how to oil paint

answers to oil painting questions

you want to learn how to oil paint?  .....

Answers to questions about how to oil paint by artist Carol MayOil Painting is a Joy!

but you have some questions?

  • Many beginners have questions about how to oil paint. That's how we learn.

the answers are here!

how to oil paint

answers to oil painting questions

you want to learn how to oil paint?  .....

Answers to questions about how to oil paint by artist Carol MayOil Painting is a Joy!

but you have some questions?

  • Many beginners have questions about how to oil paint. That's how we learn.

the answers are here!

As an affiliate of Amazon and Blick Art Materials I earn from purchases, no additional cost to you. Learn More

what do you need to paint with oils?

  • Good quality paint
  • Painting medium
  • Brushes
  • Something to paint on
  • Clean-up supplies
  • A place to paint

what is the best oil paint for artists?

There are many good brands of oil paints.

When you are learning to oil paint, choose professional artist paints.

You may be wondering why you need professional quality paint.

Student grade paints are less expensive because they contain less pigment.

Less pigment means the paint doesn't cover as well. So you may have to use several coats to get bright, juicy colors.

Artist quality paints have more pigment and you will use less paint per painting because they cover better.

They actually are a better buy after the initial investment. It is much easier to produce good quality paintings with high quality paint.


what colors do you need?

You may use a full palette with a warm and cool version of the six basic colors; yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and green.

Or you may start out small with a limited palette of the three primary colors; red, yellow and blue plus white.

  • You will use more white than any colors, so be sure and get a large tube of white. Titanium white is the best for all around painting.


what brushes should you use?

Oil painting brushes generally fall into one of two categories, soft or stiff.

  • Soft brushes made from real animal hair or synthetic hairs are good for smooth types of work, such as portraits and possibly still life paintings.
  • Stiff brushes for oil painting are generally made from hog hair bristles. They are good for expressive work where you may want the brush strokes to show in the finished work.

what brushes should i start with?

Stiff brushes move the paint around better and make it easier when you are learning how to oil paint.

  • Start with a couple of brushes like #8 and #12.
  • Get the feel for your oil paints before you invest in more brushes.

Save paint by mixing your paint colors with a palette knife.



what do you paint on?

When you are learning how to oil paint, you have a choice of three painting supports.

  • Stretched canvas is the traditional oil painting support. The canvas is stretched over and around wood bars. Cotton canvas is best for everyday oil painting. Linen with its smooth texture is great for portraits, but it is more expensive.
  • Panels may be made from wood or synthetic woods such as Masonite. They need to be primed with gesso in preparation for painting. Gessobord is an archival panel ready for painting.
  • Canvas boards are the third option. They are suitable for student work and practice.



This painting is on Gessobord, a great surface for painting details.

what do you use for clean-up?

Oil paints contain oil and you will need a solvent to clean your brushes.

Modern day artists use odorless mineral spirits or odorless turpentine.

The odorless mineral spirits Gamsol, made by Gamblin is considered one the best solvents for studio painting. Keep it in a covered container between painting sessions.

An apron or dedicated paint clothes are a good option when you are learning how to do oil painting. Baby oil is noted for taking fresh paint off your clothes.

Clean your brushes with Masters Brush Cleaner or a gentle dish detergent after you finish painting for the day.

Have rags or paper towels available for clean-up.



where will you paint?

A dedicated painting area will encourage you to paint more often. Leave your supplies out, so you can paint at any time.

Good lighting is a necessity for your painting area. A north light window is considered the ultimate for painting, but we don't all have that option.

Regular incandescent bulbs provide a warm light. Paintings done under regular bulbs will appear cool and dull in daylight. Provide artificial lighting with daylight bulbs that provide full-spectrum lighting.

You need good ventilation in your painting area. An exhaust fan or a window cracked open are an excellent option.

A drop cloth will protect your carpet or floor.



how to oil paint on canvas

Ready-made stretched canvas and canvas panels from the art stores are primed with gesso. The gesso keeps the paint from sinking into the canvas.

Start an oil painting by putting a line drawing on the canvas with paint that has been thinned with your solvent.

