Oil Painting 101: Practical Tips for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Selecting your oil paints
  2. Choosing the right brushes
  3. Preparing your canvas
  4. Mixing colors effectively
  5. Applying the paint
  6. Exploring various painting techniques
  7. Cleaning and caring for your materials
  8. Storing and preserving your artwork
  9. Inspiring oil painting ideas for beginners
  10. Troubleshooting common issues

If you've ever found yourself admiring the depth and richness of an oil painting, you're not alone. Many people are drawn to the vibrant, textured appeal of oil paintings. And guess what? You don't need to be a Van Gogh or Monet to create your own masterpiece. Oil painting for beginners may seem intimidating at first, but with the right guidance and a few practical tips, you can get started on your artistic journey. So, let's dive into the wonderful world of oil painting together, shall we?

Selecting your oil paints

Choosing the right oil paints is like picking out the ingredients for a delicious meal—you want quality items that will work well together. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice:

  • Start with the basics: As a beginner, you don't need an entire rainbow of colors. Stick to the primary colors (red, yellow, blue), plus white and black. With these five basic colors, you can mix almost any shade you need. Brands like Winsor & Newton and Gamblin are known for their quality and are great for beginners in oil painting.
  • Quality over quantity: It's better to have a few good-quality paints than a ton of cheap ones. High-quality paints have more pigment and less filler, which means your colors will be brighter and more vibrant.
  • Consider the grade: Oil paints come in two grades: student and artist. Artist-grade paints have more pigment and are generally higher quality, but they're also more expensive. Student-grade paints are more affordable and are a good choice when you're just starting out.
  • Read the labels: Paint tubes come with labels that tell you important information about the paint, like its color, transparency, and drying time. Make sure to read these labels before making your purchase.

Remember, the goal is not to have the most extensive collection of paints, but rather to understand how to use what you have effectively. So go ahead, pick your colors, and get ready to explore the world of oil painting for beginners!

Choosing the right brushes

Stepping into an art store and seeing the array of brushes can be both exciting and overwhelming. What type to choose? Bristle or synthetic? Flat or round? The choice of brushes is just as important as your paints in your oil painting journey. Let's simplify it for you.

  • Bristle vs Synthetic: Natural bristle brushes are made from animal hair and are great for oil painting because they're stiff and durable, allowing you to move thick oil paint around your canvas. Synthetic brushes, on the other hand, are made from man-made materials like nylon. They tend to be softer and smoother, perfect for creating fine details and smooth gradients.
  • Shape Matters: Brushes come in various shapes—flat, round, filbert, fan, and more. Flat brushes are versatile and can make both wide and narrow strokes, while round brushes are great for detailing and precision. Filbert brushes, with their rounded edges, are perfect for blending.
  • Size: Like with clothes, size matters when it comes to brushes. Larger brushes can cover large areas and are useful for initial layers, while smaller brushes are best for details and fine lines.
  • Quality: A good quality brush holds its shape, doesn't shed bristles, and gives you control over your strokes. Brands like da Vinci, Winsor & Newton, and Daler-Rowney offer quality brushes suitable for oil painting for beginners.

As a beginner, it's advisable to start with a basic set of brushes—a couple of flats, a round, and a filbert should serve you well. And remember, a well-cared-for brush can be your companion for years, so learn to clean and store your brushes properly. Happy painting!

Preparing your canvas

Think of your canvas as the stage where your creativity will perform. Preparing it properly is like setting the stage for a grand show. But don't worry, it's not as complex as it sounds.

First off, you can buy pre-stretched, pre-primed canvases from any art supply store. These are great for beginners and save you the time and effort of doing it yourself. However, if you're feeling adventurous or specific about your canvas size, you can certainly prepare one from scratch.

  1. Pick the right material: Canvas is traditionally made from linen or cotton, with linen being more durable but also more expensive. Cotton canvases, though less sturdy, are perfectly fine for oil painting for beginners. They're affordable and available in a variety of sizes.
  2. Stretch your canvas: You'll need a wooden frame, also known as stretcher bars, and a staple gun. The aim is to stretch the canvas material over the frame and secure it with staples. The tighter the better, as a slack canvas can lead to cracked paint over time.
  3. Prime your canvas: Priming is applying a layer of gesso (a white paint mixture) to your canvas. It creates a smooth and non-absorbent surface, ensuring your oil paints don't bleed into the canvas. Most store-bought canvases come pre-primed, but if you're preparing your own, don't skip this step.

