Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Oil Painting

Do you know what some of the most famous paintings such as “The Raising of the Cross”, “The Milkmaid”, and “The Night Watch” have in common?

They are all made using oil paint!

Did these amazing oil paintings inspire you to pick up oil paints yourself?

In this guide, we will cover the basics of oil painting for beginners.

Best Oil Paints for Beginners

In recent years the amount of oil paint manufacturers has drastically increased. It has become quite difficult to find the best oil paint brands for beginners out there.

Finding the best oil paint for you depends for a big part on personal preference. But if you buy one of the best oil paint brands such as Schmincke Mussini, Old Holland, Vasari or Winsor & Newton you can’t really go wrong.

Includes best oil paints, best oil paint brush

What to Look for in Good Oil Paints?

Oil paint is very different from other paints such as watercolor paint or acrylic paint. However, even amongst oil paints from different brands you can find quite some differences.

Here are some points to remember when buying new oil paint.

  • Viscosity: in general oil paints are relatively thick compared to other types of paint. But there are some differences amongst brands. For example, Old Holland oil paint is known to be relatively stiff. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to know the viscosity of the paint before actually trying it. When in doubt, it is better to get a thicker paint, since you can always dilute it at home.
  • Lightfastness: the lightfastness grade (also known as permanence) indicates how well the paint withstands exposure to light. Most paints are graded using the ASTM scale. If your oil paint has an excellent rating, it will stand the test of time for many years to come. If it has a poor rating, it will slowly change color over time.
  • Quality Grade: oil paint is normally qualified as either student quality or professional quality. Obviously, the best oil paints for professional artists is of professional grade. This means it contains a high amount of pigment and can create lively and vivid colors. Student quality is the more popular option among people looking for the best oil paint for beginning artists. It is difficult to create the same quality with these paints, but they come at a lower price point.

Our Recommended Oil Paint for Beginners

With the three points above in mind, you might have a decent idea of what to look for already. We normally recommend beginners to buy a set of oil paints rather than individual tubes, since it will save you a bunch of money. If you already have a set of oil paints, you can buy the individual paints when you run out of them or when you need a new color.

The oil paint set by Winsor & Newton is a great place to start. It comes with 10 tubes that each hold 21 ml of a different color. It offers good consistency, texture, and lightfastness. The high amount of pigment in the paint gives it good coverage and tinting strength. Additionally, if the paint it too thick for your personal taste, you can use some paint thinner to dilute it.

This set is relatively small with only 10 colors. Of course, this means you can’t have every single color at your disposal. The color selection works fine for abstract, landscape or still life but is not recommended for portraiture.

The included colors are Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Cadmium Red Deep Hue, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue, Permanent Green Light, Viridian Hue, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Siena, Ivory Black and Titanium White.

Read our other article to discover good alternative oil paints as well.

Best Oil Painting Brushes for Beginners

Having the right art supplies is half the work of learning how to oil paint.

Finding some of the best oil paint brushes is just as important as good quality paint itself.

Many techniques can only be performed if you use the right type of brush.

Types of Oil Painting Brushes

best oil paint brushes for beginnersYou can use many different oil painting brushes. They come in all shapes and sizes.

A good quality oil paint brush will easily take up the paint and maintain its shape while painting.

Keep the following points in mind when deciding on which brushes to buy.

  • Brush Shape and Size: to get the best results, you want to have a variety of different brushes you can use. Some of the most common types of oil paint brushes are the round and the flat brush. Additionally, there are some more specialized brush types such as the filbert, spotter and bright brush. Beginners should start with at least a round and flat brush. Moreover, it’s best to have them in 2 or 3 different sizes as well. That way you will have the right type of brush with the right size for the job. Be aware that different brands number there sizes differently. A size 2 from brand “A” might be the same to size 3 from brand “B”.
  • Hair Type: the hair that a brush is made out of can come from many different natural or synthetic sources. Depending on the type you will get different performance. The best types of hair for oil painting are bristle an sable hair. Bristle is more sturdy and works better for covering large areas. Whereas Sable hair is more delicate and can be used for detailed work. Synthetic brushes are also becoming popular nowadays because they tend to be cheaper. But their performance is normally not as good.
  • Handle Length: oil paint brushes can come in a variety of different lengths. Normally they are bigger than brushes for watercolors, acrylic paint etc. Contrary to other media, oil paint doesn’t flow very easily due to the high viscosity. As a result, you hold the brush more horizontal. A longer handle can help balance the brush in this position. Also, it will make oil painting on canvas easier as well.

