6 *Must* Know Oil Painting Tips Before You Start Working With Oils

Oil painting Tips for beginners.

Are you interested in painting with oils but find the intricacy of oil painting intimidating?

These oil painting tips will help you start your journey with confidence.

From afar when we see oil painting, we see the works of great masters and the complexities in them.

The oil painting has been around for centuries allowing it to develop various mediums that give it its complex nature.

Then we come a little closer and see the rules, the dos, and don’ts, techniques that make oil painting a little more daunting.

Oils aren’t all that scary as they pretend to be, they are often more forgiving than they are credited for.

And right before we decide to go for it, we see a never-ending list of materials that oil painting requires.

But in reality, we may not need most of it, just a few basic things that will help us get started, just like in every other medium.

This can all be very discouraging which makes oil painting seem unapproachable.

But it doesn’t have to be. Not with us helping you.

With these tips for oil painting, we will go over the essentials that will make the beginning of your journey a little less overwhelming and allow you to begin with sureness.

And of course, with some time and practice, you will be able to master this century-old art with finesse.

Let’s start with getting you familiarized with the basics of oil painting.

#Oil Painting Tip 1 – Basics You Can’t Overlook

Basics you need to know before you start Oil Painting.

Before you start painting in oils, know that even masters had to start somewhere and make mistakes to understand this medium.

So, don’t expect utter realness from your first few paintings as you will be still be getting used to the qualities of oil paint and learning to control them.

Especially, the slow drying time and the rules of layering.

Before you set yourself out for experimenting with oils, you must learn about the essentials.

These oil painting tips will help you get a better understanding of how to start and where to being.

A. Organize Your Space

A painting room with canvas, easels, paints and all other painting supplies.

A very important step that is often overlooked, it is essential that you organize your space as it will help dictate your entire experience of painting.

Here you will not ensure that you have the right material and tools for the job but also the right space.

Ideally, your painting space should be well lit (preferably natural light) and should be well ventilated.

Ventilation is very important when working with oil paints and solvents.

Make sure to keep towels, tissues, or old rags handy before you start painting and cover your floor with newspapers, old bedsheets, etc, to keep paint off the floor as it is not very easy to get them off, especially from fabric.

Similarly, you must be careful of disposing of your rags and storing your oil paints and solvents.

B. Know you supplies

OIl Painting supplies.

Choosing the right supplies is very important. Once you have your place set up, you need to slowly discover which tools and materials you like.

Typically, you will want a selection of good quality brushes, rags, primer, a surface to paint on, turpentine (or alternatives), a medium, and a few tubes of paint.

While easels and paint palettes aren’t always seen as a necessity, they certainly do have their advantages.

When working with oils, easels can be helpful as they will be a safe place for drying your canvas and it also makes working long hours comfortable.

While palette can help mix colors and create new shades.

I have explained in detail the resources you will need to get started below.

C. Start with a small painting

A person holding a small canvas and brush,

I know that you are excited to go big with this, but you should start small and get a hang of it first.

Going big in the initial stage will overwhelm you.

You still haven’t had the chance to find what you like, what you do well, and what needs work.

Additionally, I would suggest that you try and paint a fixed subject over and over again.

Having a fixed subject will help you develop your technical craft.

You will be able to focus your attention on using the techniques of oil painting, instead of deciding what goes into your painting.

This will practice will allow your creative thinking to shine.

D. Outline Your Painting

An artist drawing her painting's outline on a canvas.

After choosing and preparing your surface you are ready to start with putting colors.

But before that, you need to make a sketch of your artwork, not a very detailed but rough sketch of your dominant shapes, lines, and focal point of your painting.

This sketch will act as a guide and foundation to your painting.

E. Holding The Paintbrush    

Different way to Hold a Paintbrush for oil painting.

Learn the different ways of holding and using a paintbrush.

There are different ways of holding an oil paintbrush which is used for different effects.

Instead of holding the brush close to the brush hair, gripping it halfway down the length, this will give you a lot of control, which will allow you to paint finer details.

And for bold and sweeping strokes trying holding your brush at the end of the ferrule.

But as a beginner, I would suggest that you practice holding your brush handle as far back as possible.

This will give you more control and allow you to make sensitive and flexible strokes.

It also enables you to use your entire arm and not just the wrist. 

F. Use a Limited Painting Palette And Learn To Mix Colors

An artist mixing her oil paints in a palette and using a palette knife.
A palette knife with oil paint on female hand on the background of palette

Using a limited painting palette will allow for a feel of the color.

And why is that important?

Because it will help you understand how your colors behave.
and give you some practice making your own colors.

Knowing how to Mix oil painting is very important. I would suggest that you start with mixing with only two colors and white.

