13 Oil Painting Tips For Beginners: Step by Step Guide (That Works)

watercolor painting tips

Well did you always think that there is a Picasso or Van Gogh hidden inside you but never had the time or in fact the proper guidance?

Art has this mesmerizing quality to attract not only the eyes but also the soul.

“Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

The art of painting and well oil painting is one which has been going on for as long as one can remember.

In this article, we have put together a list of necessary oil painting tips for beginners for your convenience.

Painting is known to have many benefits and we have put a list of the tricks that will help you evolve and become a better painter.

Worry not for we have put together the best oil painting tips for beginners in this article.

So the first thing that comes to our mind when you say painting, is the paintbrush right?

Hence let us start with the different types of brushes.

1. The Basic Types of Brushes are:

  • Bristle:
  • Sable:

These brushes are manufactured with the use of pig’s hair.

They are stiff and have a certain spring to it.

These are specially used for oil paintings in general as they can endure harsh solvents like turpentine, heavy oil paint and textured canvas.

These brushes are generally soft and springy.

Soft hair brushes like these are not mandatory for oil paintings but they can be helpful for the mere details.

  • Synthetic:

It is a cheaper alternative to the hairbrushes and even more humane some would say.

However, they will lose their shape quickly due to the heavy paint.  

For beginners, a synthetic brush is recommended, as it is cheap and one can switch to the other brushes later depending on their technique and strokes.

Types of brushes 01

One can also classify the brushes based on their shapes.

In general, there are three shape types of brushes:

  • Flat brush:
  • Round brush:
  • Filbert brush:

These brushes have a rectangular shape at the end.

It is generally used for either wide strokes or sharp strokes.

This brush is used to create fine lines or detailing due to it’s pointed tip, for example, hair.

The filbert brush is a combination of the flat and round brush.

It has round edges and becomes flat towards the center.  

2. The Quality of Paints:

Camel (1)
Winsor newton professional watercolors 1024x1024 (1)

Now let us take a look at the paints that are involved in the process.

So, there are 3 basic qualities in the paints which every beginner should know.

The Camlin student quality, The Camlin artist quality, and Winsor & Newton.

The Camlin student quality is relatively cheaper amongst the three.

Although the pigments are of inferior quality the Camlin student quality is the best choice to get familiarized with the painting process.

The Camlin artist quality is a bit superior to student quality.

You can shift to it once you have gained some experience in painting.

A basic beginner should start with the Camlin student quality as it is the cheapest and hence it can be used habitually for practice.

Winsor & Newton should be used once you have gained expertise in painting.

It is of superior quality as compared to the Camlin student quality and Camlin artist quality because the quality of material, grinding of pigments, oil quality, etc is superior and hence less amount of paint will capture a larger surface area, it will have a longer lifespan and will give a realistic touch to the painting.

Anyone looking to make a professional career in paintings.

Some of the best professional oil paints are Bob Ross, Williamsburg, Sennelier, Blockx, Michael Harding and Old Holland.  

3. The surrounding Environment:


Now that you have proper knowledge of all the items that are necessary, let us take a look at the surrounding.

A quiet and peaceful place is a must, so, as to have your undivided attention towards a particular task.  

The place in which you are painting should be properly lit and there should not be any dust, as dust can easily get stuck to the oil painting and it will ruin it.  

An easel which is basically a stand should be used for an oil painting and is a must for all painters.

The reason is that keeping it on a flat surface will give you a bad posture which may later result in back and body ache.  

4. The Base Coat:

Base coat 01

Now that all these things are in place we need to acquire a canvas to paint on.

Please note that before you start the painting a layer of acrylic paint has to be put on your canvas.

Preferably 2-3 very thin layers.  

You can also use a primer called gesso as a substitute in place of acrylic paint if you wish to.

The gesso after drying makes the surface more stiff hence if we roll the painting there are chances of cracks developing on your canvas.

In the case of acrylic coats, the surface does not become stiff and therefore is easier to handle as compared to gesso.

That is so that the canvas does not absorb the paint hence helping you to capture the true essence and uniqueness of an oil painting.

Please let every coat of acrylic paint dry for at least 3 hours.  

