Oil Painting For Beginners – The Ultimate Guide

oil painting for beginnersUnlike other types of paint, oil paint is relatively thick which can make it a little difficult to work with.

But don’t let that stop you from trying! Many of the most famous painters in history used oil paint as their medium of choice and their work has stood the test of time for several centuries.

Even if you haven’t intensily studied art history, you probably have heard of oil paintings such as the Mona Lisa, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Night Watch, and The Starry Night.

Maybe one of these great pieces of art even inspired you to start painting yourself?

However, if you are just starting out you are probably wondering how to start oil painting and what the best art supplies are. In this article we compiled a complete list of items you need to find the best oil painting supplies.

How to Find the Right Oil Paint?

best oil paints for beginnersThere are a ton of different paints on the market nowadays. So it is difficult for both beginners and experienced artists to find exactly what they are looking for.

You are probably tempted to go with the cheapest oil paint you can find, right?

Unfortunately, these paints are normally of rather low quality and don’t give very vibrant colors either. So these normally don’t make for very good oil paints for beginners.

Normally buying a slightly more expensive and higher quality brand will save you many problems you might run into with inferior ones.

Of course, buying the most expensive paint isn’t going to turn you into an amazing artist right away. But they will grow with you as you get better and improve you skill. Whereas working with cheap paints will surely hinder your progress in the long run.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying oil paint for the first time:

1. Choosing from the Best Oil Paint Brands for Beginners

It seems like a new brand of oil paint hits the market several times a year nowadays. Some of them are surprisingly good, while others aren’t worth the money at all. Choosing a new brand is always a little of a hit or miss.

If you want to make sure you have good quality oil paint, you better go with one of the well-known brands such as Schmincke Mussini, Old Holland, Vasari and Winsor & Newton. Buying oil paint from one of those brands pretty much guarantees good quality. Although they might not be the cheapest, they are probably the best oil paint brands for beginners to start with.

Besides objectively listing all the pros and cons for separate brands of oil paint, there is also a subjective part when choosing your favorite paint to work with. Although we all want paint that will withstand the passage of time, everyone has a different personal preference when it comes to the desired viscosity of your paint.

2. Picking Between Student Quality Or Professional Quality

Most major brands offer oil paint in two different categories: student quality and professional quality.

Student quality paint comes at a lower price point due to the lower concentration of pigment but as a result also often produces subpar and dull colors. However, as the name implies, they are a good way for students and beginners to learn how to work with oil paint.

Professional quality oil paint will give colors that are much more vibrant and have a consistance that easy to work with. Although these can be a little pricey, even a small tube will last a long time. If the price is a problem, buying an entire set of colors at once can help save some cost.

3. Checking the Lightfastness of your Paint

The lightfastness or permanence of your paint indicates how well the paint will resist fading due to external factors such as light exposure. Most brands will use ASTM, the worldwide standard, to label their paint between I (excellent) and III (insufficient).

Especially if you are going to use a canvas for oil painting and you want a result that can last over time, it is important to know the lightfastness of your paint. Fortunately, if you decide to buy professional grade paint this will almost never be a problem. But pay attention if you go with student quality paint.

4. Determine the Right Viscosity

As mentioned before, many people have a preferred oil paint brand based on the thickness of the paint. Depending on the paint’s viscosity it might be easier or harder to work with using your paint brushes.

Although it is difficult to know how thick a paint is without trying it yourself, you can make a good guess by checking the oil and filler content in the paint. Alternatively, with a quick Google search you can easily find the viscosity of most well known oil paint brands.

Keep in mind though that is it pretty simple to dilute the paint by mixing in a little thinner. On the other hand, thickening a paint is very difficult.

Best Oil Paints for Beginners

Old Holland Classic

Best Oil Paints for BeginnersOld Holland produces some of the most high-quality oil paints you can find.

Normally different colors are sold in individually tubes of 40ml. Depending on the pigment used the price can vary a lot.

For beginners, it might be a better choice to go with a complete set. The Old Holland Classic Oil Intro Set comes in 6 different colors; titanium white, Scheveningen yellow light, Scheveningen red light, ultramarine blue, burnt umber and red gold lake.

Since the set is geared towards beginners the tubes contain only 18ml of oil paint, which will be enough to decide if you like the paint or not.

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Sennelier Artist Oil Paint Set

The Sennelier Artist Oils Set includes excelling artist quality oil paints that will serve you not only with landscape paintings but pretty much anything else you can think of.

It might seem more expensive than the Old Holland set but this one provides 2 additional colors for a total of 8. The colors included are Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Chinese Orange, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Azure Blue, French Ultramarine and Yellow Ochre.

Additionally, every tube contains 40 ml of some of the best oil paints you can find. So per ml of paint, you might very well end up cheaper.

Finally, this set includes some nice freebies such as a color mixing guide, 10 tips for pein air painting and a free Isabey #6 Filbert bristle brush.

