enjoy the beauty of oil paints in no time. 

There is a lot of advice out there for beginning oil painters. In fact, this blog post will just be one more in the enormous list of hits when you search for beginners' tips. But I do hope to be a slightly different voice. So many artists advise beginners to prime their own canvas, to use a medium, and consequently to conquer the fat-over-lean rule, etc. Most of these tips are enough to put anybody off.

Instead I think you can simplify many things in oil painting, and by doing that make it a lot more fun, and much quicker to learn. Many well advanced oil painters practice the advice below as well.

If you want to try out oils, keep it simple and have fun!


Paints

Buy a widely known, well regarded brand, not an obscure one or a specialist one. If you want to keep cost down stick to a student paint such as Daler Rowney or Winton. If you are not new to painting (you might have used watercolour or acrylics before) you could perhaps start with better paints suchs as Winsor & Newton Artists Oils. 

Brushes

Get a basic set of brushes, you don't need more than 4 - 10 brushes to start with. Get a variety of bristle brushes and synthetic ones and various shapes. Don't buy specialist brushes such as fan or rigger brushes.

Canvas

Buy simple student range canvas from a good brand, like art materials shop's own brand.

Colours

Get the primary colours, red, yellow, blue, and burnt umber, titanium white and burnt Sienna. Do not buy many more colours as it will only add complexity and difficulty to your painting.

Play Around

Experiment with thick applications and very thin applications. Experiment with small paintings and big paintings. Experiment with different subject matter. Try a palette knife, try bigger brushes. Wipe it all off and start again. 

Medium

Be kind to yourself and do not use a medium.

Cleaning Up

Use a brush soap or a low-odour solvent like Sansodor to clean your brushes at the end of your sessions. Do not clean during your painting sessions. Learn to wipe your brushes thoroughly on kitchen roll or rags while you work.

Palette

Use a disposable palette unless you fancy cleaning up a wooden one.

Keep it Tidy

Oils are not the same as poster paints which are fine to get all over you. Oils won't wash out, some are toxic and they are relatively expensive. So put the tops back on the tubes after squeezing out a little paint onto your palette. Keep your brushes away from any other surface except your painting and your palette area. Do not use fingers and don't let the kids or the dog play with your paints.

How to Paint....

Forget about learning how to paint a portrait, or a landscape. If you can paint a portrait you can paint a landscape. After all, no matter what you paint, it all consists of shape, colour and form, learn how to paint that.

Drying

Oil paint takes time to dry. It is part of the characteristics of oil paints. Don't fight it but use it to its advantage. You have more time to work on a painting while still wet!


Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase through these carefully chosen links. It will cost you nothing  extra and you w​ould support this blog for which I would be most grateful.

Sophie Ploeg Oil Painting for Beginners

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6 thoughts on “Oil Painting Tips for Beginners”

  1. Hi! Here in North America we have a type of paper towels known as “Shop Towels”. They’re blue, thick and lintfree. They changed my life! No more oily rags lying around, potentially catching on fire! As for pallettes, I just love my “well-seasoned” vintage wooden pallette! Clean up is a breeze, and you just rub in the residue to add more slickness to the surface! I then throughly soak my dirty Shop Towels into a tight ball and throw away safely. I have a large glass studio pallette which is an absolute pain to get clean. I’ve also used disposable pallettes, but you have to be careful how you dispose of them to avoid combustion. I love oil painting! It’s the clean up that is a buzzkill!

    1. Thanks Amy! All good tips! I only dispose of my disposable palette 2x a year and I don’t really use any mediums or extra oil so combustion risk is not a big issue for me. And I use paper towels too – kitchen roll… Thanks again!

      1. Hi Sophie,
        This could be a ‘duh’ question but when you say you only dispose of your disposable palette twice a year, do you mean you keep them somewhere until you do or you only use two or three a year? If it is a big ‘duh’ moment forgive me🙏

        1. Hi Larry, no duh question at all! I use very little paint so it takes a long time for my palette to get really covered in paint etc. So I only use a couple of sheets a year! When I fancy a clean palette I just fold it up and throw it in the bin.

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