Oil Painting For Beginners – Supplies and Getting Started

Why Oil Paints?

I paint with watercolours and with oil paint. Sometimes I’ll get asked, “Why these two? They’re so different!” And that’s precisely why. Watercolour is a medium that forces you to work uncomfortably fast, but as you get better and hone your craft, that speed becomes therapeutic. When you use watercolours, it’s fast and once it’s on the paper, you’re best to just leave it and let it do it’s thing. That confidence and relinquish of control is the very best thing about watercolour. Oil painting, on the other hand is almost the complete opposite. It gives you space and time to work and rework an idea over the course of days. It’s forgiving and slow. I think I like both because it’s the perfect balance. Often, I’ll crave the pace of oil painting and then weeks later, need to bring out my watercolours to pick up some speed. Today though, we’re going to focus on oil painting. There are so many misconceptions about oil painting, and so we’ll also cover the three that I come across the most. But first, let’s go over the supplies you’ll need to get started, and so you’ve got a good list of quality materials without spending time and money on supplies you really don’t need. Let’s get into it!

Oil Painting For Beginners

1. Paints

What do I use? Truthfully, an assortment. I’ve tried many brands and I can truthfully say that the quality between all of these are quite similar. There are beginner paints (usually termed artist grade) and professional paints (professional grade). Within the professional grade category, the difference comes in with the particular hues – some have more texture and more grit than others. But we’ll get into that later. Firstly, let’s talk about brands I love.

Gamblin Colours

Gamblin have a really nice colour range. They’re generally regarded as a very reputable brand of oil paints and are highly regarded by many artists. Their paints are known for their high-quality pigments, consistency, and colour vibrancy. Gamblin oil paints are made with a focus on safety, sustainability, and ethical practices, and they have a range of colours and products to suit the needs of both beginners and professional artists. Gamblin also offers a variety of mediums and varnishes that are compatible with their oil paints, making it easy to create a complete painting system. They provide resources and information on their website to help artists understand their products and how to use them effectively. We’ll cover some of these in the next section.

Winsor and Newton

You’re probably already familiar with this brand. They’re one of the leading art product manufacturing companies so you’re getting consistency and reliability with this brand. They offer a wide range of colours, including both traditional and modern hues, and their paints are known for their rich pigments, smooth texture, and strong colour retention. They offer a variety of paint lines, including their popular Winton and Artists’ Oil Color ranges, which cater to both beginners and professional artists. I’m always using a range of the Artists’ Series and Professional Series, finding that the biggest difference comes with the blue and brown hues. In other words, I like to get the highest range quality when buying these hues.

Schmincke Oil Paints 

Schmincke oil paints have a smooth and buttery texture, which makes them easy to work with and allows for smooth blending and layering. They have a wide range of colours, including both traditional and modern hues, and their paints are highly pigmented, which means that they have strong colour saturation and lightfastness. Their AKADEMIE Oil Paints line have some really nice soft pastel colours that I love to incorporate into my work like royal blue and sand. They also have a water-soluble NORMABlue line of oil paints that can be diluted with water. You can also clean up with water. Very cool!

Colours to start with…

I recommend starting with the following hues:

  • Titanium White: This is a must-have colour as it is used to lighten other colours, create tints, and is often used as a base colour.
  • Lemon Yellow: This is a warm, bright yellow that is great for mixing with other colours to create oranges and greens.
  • Scarlet Red: This is a warm, bright red that is great for mixing with other colours to create oranges and purples.
  • Indigo Blue: This is a dark blue that is great for mixing with other colours to create greens and purples.
  • Burnt Umber: This is a dark brown colour that is great for creating shadows and depth in your paintings.
  • Viridian Green: This is a bright, cool green that is great for mixing with other colours to create a range of greens.
  • Alizarin Crimson: This is a cool, red colour that is great for creating deep, rich colours.
  • Yellow Ochre: This is a warm, yellow-brown colour that is great for creating earth tones and can be used to create skin tones.
  • Ivory Black: This is a dark, neutral black that is great for creating shadows and depth in your paintings.

These colours will give you a good starting point for your oil painting palette, and you can always add more colours as you become more comfortable with the medium. It’s also important to note that you will need some sort of medium, such as linseed oil or turpentine, to thin your paints and make them more workable.