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Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Set

At almost half the price, Winsor & Newton offers their own oil set of 10 different colors. Although the colors might not be as vivid, they still offer good lightfastness, consistency, and texture compared to other brands.

Winsor & Newton is probably the best oil paint in this price range. It comes with 10 colors despite the cheap price and every tube contains 37 ml of paint.

So you don’t have to be afraid of wasting expensive paint with every little mistake you make. Instead just focus on practicing and having fun.

The colors included 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.

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Oil Paint Brushes for Beginners

oil paint brushes for beginners

Now that you have the paint sorted out, it’s time to take a look at the different brushes you can use.

A quick trip to the art store will show you that oil paint brushes come in all shapes and sizes. But do you really need all of them when you are just starting out?

Keep reading to find out which types and sizes of brushes are essential for oil painting and which ones you can skip out on.

Judging the Quality of a Brush

With the right supplies, oil painting doesn’t have to be difficult. Of course, besides good quality oil paint, you will also need some brushes. If all you want to do is apply an even color to some action figures you could use an airbrush with compressor and you would be done in seconds. But if you want to do oil painting like the old masters use to do, you better get yourself some brushes.

When it comes to oil painting, having a range of different brushes and knowing how and when to use each is just as important as the quality of the brush itself. The best oil paint brushes will have no difficulty absorbing the paint and keeping a firm shape.

Brushes can come in a variety of different shapes. Some of the most popular oil painting brush types include:

  • Round
  • Flat
  • Filbert
  • Bright
  • Fan

Additionally, oil paint brushes can come in a wide variety of different sizes. Unfortunately, each brand of oil paint brushes uses a different number to indicate the size of their brush. So a size 3 might be small for one brand but medium size for another. So it’s best to stick to brushes from just one brand.

Brush Hair

The hair of oil paint brushes can come from a wide variety of different animals. But the higher quality brushes are normally made from either bristle hair or sable hair.

Bristle hair brushes are sturdy and useful for covering large areas in your painting. While sable hair is more delicate and mainly used for applying smaller details.

Cheaper brushes often use synthetic hairs made out of one or a combination of different polymers.  Although synthetic brushes are normally cheaper, their performance rarely matches that of sable and bristle hair.

Oil paint brushes Vs. watercolor brushes Vs. paintbrushes for acrylics

You will notice that compared to brushes for other media such as watercolor or acrylics, brushes for oil painting have significantly longer handles. This is to balance the brush and makes it easier to paint on a canvas while standing.

While other brushes are used held in a vertically to let liquid flow to the bottom, oil paint brushes are used in a horizontal position and applied on a vertical surface.

Additionally, although brushes for oil paint and acrylics are normally made from similar type of hairs, watercolor brushes normally contain completely different hairs that absorb water well.

Recommended Set of Oil Paint Brushes

The Artify oil paint brush set is ideal for beginners. It contains 15 different brushes that are artist grade and even comes with a free carrying box. The 15 brushes include the crucial fan, flat and round brushes.

While the fan comes in 2 different sizes, the flat and round brushes come in 6 different sizes so you will have the perfect sized oil paint brushes for each task!

The manufacturer claims to align every hair by hand instead of by machine to guarantee no shedding of hairs. They are so confident in their product that they even offer a 100% Manufacturer Money Back Guarantee.

Although they might not have the best performance, they are definitely a good choice for beginners on a budget.

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How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes?

It is easy to ruin your brushes if you don’t wash them properly. You want those pretty paint colors to dry on the canvas, not on your oil brushes.

Not only should you clean your brush after painting to prevent the paint from drying, it is also good practice clean them when changing between colors. Especially if you are changing from a dark color to a lighter color, the previous paint can starts to mix in without proper cleaning.

However, due to its oily nature, just using water alone isn’t going to cut it. Back in the days, people used turpentine for cleaning their brushes. But turpentine’s pungent smell and toxicity were some sever drawbacks.

Nowadays people are using odorless oil paint thinners. Keeping a separate jar ready with a thinner while painting, such as Citrus Thinner, will make cleaning a lot easier.

We might all become a little negligent when washing or brushes to change color. But always make sure to thoroughly wash your oil paint brushes when you are done for the day.

Which Canvas to Use for Oil Painting?

Painting Canvas for BeginnersOil paint can be used on many different surfaces such as paper, wood or even plastic. But the standard option is to use a canvas in combination with an art easel. For oil painting either a cotton or linen canvas will do.

When buying a new canvas you want to look at the following three things:

  • Stretched or unstretched: the canvas can come either unstretched (big roll, sheets or pads), or stretched on a wooden frame. Since stretching it yourself require a certain amount of skill and time, stretched canvasses arethe better option for beginners.
  • Texture: the behaviour of the canvas can change depending on how it was made and what it is made of. In general, to make sure you can smoothly apply the paint you want a texture that isn’t too rough.
  • Primed or Unprimed: for oil painting you only want to use a canvas that is primed with gesso. This smoothens out the texture and prevents the paint from sinking into the fiber of the canvas unevenly.