Our Recommended Oil Paint Brushes

Buying a brush set is a great place to start for beginners. First of all, it will provide you a good range of different brush types and sizes. Secondly, you will be able to save some money compared to buying them individually.

We recommend the Artify oil paint brush set to people just starting out with oil painting. This set contains 15 different brushes that are all artist grade, including several round, flat and fan brushes. They come in a small box which makes it easy to carry them around. Since they are handmade you will have minimum shedding of hair. So no more hairs mixed into your paint. They even offer a 100% Manufacturer Money Back Guarantee.

Also, read our complete guide on the best oil paint brushes for beginners.

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

Buying good oil paint brushes requires a little bit of an investment. That is why you want to take good care of them and not ruin them.

Knowing how to clean oil paint from brushes is crucial to make your brushes last a long time.

Even the best oil paint brushes will do you no good if you let the paint dry on them.

To prevent your colors from mixing unintentionally, you are probably already washing your brushes when you change colors. But you should pay some additional attention when you are done for the day and clean them for one last time. Dried paint is one of the main causes that ruin brushes.

Traditionally, artists used turpentine to clean their brushes. however, turpentine smells terrible and can actually be toxic.
Nowadays most people use regular paint thinners or citrus thinner instead. Having some thinner makes it considerably easier to remove all the left-over paint.

Don’t forget to check out our other article on other oil paint brush recommendations.

Best Canvas for Oil Painting

As mentioned before, oil painting is normally done on canvas.

However, if you go to any art supplies store you might find that there is more than one canvas for oil painting out there.

Fortunately, finding the right oil painting canvas doesn’t need to be hard. Just keep the following criteria in mind.

best canvas for oil painting for beginners

What to Look for in a Canvas for Oil Painting

  • Type of Canvas: canvas can be made out of a variety of different materials. Historically hemp was used to make a canvas. However, nowadays the best oil painting canvases are normally made out of cotton or linen.
  • Stretched or Unstretched: normally when we think of canvas, we think of the typical canvas on a stretcher bar. However, canvas doesn’t always come stretched for you. Unstretched canvas is also sold in big rolls, such that you can stretch it yourself. The advantage of stretching it yourself is that you can stretch it to any size or shape. While the stretched canvas only comes in rectangular shapes in certain sizes. However, since the stretching process is quite a hassle, we recommend beginners to go with the already stretched version. After all, the fun of oil painting on canvas lays in the painting itself not in setting everything up, right?
  • Texture: depending on which material is used and the precise manufacturing process, canvas can have a different degree of roughness. A rough texture might eventually shine through the painting. Normally a smooth and fine texture is the preferred option.
  • Primed or Unprimed: a primed canvas is a canvas that has a layer of gesso on it. This prevents the paint from unevenly sinking into the canvas fibers and leaving ugly blotches behind. Priming the canvas can also be a huge help if you have a canvas with a very rough texture. Fortunately, most of the stretched canvases are already primed.

Recommended Canvas for Oil Painting

To beginners, we normally advise buying a canvas that is already stretched and primed. This will save you a considerable headache.

The canvas multipack by US Art Supply is a good place to start for beginners. It comes with 24 cotton panels that are already stretched and primed for you. So you can use them right away for oil painting. The 24 panels come in 4 different size, namely: 5″x7″, 8″x10″, 9″x12″, 11″x14″. With all those different sizes, you can try out a variety of different projects.

If you want to learn more about the different types and forms of canvas for oil painting, read our other article.