you want to learn how to oil paint, but you have some questions?

Many beginners have questions about how to oil paint, that's wonderful.

  • That's the way we learn.
  • Here are the answers to common questions about oil painting.

Answers to questions about how to oil paint /God's Lighthouse oil painting by artist Carol MayOil Painting is a Joy!

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what do you need to oil paint?

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

what's the best paint for artists?

There are many good brands of oil paints.

  • Choose professional, artist paints when you are learning to oil paint.

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, so you will actually use less paint per painting. They actually are a better buy after the initial investment. 

High quality paints produce good quality paintings.

what colors do you need?

Start out small with a limited palette of the three primary colors, plus white.

  • Cadmium Yellow Light, Permanent Rose or Cadmium Red and Ultramarine Blue
  • Titanium white is the best white for all around painting. You will use more white than any colors, so be sure and get a large tube of white.

Or you may use a full palette with a warm and cool version of the six basic colors.

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 you start with?

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

  • Hog hair brushes are great when you are learning how to oil paint.
  • Start with a couple of brushes like #8 and #12. Flats or filbert brushes are both ideal for oil painting.

When you are learning how to oil paint, get the feel of using your 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 'ad' is an archival panel ready for painting.

Canvas boards are the third option. They are suitable for student work and practice.

Monarch Butterfly oil painting by Carol MayGessobord is great for 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 'ad' 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. A north window is considered the best.

Otherwise use 'ad' daylight bulbs with full-spectrum lighting.

Regular incandescent bulbs provide a warm light. Paintings done under regular bulbs will appear cool and dull in daylight.

A bluebird Cleaning Up by artist Carol MayA Critter Painting on canvas
  • 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.

More about how to paint a painting -

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.

  • You can make you own painting medium by mixing half linseed stand oil and half solvent (turpentine or mineral spirits). Store the medium in a glass container with a screw tight lid.

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.

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.

Country Barns an alkyd painting by Carol MayAlkyd Painting on Canvas

Griffin alkyd paints made by Winsor and Newton have been my 'oil paints' 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 without copyright restrictions is at - Pixabay.

most importantly - have fun!

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