Painting Canvas for Beginners

For beginners it’s the easiest to start out with a canvas that is already stretched and primed. That way you can spend your time painting and not waste time on the more tedious things.

The canvas pack by US Art Supply, which includes 24 panels that are all 100% pure cotton and acid-free, will be a good start.

These 24 panels come in 4 different sizes: 6-5″x7″, 6-8″x10″, 6-9″x12″, 6-11″x14″, such that you always have the right one regardless of the projects. The small ones are perfect for practice or portraiture, while the bigger ones can be used for elaborate landscape drawings.

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How To Use Oil Paints?

How To Oil PaintEven with the best oil paint and brushes to your disposal, you won’t become a brilliant artist overnight.

No form of art is easy to learn and it will take lots of practice, time and dedication to improve your painting skills.

Fortunately, there are many way to learn oil painting both offline and online nowadays.

Online Oil Painting Classes

If you don’t know something, the best way to get an answer is to ask the internet, right?

So it isn’t very surprising that many people learn new hobbies and crafts online, without ever leaving their own home.

If you are a complete beginner and looking for a solid basis to start with, then taking a complete course on oil painting is the way to go. This way, all the information you will need is all located in one place.

If you already have some experience, it will be better to take lessons and classes on a specific topic or technique that you are not very familiar with yet or would like to learn more about.

Below is a list of options if you are interested in taking a oil painting online course yourself.

Oil Painting Master Series by Matthew Fussel

Oil Painting lessonsThis course by Matthew is a great place to start if you are a complete beginner to oil painting. It is designed to introduce students to oil painting though both video and illustrated eBooks. The course contains 19 modules and is roughly divided into 3 parts.

In the first section, you will learn the oil painting basics and everything you need to know before the actual painting starts. Some of the topics that are covered include stretching a canvas and applying gesso, preparing a palette, how to make oil paint from pigment, and which brushes to use.

In the next part, you will learn basic oil painting techniques and in which situation to use them. After taking these modules you will understand the difference between indirect painting, direct painting, and underpainting and when to use them.

The final group of modules will give you the opportunity to try out everything you have learned so far. You will practice by painting specific subjects like cloth, clouds, portraits and still life.

Course includes: 3.5 h of video, 17 eBooks, certificate of completion

Level: beginner

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Introduction To Oil Painting by Ashleigh Smith

Introduction to Oil Painting course onlineNot everyone has the time to go through almost 4 hours of video lectures and practice. This course aims to teach oil painting step by step without any of the fluff. So if you are looking for a shorter crash course into oil painting, then this course might be a good option for you.

This course by Ashleigh is only around 1.5 hours, so you won’t be able to learn everything. But it will still help you build a foundation from which you can learn and practice on your own.

The class will start by introducing all the art supplies you will need such as oil paints and paint brushes. After that, the basics of mixing, textures, layers, etc. are introduced one by one.

Course Includes: 1 h 23 min of video

Level: beginner

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Impressionism – Italy Scene In Oil by Christopher Clark

realistic oil paintingIn this course, you will get a better understanding of what it takes to paint like an impressionist. You will learn how to build a painting in one sitting, discover interesting brushwork, and bring luminous quality to your paintings. Additionally, this lesson will deal with broader concepts such as value, color, and edges.

This course is aimed at painters from every level. Depending on your level, you might be able to learn different things though.

The camera is positioned at such an angle that you will be able to see not just the canvas, but also the palette while mixing colors. You can follow Christopher step by step while he is painting. Or you could enjoy the show and use the PDF flipbook afterward for reference.

Course Includes: 1.5 h of video, 1 article, 8 supplemental resources, certificate of completion

Level: All

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Portrait Painting From A Photo: Underpainting by Kristy Gordon

Becoming good at anything takes a lot of time and effort. In case of portraiture, you will have to paint a ton of people. But it can be quite difficult to find someone to pose for you every single time. Especially considering the fact that one portrait painting can take more than an hour to finish.

That is why painting from a photo is ideal to practice. Even professional artists constantly use photos as reference materials for their paintings.

In this class, Kristy will explain exactly what makes a good photo to work with, how to prepare your canvas, and how to use your oil paints to get the result you want. Using measuring techniques, you will be able to make sure the monochromatic underpainting will have the right proportions.

Note that this lesson just focuses on creating an underpainting and does not cover the whole portrait painting process.

Course Includes: 44 min of video

Level: beginner

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Oil Painting Exploration: Painting On Tiles by Marina Nazarova

oil painting ideas for beginnersThis online oil painting lesson is a little bit of the odd one out. Rather than painting on canvas or wooden panel, Marina will explain what it takes to use your oil paint on tiles.

Since the oil paint behaves very differently on ceramics compared to canvas, this can be a fun little experiment for beginners and advanced painters alike. Just taking a quick glance at the example tiles by Marina will show you have cute they can be.

Since this lesson is pretty short, it will just focus on the differences between painting on tiles and canvas. So don’t expect long lectures about proper painting techniques.

Course includes: 14 min of video

Level: all

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