Oil Painting – 7 Tips for Beginners

oil-painting Paints

Oil painting where to start?

Painting with oil paints is probably the supreme discipline of painting. It allows the combination of different painting techniques and is characterized by special color brilliance.

However, anyone who wants to paint with oil paints must be patient, because oil paints dry much more slowly than other artists’ paints.

1. The right preparation for painting with oil paints

As is so often the case, good preparation is also a decisive factor when painting with oil paints. Sufficient space, plenty of light (but no direct sunlight), and good ventilation characterize the perfect place for oil painting. The required artist’s material should be at hand. Cover the surface well and wear insensitive clothing.

2. Basic Equipment

Now that you have prepared a suitable environment, the next obstacle comes: getting started with oil painting is relatively expensive. However, this is hardly different from acrylic painting. This is because you first need some basic equipment: in addition to the easel, this includes the oil paint tubes, some brushes, some solvents, and the painting support, i.e. a canvas or suitable wooden panel. That quickly adds up to a few hundred dollars, depending on how ambitious you are when you start.


3. Shades of the basic colors

When it comes to paints, it’s usually enough to get 5-6 tubes of oil paints to start with. We recommend the following colors as a starter set:

  • White (you usually need a lot of this).
  • (Light) Ochre (basic color, which you often need for mixing).
  • Cyan blue.
  • Vermilion.
  • Cadmium yellow (you need a lot of this if you want to paint green tones).
  • Chromium dioxide green or permanent green (you usually need little of this because you mix it with yellow).
  • Ivory black (rarely needed, can be little).

Professional tip: Don’t skimp on the colors! High-quality oil paints in artist quality are not only easier to work with, but also ensure a higher and longer-lasting color brilliance and luminosity.

3. First steps in painting with oil paints

It is important to know that oil paints are a very grateful material because oil paints that have already been applied can still be changed and corrected for a long time due to their long drying time. Nevertheless, it is advisable to first paint the planned picture as a rough sketch, for example with charcoal. In addition, basic considerations about the lighting conditions in the picture are just as crucial as those about movements and perspective.

It is also important to determine which colors are actually needed. It is important to adapt these to reality and not to follow a general cliché image such as “The sky is blue”.

Related post: Best Oil Paint Sets for Beginners and Professionals

4. Oil painting techniques

When painting with oil paints, the colors can be applied undiluted directly from the tube onto the canvas. In so-called “Prima painting,” which dispenses with the use of multiple layers, this makes for particularly brisk painting, often in one painting session.

Further possibilities are created by the use of painting agents and additives. By adding painting agents, the painter has more influence on the consistency, gloss level, and also drying times of the oil paints.

In layer painting and glaze painting, the oil colors are applied in several work steps: sometimes with thin, glazing layers, sometimes with thicker, covering layers of color.

5. After painting with oil paints

After painting with oil paints, it is important to clean the brushes carefully, as dried oil paint ruins brushes. The best way to do this is to use brush cleaner, then rinse the cleaned painting tools well under warm water and let them air dry.

Oil paintings are rarely finished after just one painting session. Therefore, it is advisable to cover mixed colors with plastic film or save them in small containers for the next work session. After all, it is almost impossible to mix the same shade of color identically twice.

It can take several months for a painting done with oil paints to dry completely. Only after complete drying, the oil painting can be covered with a final varnish, for example in the form of a spray, to protect the painting from dirt and other harmful influences.

6. Brush for beginners

Let’s first assume that you buy a ready primed canvas to start. Then you will not need a priming brush, but only the painting brushes. Since oil paint must be cleaned with solvents, only certain types of brushes are really suitable. On the brushes are usually appropriate labeling, for which material they are suitable. The super expensive (and good) red sable brushes used for watercolor painting are out of place for oil painting.

In principle, you can distinguish between hairbrushes (with a finely tapered brush tip) and bristle brushes (which form a broadside at the end). Hairbrushes are usually suitable for smaller, finer painting, while bristle brushes are used for gestural fast painting.


The beginner’s set includes at least three brushes: one fine (brush size 3 – 6), one medium (brush size 7 – 10), and one wide (brush size 12 – 18). However, you should keep in mind that this is first for self-discovery or material exploration. Once you have decided on a particular type of brush and a preferred width, you usually need about 4 – 6 brushes: one for each color. Therefore, painters often hold several brushes with different color tips in their hands, which they also use to hold their palette.

7. Oil paints dry

Oil paints dry very slowly. On the one hand, this is an advantage because the artist has so much time to implement gentle color gradients, expressive color transitions, various mixed tones or even corrections. On the other hand, the long drying time regularly leads to unavoidable breaks in painting. And even when an oil painting is finished, it can take weeks, sometimes even months, before the painting can be covered with varnish and hung up.

To dry, an oil painting should be deposited in a moderately warm place, out of direct sunlight, and well protected from dust.

With a little trick, drying can be accelerated a little. To do this, the artist carefully and very loosely lays newspaper on his damp oil painting. The newsprint absorbs the excess oil from the colors. However, some gloss is lost in the process. To restore the gloss, the artist should therefore choose a varnish with a higher gloss level for the final protective layer.

Additional Questions

Can you share some tips for oil painting?

When working with oil paints, there are three key principles that you must follow to ensure a successful and visually appealing piece. These are **’fat over lean’**, **’thick over thin’**, and **’slow-drying over fast-drying’**. Essentially, these guidelines demand that the subsequent layers of paint should be more flexible, have a thicker texture, and dry more slowly than the preceding ones.

What are the fundamental rules to adhere to in oil painting?

The backbone rules in the oil painting world are typically **’fat over lean’**, **’thick over thin’** and **’slow-drying over fast-drying’**. These principles help establish a proper foundation for your artwork, ensuring that each applied layer of paint is more flexible, denser, and takes a longer time to dry, compared to the underlying layer.

What would you suggest a novice oil painter to paint initially?

If you’re a novice in the field of oil painting, I would highly recommend starting off with a still life painting. This genre provides the artist with total control over the subject matter. Everyday objects such as a cup and saucer, or common fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges make for great subjects for art pieces. You’d be surprised by the simple beauty that can be found in these ordinary and easily accessible items.

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