how to oil paint

answer's to beginners questions

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

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

but you have some questions?

  • Many beginners have questions about how to oil paint.
  • Anytime we start something new, we have questions. That's how we learn.

the answers are here!

what do you need to paint with oils?

  • You will need paint
  • A painting medium
  • Brushes
  • A support to paint on
  • Clean-up supplies
  • And a place to paint


what is the best oil paint for artists?

There are many good brands of oil paints. When you are learning how to oil paint, choose professional artist paints.

Why you may ask?

Student grade paints has less pigments in them. That is why they are less expensive. Less pigment means the paint doesn't cover as well, so you have to use more of it. You will have to use several coats to get bright, vibrant colors.

The artist quality paints have more pigment. It is much easier to produce good quality paintings with high quality paint. You will use less paint per painting because they cover better. They actually are a better buy after the initial investment.

what colors do you need?

You may use a full palette with a warm and cool version of the six basic colors. You will use more white than any colors, so be sure and get a large tube of white. Titanium white is great for all around painting.

Or you may start out small with a limited palette of the three primary colors plus white.

what brushes should you use?

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

  • Soft brushes made from either real animal hair or synthetic hairs are good for smoother 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.

  • Hog hair, filbert brushes are great for beginners. When you are learning how to oil paint, start with a couple of sizes like #7 or 8 and #11 or 12.
  • Get the feel for oil paints before you invest in more brushes.

Use a palette knife for mixing your paint colors.

what do you paint on?

When you are learning how to do oil painting there are three painting supports to choose from; stretched canvas, panels or canvas boards.

  • Stretched canvas is the traditional oil painting support. The canvas is stretched over and around wood bars. Stretched canvas has a give to it when you are applying paint. The canvas may be made from either cotton or linen. Cotton canvas is best for everyday oil painting. Linen is many times used for portraits and 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. Prepared panels are readily available for purchase.
  • Canvas boards are the third option. They are suitable for student work and practice.

what do you use for clean-up?

'Oil Paints' are oil based and you will need a solvent to clean your brushes.

Modern day artists use odorless mineral spirits or odorless turpentine. Gamsol, an odorless mineral spirits 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 Master's 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. You can leave you supplies out and they will be ready to go whenever you feel like painting.

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 this type of bulb will appear cool and dull in daylight. Instead, provide artificial lighting that is full-spectrum lighting, some times called daylight bulbs.

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.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on yellow daisies, Art by Carol MayTiger Swallowtail Butterfly

more about how to oil paint

how do you oil paint on canvas?

Ready-made stretched canvases from the art stores are primed with gesso. The gesso keeps the paint from sinking into the cloth canvas. Panels are also primed with several coats of gesso.

When the gesso on your painting surface is dry, you are ready to paint.

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

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

how do you use oil paints?

Linseed oil is the standard oil painting medium. Oil paints are manufactured with linseed oil, so you just add extra linseed oil to make the paint flow easier.

Many other painting mediums are available. But let's just keep it simple. You may mix a simple medium with half linseed oil and half solvent.

The cardinal rule of how to oil paint is "Paint thin to thick". Or some people say "Paint fat over lean".

  • 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 quicker and gives you a picture of where the painting is heading.
  • As the painting progresses, start using thicker and fatter paint, less medium. The fat paint dries slower.
  • The final, fat layer of paint will be straight out of the tube with no medium added.

Thin paint that is placed over thick paint dries before the under-painting. There is a good chance of the painting cracking after a period of time.

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. It may take several months for an oil painting to completely dry.

Various oil colors dry at different rates and with a different sheen to the dry paint. Artists use many different oil painting mediums to make the paint flow and/or to speed up the drying time.

  • Alkyd paints dry overnight or 24 hours at the most.

Alkyds 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 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!

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