5. The Position:

Position 01

Also, note that the position in which you hold the brush is important.

Try holding it away from the bristles.

The reason is that it will give you a free hand movement and help you visualize the painting better.

It also gives you a better wrist movement and thus more free-flowing strokes.

Holding the brush away from the bristles will also help maintain a safe distance from the canvas, making sure that your hand does not touch the painting.  

6. The Sketch:

Most of the artists out there prepare a sketch before applying any sort of paint.

It is especially recommended for beginners so that they have a clear idea of how to go about their painting.

Sketch 01

Make sure that you sketch on the canvas with a material which is oil soluble.

The normal pencil is the best option and materials like charcoal should not even be thought of while doing your oil painting.

Remember that oil paints are mostly transparent in nature thus an oil-soluble item for sketching is always recommended.  

7. The Right Amount of Oil and Paint:

Oil paint tubes

Observe that oil paintings come in tubes.

Sometimes one may notice that there is an excess of oil in these paints in such a case you must use a paper palette.

This palette will soak the excess oil in the paint.

So what if there is less oil in the paint.

A common telltale sign is that it will be very hard and possess very little shine.

In this case, one can make use of linseed oil to add that fluidity and shine to your oil painting.

Remember that excess of linseed oil will make the painting sticky and the drying time will increase.  

  1. The Paint to Surface Area Ratio:
  2. The Pressure:
  3. The Bonding:
  4. The Layers:
  5. A Practical Example:

One problem that every aspiring artist experiences at the beginning are how much paint to use in a certain area.

Like all other fields, even in the field of painting, practice is a pivotal factor.

An exercise that is recommended is to make a small 1 by 3-inch box, take a little paint and fill the box.

As time passes by you will get an estimate as to how much paint is required for a particular surface area.

Try and use the original colors as much as possible without mixing to give it a more clear and realistic touch.  

The next important point that not many will discuss is pressure.

Try putting less pressure so as to get light and confident strokes on the canvas.

Another added advantage is that this will increase the lifespan of the brush.

If we apply too much pressure the strokes will become dark and rough.  

As mentioned earlier, we will use the acrylic white paint for our base.

Now we are ready to apply the first layer of oil paint.

Hence the question arises, What should be the thickness of the oil painting?

As both the mediums (acrylic and oil paints) are different, getting them to merge will be a tough task.  

That is why the first layer of the oil paint should be really thin to increase the bonding between them.

The layer of oil paint can be thinned by using turpentine oil.

Note that every succeeding layer should be just a little thicker than the previous one.

This is done to give the painting as much depth as possible.

The linseed oil is used to increase the smoothness of the layers.  

After completing the first layer, leave it to dry for about 24 hours.

Otherwise, there won’t be a good bond between the colors and canvas.

If enough time is not given to dry, the colors of the second layer will blend and the first layer will be damaged.

There should be a gap of approximately 8 hours between the subsequent layers that are added.  

Let us now understand the added intricacies of oil paintings with a suitable example.

Imagine that we have a subject who has worn a dark blue coat on which there are a few light spots due to the reflection of light.

We will start with the dark colors in the first layer and later move on to the layer with the lighter colors.

This will help us to get us a more artistic and realistic look in our oil painting.

In short, you need to keep in mind that you should move from the darker shade to the lighter shade.

In the end, you can also take a dry brush and start mixing the edges to give it a proper faded kind of look, making the painting look more real.

Note that you should avoid using a mixture of too many paints and try using them in their natural color as much as possible.  

8. Cleaning Up:

Cleaningup 01

When your painting is done, clean your brush with turpentine.

This will increase the lifespan of your paintbrush.

It is also recommended that you wash the brush with mild soap.

As an alternative, a brush cleaning soap is also available in the market.

The used paint which is on the tip or the outer surface of the brush will be removed by turpentine.

The color which has seeped into the roots of the brush will be removed by the soap.  

Thus completing the entire painting process.  

Art can be a means of liberation and the perfect stress buster.

In the words of Pablo Picasso   

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

We hope that this article has been of some kind of use to you.

If you have any other interesting tips or information please leave it in the comments section below.

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