Oil Painting Tips for Beginners

written by Sophie | Beginners, Oil Painting

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

There is a lot of advice out there for beginner 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!

Sophie Ploeg oil painting


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. 

Sophie Ploeg Oil Painting 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.


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


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. 


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.


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

Sophie Ploeg Oil Studio thumbnail

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.


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.

Published: September 18, 2018

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  1. Thank you for your advise of avoiding mediums as a beginner. My mother was a trained artist and just used the oil paint plain and cleaned up with turpenoid.. and earlier turpentine) I never painted in oils instead worked in watercolor and I am just trying the water soluble oils. So totally confused with the fat over lean principal especially with what mediums to use so welcomed your advice! Thank you

  2. Amazing post Sophie!!…Appreciate the way you have shared your knowledge on the usage of oil painting.Very useful tips provided for the artists community.A great article, written on the level for beginners of which I am one. Done very little with Oil Painting. Looking forward to reading more of Watercolor Painting and other stuffs.
    I am a great fan of paintings and I have bought several paintings from IndianArtZone .Have a look at their website.Keep up the good work!.

  3. Hi Sophie!
    Thank you for this article. I’m embarrassed to admit, but I attended painting lessons and never used for my painting the oil paint – just acrylic. I never had time to wait till the layers dry, sometimes I had to create a few paintings on a huge canvas in short time to pass the semester.

    I checked briefly tour other articles, and I guess I will have to leave my graphic tablet once and finally try the oil painting! Your artworks are so detailed, I’m jealous of your skills at painting the fabrics 🙂

    1. Hi Anna, I didn’t touch oils until about 10 years ago. Acrylics is a wonderful paint – and just as wonderful as oils. Thank you for stopping by and I wish you good luck with the oils!

  4. Hi Sophie,
    Great information, being a pastel painter I know nothing about oils. What exactly do you mean with regard to Mediums, what are they, isn’t oil paint composed of pigment and a medium?
    I’m confused.

    1. Hi David, thanks for the comment! Oil paint has no medium in it, only oil and pigment. Good oil paint is basically pigment and oil, but many have extra fillers as well, for various reasons (often to harmonise thickness, drying time etc). In the above post I suggested beginners stay away from mediums – it only complicates matters. You might want to read this post for more info. A medium is something that an artist adds to the paint. The artist does this to change the normal behaviour of the paint: dry faster, quicker, make it thicker, or thinner, create special effects, etc. Mediums have a variety of ingredients, depending on what the medium is for. Hope this helps!

      1. Sophie,
        Thanks for clearing Mediums up for me. I started with the worng idea, and couldn’t go on. I think I understand now. I’m going to get some student paints and some brushes and get started!

  5. 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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