Whether you're buying a ready canvas or making one, remember that a well-prepared canvas can enhance the longevity and vibrancy of your oil painting. It's definitely worth the effort!

Mixing colors effectively

Stepping into the world of oil painting for beginners, one might think a vast palette of colors is necessary. However, you'll be amazed at the range of hues you can create with just a few basic colors.

Knowing how to mix oil paints is a game-changer. You're not just combining colors; you're essentially creating your unique brushstrokes of emotion and expression. So, let's get started:

  1. Start with the basics: A basic set of primary colors - red, blue, and yellow, along with white and black, is all you need to start. Believe it or not, you can mix almost any color with these five tubes of paint!
  2. Understand color theory: It's the science and art behind using colors effectively. For instance, mixing primary colors in varying proportions will give you secondary colors. Red and blue make purple; blue and yellow create green; red and yellow yield orange. Experimenting with these can lead to a multitude of different shades and tints.
  3. Use a palette knife: While it might be tempting to use your brushes for mixing, a palette knife is a better choice. It prevents your brushes from wearing out prematurely and keeps the colors from getting muddied.
  4. Go slow and steady: Mixing colors is almost like baking a cake. You can always add more of a color, but it's tricky to remove an excess. So, add colors bit by bit, mix thoroughly, and evaluate the result before adding more.

Remember, practice is key when it comes to color mixing. Initially, you might not get the exact shades you want, and that's perfectly fine. Experimenting is part of the journey, and with time, you'll develop an instinct for mixing the perfect colors for your oil painting.

Applying the paint

If mixing colors is the heart of oil painting for beginners, then applying the paint is the soul. This is where your creation truly comes to life! Let's take a look at some tips to help you apply oil paint like a pro.

  1. Start thin, finish thick: In oil painting, we often follow a rule called 'fat over lean'. This means your first layers of paint should be thinner and each subsequent layer should be thicker. This technique prevents the paint from cracking over time. You can thin your paint with a medium, like linseed oil or turpentine.
  2. Work from dark to light: It's generally easier to start with your darkest colors and gradually add in your lighter ones. This method, known as 'underpainting', gives your artwork depth and dimension.
  3. Use the right brush strokes: The way you apply your brush to the canvas can dramatically affect the look and feel of your painting. Long, smooth strokes are great for creating a calm, serene effect, while short, choppy strokes can add energy and movement.
  4. Don't be afraid to use your palette knife: Brushes aren't your only tool for applying paint. A palette knife can be used to create interesting textures and effects. It's perfect for adding those final, defining touches to your masterpiece.

Remember, oil painting is not a race—it's a journey. So, take your time and enjoy each step of the process. With practice, you'll find your rhythm and style, turning those blank canvases into beautiful oil paintings.

Exploring various painting techniques

One of the most exciting aspects of oil painting for beginners is the wide array of techniques available. Mastering a few of these can greatly enhance your artistic expression. Let's dive into some of the most popular techniques.

  1. Glazing: Glazing involves applying a thin, transparent layer of paint over a dried, lighter color. This process can add depth and luminosity to your painting. To do this, you'll need a glazing medium to thin your paint and make it more transparent.
  2. Scumbling: Scumbling is the opposite of glazing. Here, you apply a thin, opaque layer of lighter paint over a dried, darker color. This can create a glowing, ethereal effect in your painting.
  3. Impasto: If you like texture, you'll love impasto. This technique involves applying paint thickly so it stands up off the canvas. You can use a brush or a palette knife for this. Just remember, impasto layers take longer to dry.
  4. Sgraffito: This is a fun technique where you scratch into the top layer of paint to reveal the layer underneath. It's a great way to add interesting details and textures to your work.

These are just a few techniques in the vast world of oil painting. As you continue your artistic journey, you'll undoubtedly discover and invent many others. So, go ahead and experiment. After all, every great artist was once a beginner too!

Cleaning and caring for your materials

One of the key aspects of oil painting for beginners is learning how to clean and care for your materials. Proper maintenance can extend the life of your tools and ensure that you're always ready to create when inspiration strikes. Let's go through some handy tips.

