oil painting for beginners

get started with oil painting

  • It's easy to do oil painting for beginners!

Get your supplies together and 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, their imagination, from life or photographs.

It is common practice for many artists to combine two or more photos for 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 money in the long-run.

Find reputable paint companies here.

how long does it take an oil painting 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.

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how to start an oil painting for beginners

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

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

This time I did the drawing on paper first and transferred it to the canvas with "Ad" graphite paper.


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

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.

"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.

painting the background

  • Use a variation of your warm and cool blues mixed with white.

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

Use a #12 flat brush to paint the background.

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 may be painted. The finished painting can be displayed without a frame.

  • Integrate in some greens mixed from the blues and yellow.
  • It's a good idea to repeat colors throughout a painting. So, occasionally put in some orange or yellow to indicate light and warmth.

The orange and yellow help warm up the cool background and tie 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. It makes oil painting for beginners easier.

paint the Baltimore oriole

Use a #8 flat brush to paint the bird except for its left leg and eye.

We will let the paint set a bit before doing these.

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

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.

Tube black is a dull, uninteresting color. Mix your own black so 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!

painting the flowers

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

Use the #8 brush to dab in the centers.

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

Highlight the centers with yellow. (Next photo)

Paint the flower centers of the Dogwood flowersPaint the flower centers

Paint the petals with a soft grey. Mix the grey by adding white to the brown you used for the flower centers.

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

Add yellow or orange to white to make a warm white for the parts of the petals that would be catching the light.

Painting the Dogwood flower petals by Carol MayThen move onto 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. Give the branches a light and a dark side to make them look rounded.

do the flowers have individual petals?

Have both cool and warm white on the flower petals to help separate them from each other.

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.

it's your turn to paint!

Now that 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 more fun it is and the faster you will progress.

i wish you many successful paintings!

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