Oil Painting for the complete beginner

Selecting your oil paints

Before you can even consider starting to paint, you must make sure you have all the materials! There are hundreds of oil paint brands on the market. One rule of thumb to keep when searching for oil paints is; don’t be fooled by the appeal of low budget oil paints. Purchasing inferior quality oil paints will make painting a frustrating and unpleasant experience. We highly recommend buying artist or premium grade oil colors.

Purchasing a few expensive oil paint tubes can only take you so far. This is why we also recommend purchasing your oil paints in larger quantities (which you can find here). Doing so will save you a lot of money in the long run, and your paints will last much longer for the duration of many of your projects. Especially if you plan on doing large paintings!

Key points to remember:
  •  Avoid purchasing “student” grades of oil paints or paint sets. They’re considered to be the poorest quality of oil paint that you can purchase. Even though they may seem like a great idea at first, your paintings will look bland due to the low amount of color pigment contained in student grade oil paints. 
  • The most basic set of oil colors that any painter should have in their arsenal are as follows: Lemon Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White & Lamp Black. Using these colors, you can create thousands of different color combinations. Make sure you have a color wheel handy to help you mix the color you want.
  • Titanium White and Lamp Black are colors you’ll most likely run out of quickly as they’re used in a lot of mixtures and in adding detail to your paintings, so make sure you purchase large quantities in advanced. You can find various sizes of Titanium White here:
  • https://masterartsupplies.com/collections/oil-colors


Once you have your paints ready, make sure that you set up a large working area that will have enough space for an easel or a table. You also have to make sure you have some kind of cloth or rag on your floor to prevent destroying your floors. Avoid having direct sunlight pointing onto your paintings whether they’re still wet or dry.

Direct sunlight exposure to a painting can completely diminish the pigments in your oil paints completely and will have a noticeable impact. You should also consider keeping finished paintings in an area with stable temperature since humidity can cause the surface of a painting to expand and contract.

Rough Sketch

Before laying down marks with your oil paints, use a strong pencil to create some sketches of your subject. Make sure you're lightly sketching since graphite can be seen through paint. You can sketch directly onto the canvas or tracing paper, which then can be used to transfer onto the canvas. Here are some tips when sketching:

  • Use the negative space around your subject. Rather than drawing the object directly, it can sometimes be easier to draw the areas around the figure rather than the figure itself.
  • Choose the best placement on the canvas for your art. This will help draw the viewer's eye to the entirety of the canvas rather than a single point.
  • Drawing down a well drawn out sketch before painting can give you the opportunity to play with the brush work as much as you please since you will have a guide on what you need to do.


There are several techniques to use when painting such as painting sections or using layers of paint. One trick to keep in mind is to lay down a thin layer of paint first before using thick paint. This will give you a foundation layer of paint which then you can gradually add on to.

  • Use the previous sketch as a foundation to lay down your paint. Make sure you've sketched out the basic shapes by using cones, cubes, cylinders and rings. Use these shapes to paint in the form of your subject. 
  • If you're using thick oil colors, you can use blending mediums such as paint thinners or linseed oil to help thin your paint.
  • It can take up to three to five days for a layer of paint to dry enough for you to add a second layer. Be patient and plan out your painting as you wait.

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