2. Mediums

Oil painting mediums are products that are added to oil paint to alter its properties, such as drying time, texture, and finish. Here are some common oil painting mediums and my favourites:

Gesso or Primer: For surfaces that need to be protected before applying oil paints. WIthout this, the natural oils in the paint will slowly deteriorate the fabric or fibers of the surface – canvas, paper or wood boards. Some of these you can already buy pre-primed, they’re usually white and ready to paint on.

Linseed Oil: This is a classic medium that is extracted from the flax plant. It is commonly used to thin oil paints, make them more fluid, and increase their drying time.

Stand Oil: This is a thicker, more viscous medium that is made by heating linseed oil. It has a slower drying time than raw linseed oil and can be used to create a glossy finish.

Neo Megilp: This soft gel medium maintains the body of oil colors, increases transparency and flow, and imparts a smooth, silky feel. Neo Megilp dries at a moderate rate and remains workable for hours. A personal favourite of mine – a must have! 

Galkyd: This is a popular alkyd medium that is made by Gamblin. It is similar to stand oil but has a faster drying time and can be used to create a high-gloss finish.

Cold Wax Medium: This is a mixture of beeswax and a solvent that is used to add texture and depth to oil paintings. It can be applied directly to the paint or mixed in with the paint on the palette.

Oil Painting Varnish: This is a clear, protective coating that is applied to a finished oil painting. It can be used to enhance the colors and sheen of the painting, and to protect it from dust, dirt, and other environmental factors.

For general diluting paints for painting and for cleaning brushes, I use Gamblin’s Gamsol, which is an odorless mineral spirit that is known in the industry as the cleanest and safest medium to use for this. A must have!

3. Brushes

What do I use? 

Honestly, a combination of 3-4 oil painting brushes and makeup blending brushes (for initial blending and/or underpainting).

That’s it! I find with the right paint and surface, you don’t need a huge selection of brushes unless you’re doing very technical and detailed work.

I use Princeton’s Catalyst Series Oil Painting Brushes for all my detailed work. Not sponsored, just my favourite!

For underpainting, which I’ll explain in the following pages, I use a very large, puffy and soft blending brush, usually for makeup application) and blend out my underpainting. The soft bristles give me a lot of slowness and time to work out my paints and blend carefully without moving too much paint around too quickly.

The other brushes that I use for smaller blending and creating movement in my work are the Kolbri natural hair brushes, in the Schule & Hobby Category brushes.

For more detailed work, you can add some speciality brushes to your collection – including palettes or rough, textural work, fan brushes or wedges to move paint around your surface.

Artist sitting at desk painting a landscape painting in oil.

4. Painting Surfaces

I love textural, raw canvas that I prime or handmade deckled paper (also primed).

Here are some common surfaces that are suitable for oil painting that you can try:

  • Canvas: This is the most popular surface for oil painting. Canvas is made from cotton or linen and is coated with gesso to create a smooth, absorbent surface for the paint.
  • Wood Panels: These can be made from a variety of woods, including birch, poplar, and mahogany. The panel is sanded and coated with gesso to create a smooth, absorbent surface for the paint.
  • Paper: Heavyweight paper, such as watercolor paper or printmaking paper, can be used for oil painting. The paper should be primed with gesso or an oil painting primer to prevent the oil paint from soaking through the paper.
  • Metal: Metal surfaces, such as aluminum or copper, can be used for oil painting. The surface should be primed with a suitable primer to create a surface that the paint can adhere to.
  • Other Surfaces: Other surfaces that can be used for oil painting include glass, stone, and even plastic. However, these surfaces may require special preparation or priming to create a suitable surface for the paint.

Common Misconceptions About Oil Painting

There are many, and I mean MANY misconceptions about oil painting that are unfortunate because I think they deter people from trying oil paints. There are so many beautiful characteristics to oil painting that no other medium will give you and for many (false) reasons, we’re afraid to try it. Let’s break down each one and truly get to know this remarkable form of painting. Here are the top misconceptions.

Q1: Is oil paint bad for you?

