oil painting for beginners

get started with oil painting


  • Oil painting for beginners is easy!

Follow me step-by-step, we will be painting a brilliant Baltimore Oriole with Dogwood flowers.

Learn oil painting for beginners. Paint an Oriole and Dogwood flowers with the painting artist Carol MayOriole 'n' Dogwood

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what do you need to paint with oils?

  • Your subject
  • Oil painting materials
  • Good light and ventilation


your subject

Artists may paint out of their memory, imagination, life or from photographs.

Many artists will combine two or more photos to create a new painting.

This painting used photographs of Dogwood flowers and an Oriole hanging on the bird feeder.

Dogwood Flowers image for oil painting ideasDogwood Flowers
Oil painting idea from a Baltimore Oriole pictureBaltimore Oriole

oil painting materials


what oil paint is best for artists?

Use professional artist paints. They cover better and will save you money in the long-run.

Find your oil paints here.

how long does it take oil paintings to dry?

Oil paintings may be handled in a few days, but they take months to dry thoroughly.

Alkyd paints look and handle like oil paints and they dry completely overnight.

All my 'Oil' paintings are done with "Ad" Griffin Alkyds made by Winsor & Newton.


brushes and canvas

Any bristle brushes of comparable sizes would be just fine.

Oil painting for beginners may use any canvas or canvas board.





oil painting for beginners starts with drawing

Start your oil painting on the canvas with a line drawing using thinned paint or an ordinary pencil.

Odorless mineral spirits thins paint. "Ad" Gamsol is considered one of the best for studio painting.

You may do the drawing on paper first and transfer it to the canvas with "Ad" graphite paper.


select your colors

  • A warm and cool yellow - Indian Yellow and Lemon Yellow
  • Orange
  • A warm and cool blue - Ultramarine Blue and Thalo Blue
  • Titanium white

"Ad" Disposable paper palettes are very handy for oil painting for beginners.

I laid out my colors plus white on a
disposable paper palette.Lay out your colors on a palette.

This painting uses an analogous discord color scheme.

Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel - cool and warm yellows and orange. The discords are the cool and warm blues.





paint the background

Use a #12 flat brush to paint the background.

  • Paint a variation of warm and cool blues mixed with white.
  • Make some greens by mixing yellow with the blues.

Mix your colors lightly on the palette. More mixing occurs on the canvas while you are painting.

Carry the colors from the face of the canvas over the sides of the canvas.

Paint the sides of a gallery wrap canvas so it may be displayed without a frame.Start painting the background.

Gallery-wrap canvas is stapled onto the back, so the sides of the canvas can be painted.

The finished painting may then be displayed without a frame.


Use a variation of greens and blues throughout the background.

  • It's a good idea to repeat colors in a painting.
  • So, occasionally put in some orange or yellow to indicate light and warmth shining thru the background.

The orange and yellow help warm up the cool background. That ties it together with the warm colored bird.

  • Softly blend the background colors together.
Paint the background around the bird and flowers.Paint around the bird and flowers.

The various background colors suggest things in the distance without having to paint any details. 

this makes oil painting for beginners easier.





paint the Baltimore oriole

Use a #8 flat brush to paint the bird's body.

We will let the paint set a bit before doing the left leg and eye.

The bird is painted with various yellows and oranges.

  • Make the colors brighter and warmer on the sunlight side.

Mix a black from your blue and orange and paint the head.

Use the #4 brush to paint the beak and toenails black.

A close-up of painting the Baltimore Oriole with oils art by Carol MayA close-up of the Baltimore Oriole
  • Always mix your dark colors with the colors used in the rest of your painting. When you mix your own black, it will harmonize with the rest of the painting.

Oil painting for beginners is fun when we don't stress out by trying to be perfect.

Just have fun!





paint the flowers

Use the #8 brush for the flower centers.

  • When you do oil painting for beginners always use the largest brush possible. This keeps your painting loose.

Mix a brown from Ultramarine Blue and orange for the centers.

Casually dab on the flower centers. They are not round circles.

Paint the flower centers of the Dogwood flowersPaint the flower centers

Then highlight the centers with yellow. (Next photo)

Vary the centers, some are more yellow, others are darker or a mixture of dark and light.


Mix the grey by adding white to the brown you used for the flower centers.

  • Paint the petals a soft grey.

Add more blue if necessary to keep the grey on the cool side. 

Mix yellow or orange with white to make a warm white.

  • Paint the sides of the petals that would be catching sunlight with the warm white.
Painting the Dogwood flower petals by Carol MayNext paint the petals

Mix some green and paint a few leaves with light and dark areas.

Spot out where you will paint the branches and leaf stems.

Use the old trick of how to do a painting, look at your painting upside down.

It will give you a fresh look to see any mistakes.

The background was a bit light, so I darkened it for more value contrast.

Start the leaves and stems.Start the leaves and stems.



finishing touches

the oriole

  • Paint his legs with a light grey. Mix a grey with blue and orange plus white to lighten it.
  • Paint his black toenails hanging over the branch.
  • Touch a bit of color in the eye. Use a very pale yellow white on the top of the eye. Put a bit of pale blue-white on the bottom of the eye.
Finish painting the details of the Oriole.Complete the Oriole

paint the stems

  • Paint the Dogwood branches and stems.

Mix light and dark greys with Ultramarine Blue and orange plus white.

Give the branches a light and a dark side to make them look rounded.



do your flowers have individual petals?

Have both cool and warm white on the flower petals.

This helps to help separate the petals and shows the direction of the sun.

The sun is coming from the top right.

Use a warm white mixed with a bit of yellow or orange for warm sunny side.

The shadow side of the petals will have a bit of blue or light grey mixed with white.

Make final adjustments on the flowersMake final adjustments on the flowers


it's your turn to paint!

  • Now you know how to do oil painting for beginners.

Get your oil painting supplies and start painting.

When you are learning how to paint, relax and enjoy yourself.

  • You don't have to paint like a photograph.
  • Paint from your heart and express yourself.


that is a lot more fun!

Try some of the other how-to paint pages. The more you paint the faster you will progress.


i wish you many successful paintings!



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