Getting Started With Oil Paints
So you’re ready to get serious about painting! Here’s my list of recommended materials to get you started at one of my multi-day painting events. I’ve put as much detail as I can think of as well as suggested brands for beginners (good quality to get professional looking results, without paying ridiculous prices).
Summary of what you will need: 1 set of oil paints; oil painting medium; 1 tube of acrylic paint; at least 3 brushes; palette/baking paper; palette knife; canvases; pencil & eraser; soap and old rag to clean your brushes.
This article is about oil painting, if you’re considering getting started with acrylics, click here
1. Oil Paints
Pro-tip! When buying oil paints the paint should be hard (like the jib you use to cover up holes in your wall) and NOT runny AND NOT like room temperature butter. The thinner the paint the more binder and therefore less pigment is in there. If I’m buying a new brand I usually open the cap and have a look inside each pigment. All brands in the same pricing category are not created equal so it is worth doing this check.
Recommended colours: a true red (cadmium or vermillion), a cool blue (cerulean, pythalo, cobalt or cyan), a warm blue (ultramarine), a yellow (cadmium/lemon), titanium white, yellow ochre, burnt umber and black.
Recommended brand for total beginners is Pebeo or DAS Studio Oil Paints, set of 18x12mL PLUS get a bigger size of titanium white. As you paint you’ll figure out which colours you use the most and you can buy bigger tubes of those colours as well.
Cost: $12-20 (DAS Oil Paints from Geoff’s Emporium or Pebeo Studio Oil Paints from Gordon Harris)
I also recommend you underpaint with a layer of wash of acrylic paint to get rid of the white space on the canvas, so you may need 1 tube of acrylics (my most common underpanting colour is ultramarine blue). See my blog post on underpainting using acrylics here.
You will need a stretched canvas that has been double or triple acrylic gessoed.
Make sure you check the canvas has this (or says it is suitable for oil painting). If you paint on anything that isn’t primed with acrylic gesso, the oil from the paints will leak through and your painting wont last as long.
I recommend a stretched canvas instead of the canvas boards because they will be ready to hang up on your wall once the painting is complete and you don’t have to worry about the expense of framing afterwards! Plus, framing looks a bit traditional/classical. A stretched canvas is much more contemporary.
A good beginner size is 12×16’’ and for the next painting go larger! You can buy whatever size you want but it can be verrrryyy daunting looking at a large blank canvas.
There are generally 2 standard canvas depths (3/4 inch or 1 1/2 inch). Canvas frame depth is totally a personal preference on what you think looks best and whether you plan to frame it. Personally I like the 1 1/2 for large canvases, I paint over the sides and don’t frame them.
Cost: $7-12 for a stretched 12×16” canvas depending on the depth.
You’ll need the following brushes (see image below to match brushes with their names):
– 1x fine tipped Round or Rigger Brush – for fine detailing
– 1x small Bright or Flat or Filbert HOG HAIR brush (less than 0.7cm wide) – for detailing
– 1x large Flat HOG HAIR brush (at least as wide as an adult thumb ~2cm+) – for covering large areas of canvas
For 99.7% of my painting I use the above three brushes. Occasionally I use an extremely fine tipped brush for detailing and signing.
These are the three standard brushes and sizes you’ll see being used at all my Painting Parties and Painting in the Park events.
Unless you are detailing with a round or rigger brush, all other brushes for oil paints need to be HOG HAIR (they are white, thick and bristly brushes). Synthetic and soft brushes will not hold or distribute oil paints properly on your canvas….you’ll have a very frustrating experience unless you stick to hog hair!
Cost: from $1 each to…$$$ If you invest and look after 3 brushes (around $3-7 each), you wont need to replace them for a while.
Baking paper works very well as a palette for oil painting aaaand you can throw it away when you’re done – no mess! Just cellotape some baking paper onto thick cardboard or any other smooth surface.
Or use an empty glass picture frame with white paper inside as a background. This is probably the most commonly used palette among experienced artists.
Cost: Free. Raid your kitchen for baking paper or your house for an unused frame.
5. Palette knife (for colour mixing your oil paint)
This is one thing worth investing in because you’re only ever going to need one (mine’s lasted me over 12 years so far and still works perfectly).
When buying a palette knife you want a metal end that is very thin and bendy, this will help you mix colours faster.
The best shape is the long tear with a slightly rounded tip i.e. number 21 or 22 from the image below.
6. Soap and an old rag
I use these for washing up. Try not to get a “moisturising” soap, it doesn’t get the oil paint off your brushes as easily. You want one as soapy and sudsy as possible to cleaning your brushes.
An old rag/cloth/t-shirt works well to clean your palette knife and wipe brushes after they are washed.
You can also use turps but I find soap and water works the best (and doesn’t stink up the place).
7. Oil Painting Medium
I’ll keep this one easy. Buy any oil painting medium that is in your price range. And you only need a small 75mL bottle – this will probably last you a few years or about 20 paintings.
I’ve found it doesn’t matter which brand I buy they all give me the same results.
P.S. in case you are wondering, oil painting medium is what makes your paint flow more easily on the canvas. For acrylics and water colours this tends to be water.
8. Palette knife (for oil painting on canvas)
If the painting you are doing uses the “palette knife” technique (painting with your palette knife directly onto canvas) you should be able to get a good result with your palette knife from (5) above.
There are also specialised palette knives you can buy for this technique, they have a much less flexible/bendy metal part compared to palette knives for colour mixing.
As a beginner, you can buy a set of plastic palette knives to first try out or also cut your own with a milk container – as long as you make the edges smooth, you get a very similar effect to using the metal knives!
9. Table easel (Optional)
If your painting is bigger than 12×16” you may feel the need for an easel. I sell these for $25 – let me know if you would like me to bring one in for you to buy. They are fully collapsible and extend to accommodate quite large canvases – see pic below.
So that’s what you need to get started with oil painting.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!