Alternately do a light pencil drawing directly on the canvas or on paper first and then transfer it to the canvas with graphite paper.



how do you use oil paints?

  • Paint thin to thick. Or some people say, "Paint fat over lean"
    Paintings done with
    thin paint over thick, wet paint may crack after a period of time.
  • Start your painting thin (lean) by mixing your paint with some of your painting medium, turpentine or mineral spirits. The thin layer of paint dries quickly.
  • As the painting progresses, start using thicker, fatter paint. That means use less medium. The fat paint dries slower.
  • The final, fat layer of paint will be straight out of the tube with no medium added.

make your own painting medium

Oil paints are manufactured with linseed oil, so you may want to add a little extra linseed oil to make the paint flow easier.

There are many other painting mediums are available.

  • You can make you own painting medium by mixing half linseed oil and half solvent (turpentine or mineral spirits).



how long does it take an oil painting to dry?

  • Oil paintings may take a few days, up to a week or two (depending on the weather) to dry for safe handling.

The various colors dry at different rates. For example Burnt Umber, Raw and Burnt Sienna dry faster. The Cadmiums and Quinacridones dry slower. Some colors dry with sheen and other are flat without any shine.

  • Depending on the color and how thick the paint is, it may take up to several months for an oil painting to dry completely.
Country Barns an alkyd painting by Carol MayAlkyd Painting on Canvas


Alkyd paints dry overnight - or within 24 hours

Alkyd paints are made with the same pigments as oil paints. The pigments are carried by an alkyd resin instead of linseed oil. Alkyds handle and look exactly like oil paints. If nobody told you, you wouldn't know the difference.

Alkyds have a good painting consistency right out of the tube. Use them straight out of the tube without adding any other mediums. If necessary, they may be thinned with a little odorless mineral spirits.

I have enjoyed using Griffin alkyd paints made by Winsor and Newton since the 1980s. When you use alkyd paint all you need is the paint and some odorless mineral spirits to wash your brushes.

This greatly simplifies learning how to oil paint.



start simple in the beginning

Clown Triggerfish an oil painting by Carol MayClown Triggerfish
  • When you are learning how to oil paint choose a simple subject.
  • Paint from the things you see around your environment.
  • Use your own photos.
  • Be wary of using commercial photos or paintings that have copyrights.
  • A good place to find photos that have no copyright restrictions is at - Pixabay.

  • Most importantly - have fun!

more oil painting

  • Landscape Paintings for Sale

    You can bring peace and beauty into your home with original paintings and fine art reproductions of landscape paintings for sale by the artist.

  • How to Paint a Wave

    Join painting artist Carol May and learn how to paint a wave step by step in five easy steps for the beginner.

  • Daisy Painting with Oils

    Confidently do a daisy painting with an easy tutorial of white daisies. Enjoy your art journey while learning how to paint daisies.

  • Oil Painting for Beginners

    Step-by-step oil painting for beginners. What do you need to paint with oils? How do you use oil paints? Paint a brilliant Oriole on Dogwood flowers.

Shop at Blick Art Materials - goes to home page
Shop for your art materials at Blicks
  1. Home
  2. >
  3. Learn Painting
  4. >
  5. Oil Painting FAQs

What's New

  1. Watercolor Art Supplies

    What watercolor art supplies do I need? What can I paint on? What’s the best watercolor paint, paper, brushes? Can I watercolor on canvas, plus more…

    Read More

  2. Painting Watercolor Flowers

    The single most important thing about painting watercolor flowers is - watercolor is fun! How to paint watercolor Iris, Poppies and Echinacea flowers.

    Read More

  3. Hummingbird Art

    Hummingbird art, these little birds pack so much color and personality. What a joy doing hummingbird paintings of God's flying jewels.

    Read More

  4. Oil Painting for Beginners

    Step-by-step oil painting for beginners. What do you need to paint with oils? How do you use oil paints? Paint a brilliant Oriole on Dogwood flowers.

    Read More

  5. Choose Paint Colors for each painting

    How do professionals choose colors for paintings? Learn how to choose paint colors and create beautiful, harmonious paintings with only three or four colors.

    Read More