  1. Brush Cleaning: Clean your brushes immediately after use. Use turpentine or a brush cleaner, then wash with warm, soapy water. Finally, reshape the bristles and let the brushes dry horizontally to prevent water from soaking into the handle.
  2. Palette Cleaning: Remove excess paint with a palette knife, then wipe the palette with a rag soaked in turpentine or a palette cleaner. If some stubborn paint remains, a soft scrub with warm, soapy water should do the trick.
  3. Paint Tube Care: Always replace the caps firmly on your paint tubes to prevent the paint from drying out. Also, avoid rolling up metal paint tubes too tightly as this can lead to cracks and paint leakage.
  4. Storage: Store your materials in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. This helps to prevent your paints from drying out and your brushes from getting damaged.

Remember, oil painting is not just about creating, it's also about maintaining. A well-cared-for set of tools is a joy to work with and can inspire you to create your best work. So, keep your tools clean and they'll serve you well on your painting journey.

Storing and preserving your artwork

Now that you've started creating fantastic oil paintings, you need to learn how to store and preserve your artwork properly. Taking care of your finished pieces is just as important as caring for your materials. So, let's cover some simple yet important steps.

  1. Let it Dry: Oil paintings take a while to dry—sometimes weeks or even months. Always make sure your work is completely dry before you attempt to store it.
  2. Safe Storing: Store your paintings upright, not stacked flat. If you must stack them, use padded separators between each piece to prevent any damage.
  3. Climate Control: Your artwork is best preserved in cool, dry conditions, away from direct sunlight. Excessive heat, moisture, or light can cause cracking, discoloration, or other damage.
  4. Framing: Once dry, consider framing your artwork. A good quality frame not only enhances the appearance of your piece, but it also provides additional protection.

Treating your finished oil paintings with respect will keep them looking their best for years to come. As you continue to explore oil painting for beginners, remember to give your completed pieces the care they deserve. After all, your artwork is a reflection of your hard work and creativity—why not show it off at its best?

Inspiring oil painting ideas for beginners

Wondering where to start with your oil painting journey? Don't worry, we've all been there. Here are a few simple but fun ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Remember, the key is to enjoy the process and learn along the way.

  1. Still Life: Start by painting a simple still life. It could be anything from a bowl of fruit to a vase of flowers. This exercise will help you understand shapes, shadows, and color blending.
  2. Landscape: Try your hand at a simple landscape. It could be a real scene or one from your imagination. This will help you explore perspective and depth in oil painting.
  3. Portraits: If you're feeling brave, try a basic portrait. Start with a sketch and gradually add details. This will require a little more patience, but it is a great way to practice precision and detail.
  4. Abstract: If you're not into realistic art, go for an abstract piece. Let your brush flow freely and see what happens. It's a fun way to express yourself without any rules or constraints.

Remember, there's no such thing as a bad painting—only learning experiences. So, don't be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. After all, that's what oil painting for beginners is all about—learning, growing, and most importantly, having fun with art.

Troubleshooting common issues

Just like any new skill, diving into oil painting for beginners can be accompanied by a few hiccups along the way. But, don't be disheartened! Here are some common issues you might face and some practical solutions to help you navigate through them:

  1. Drying Time: One common issue with oil painting is the long drying time. If your art piece is taking forever to dry, using a fast-drying medium, like Liquin, will help speed up the process.
  2. Color Mixing: If the colors on your palette are turning into a muddy mess, this is usually because too many colors are being mixed together. Stick to mixing just two or three colors at a time and clean your brush thoroughly before picking up a new color.
  3. Brush Strokes: If your brush strokes are too visible, try using a softer brush or thinning your paint with a medium. Also, remember to paint in the direction of the form.
  4. Canvas Preparation: If the paint isn't adhering to the canvas properly, it's probably because the canvas wasn't primed correctly. Using a quality gesso to prime your canvas will solve this issue.

Remember, every problem has a solution. And, more often than not, the solution involves going back to basics. So, don't fret over these common issues. Consider them stepping stones on your journey of oil painting for beginners. Happy painting!

If you enjoyed our "Oil Painting 101: Practical Tips for Beginners" blog post and want to expand your painting skills further, consider checking out Rachel Christopoulos's workshop, 'Improve Your Acrylic Painting Skills.' Although focused on acrylics, this workshop offers valuable techniques and advice that can also be applied to oil painting, helping you become a more versatile and well-rounded artist.