Definite no. Contrary to belief, oil paints are known to actually be one of the safest mediums to use. Modern paints contain little to no toxic pigments, and these are suspended in natural oils such as linseed oil, walnut oil, or poppyseed oil. While these oils are non-toxic, there are still some pigments used in oil paints can be toxic and harmful if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. But that is no different than any other painting medium, such as acrylic or watercolours, pastels… Despite this, like with any painting medium, it is important to use good ventilation when painting, such as opening windows and using a fan to circulate the air.

Q2: But what about Turpentine?

If you’re using turpentine, you’ve read the wrong supply list. It’s not common to use it anymore. There are other odorless and safer mineral spirits you can use. Gamblin Gamsol is a popular odorless mineral spirit solvent used in oil painting as a substitute for traditional solvents such as turpentine. It is considered a safer alternative to traditional solvents because it has lower toxicity and is less flammable. Most art schools use Gamsol because it’s been known to be the safest medium out there for cleaning and dilluting paint.

Don’t believe me? Gamsol has been tested by independent laboratories and found to have no detectable levels of benzene, a known carcinogen. It also has a lower evaporation rate compared to other solvents, which reduces the amount of fumes released into the air during use. Still I recommend using proper ventilation, gloves and dispoal when using any painting medium to prevent contamination or placing any of these residues that may linger on your hands into your mouth.

Q3: But doesn’t it take forever to dry?

This is true, but it depends on the oil used in the paint and the thickness of the application. Some oils, such as walnut oil or alkyd oil, dry faster than traditional linseed oil. Also, thin layers of paint can dry in as little as a day, while thick impasto layers can take several weeks to dry completely. Generally, use a fat over lean technique when working in layers so that your surface doesn’t contain the fattiest (pure oil paint) layer at the bottom, or the first layer. Work on thinner layers and then as you build your painting, your ratio of oil can increase. In other words, leanest first. 

Q4: Doesn’t oil paint smell bad?

I can’t really answer this one objectively as smell is a very personal thing but I wouldn’t use the word bad. They smell like oils. And I’m not talking about the oil paint that can be used to paint walls or wood or in certain primers. That smell that you’re probably thinking in reference to those products are because those do contain VOCs and benzene, which is that horribly unsafe chemical that is used in those products. Used alone, oil paints don’t release any chemicals into the air as they dry and their smell is really just the natural oil they’re made from.

Q5: Do they come off clothes or brushes?

Perhaps there are ways to completely remove oil paint from clothes, but my honest answer would be no. When I work with oil paint, I’m wearing clothing and gloves that protect my hands from the oil because it is hard to get rid of. If you get some on your hands, soap and water will remove it but clothing is another story.

As for your brushes, I think most oil painters will tell you they never really fully wash their brushes, at least not regularly, and a small amount of gamsol and a cloth will remove most paint off your brush where it won’t cure or harden the brushes between your next use. That is typically enough between changing hues or coming back a day or two later to continue.

Supplies and Links

Now that you have my full must-have list, below are all the products and links mentioned in the post. Start small and build your collection to your preferences. You might find you like a certain brush more than others and like to stick to the same colour palette. Build your collection only when you need to.

OIL PAINTS: 

GAMBLIN PAINTS

https://amzn.to/3Kc21VT

WINSOR AND NEWTON:

https://amzn.to/3Mlkq5A

SCHMINCKE OIL PAINTS

https://www?.schmincke.de/produkte/oelfarben/akademie-oel-color.html

MEDIUMS:

GAMSOL:

Gamblin’s Gamsol

OTHER PAINTING MEDIUMS:

Painting Mediums

BRUSHES:

PRINCETON CATALYST:

https://amzn.to/3nLVQQW

MAKEUP BRUSHES:

https://amzn.to/437zARJ

Kolbri natural hair brushes, in the Schule & Hobby Category brushes. You can find those here: https://www.kolibri-pinsel.eu/

COTTON RAG PAPER (Primer Required)

https://feathersandstone.com/collections/paper

CLEAR PRIMER:

Liquidex Clear Primer

If you’re new here, I’m Donata Delano. I am the creative owner and artist behind Donata Delano Art. I started The Good Canvas in an effort to build an art community focused on art, creativity and business. Aside from art related tutorials, tips and information occasionally, I also post recipes, crafts and out adventures living abroad in Mexico.

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