Remember to not over mix. When you bring two colors together, they will have a little inconsistency that adds texture and vividness to your painting.

If you overmix the colors, they will be flat and boring.

While working on your palette it’s important that you remember this oil painting tip.

G. Don’t Forget The Palette Knife

different types of palette knife along with an artist using a palette knife to create different textures in a canvas.

A palette knife is an important tool, don’t just use it as a tool to mix colors.

A palette knife can also be used to create interesting textures and unpredictable strokes that cannot be replicated by a brush. 

H. Invest In Your Brushes And Keep Them Clean

A before and after of used oil paint brushes that have been cleaned.

Get professional-grade brushes if you can, not only will they last longer but also make a visible improvement in your skills.

Cleaning your oil paintbrushes after every painting session is an excellent habit to fall in.
When cared for, oil painting brushes will last a long time.

Use paper towels or rags to clean your brush.
When you wipe, press and squeeze out the paint instead of rubbing your brush to and forth over it.

Next use the solvent of your choice (turpentine, mineral spirits, oil soaps, etc.) to clean off any excess paint.

Lastly, run your brush under warm water and give a last rinse with mild dish soap.

Make sure to dispose of your paper towels properly and soak your rags in water to remove chemicals.

If not, it could lead to combustion as toxins present in solvents can be inflammable. 

Also, dry your brushes in open air or a place with good air circulation.

This painting tip will help you prolong the life of your brushes.

#Oil Painting Tip 2

Whether you are new to painting or trying out a new medium, oil painting can be equally challenging and rewarding.

If you are a painter and looking to try something new, then oil painting is a great place to put the use of your skills and take on new challenges.

For someone new to painting, oils are a great place to be although, this may not be the most popular opinion, however, that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing it.

Oils have benefits that outshine all other mediums and we are here to help you harness them.
And what better way to understand a medium than knowing its tools.

The following list does not include rags, easel, brush bucket, and water.

You don’t need a glass palette or an entire collection of brushes or neon oil paints to get started.

The key is to start with the basics and see how it works out.

This will allow you to get your resources according to your developing style and save you from making unnecessary purchases that you might never use. 

I personally love bright and shiny jewel-like colors but prefer painting in monochrome.
So, what I’m trying to say is get what you need, not what you want.

Here are some oil painting tips on the supplies that are necessary to start your journey.

A. Your Oil Painting Surface

oil painting surfaces include a wooden board and white canvas.

You can use oil to paint on various mediums, given that they are primed well.

However, the canvas is the go-to choice for many artists and what we’d recommend if you are just starting out.

When it comes to canvas for oil painting, there are two options available; cotton and linen canvases.

Cotton canvas is inexpensive and stretches quite well. They are often the choice of students and for someone who is just starting out.

Whereas linen is superior to cotton in terms of quality and durability. It is preferred by professionals but is quite expensive.

In the very beginning, you can use thick paper and once you are comfortable, you can move on to canvas or any other surface.

Doing this can make your oil painting journey smooth and easy.

B. Oil Paints

Oil paints

Each brand has its unique texture, some oil paints will be buttery and easy to spread while others will have a slight grain to them.

Giving you an interesting result, depending on what are you looking for.

Don’t buy the colors you like, start with the basics – red, yellow, blue and white. 

And get a bigger tube of white since you will be needing it the most to mix.

This will help you get some practice for mixing your oil paints.

C. Brushes For Oil Paint

brushes for oil painting

Oil painting brushes come in a huge variety so don’t waste your time in choosing the perfect one.

Choose a small selection of a couple of bristle brushes and some synthetic soft ones.

Prefer flat brushes over filbert or round types until you are farther along with your oil painting practice.

But remember to choose good quality brushes as they will go a long way and give you better and visible results.

Also, the size of your brush will depend on how big or small you plan on painting.

D. Palette Knife

using palette knife for painting and mixing colors.

A palette knife for oil painting is best used for mixing colors. It helps the colors to mix evenly.

But why can’t you just use your brush to mix colors?

Well, when you use your brush to mix colors in quantity it can go through a lot of wear and tear.

And have caked pigment on your brush, besides, your paint must never go past the ferrule, the deeper the paint goes the harder it is to clean. 

Palette knives are also used to structurally apply paint giving your artwork a unique texture.

E. Oil Paint Palette

oil painting palette.

When it comes to your palette, you can use almost anything.

Although the usual choice for laying out your oil paints and mixing the colors is either a white palette, a traditional brown wooden palette, a glass palette, or a pad of disposable vegetable parchment sheets.

You can also use cardboard if your painting sessions are fairly short, but not for long as it can soak up the oil in your paint.

F. Oil Paint Solvents

Different Oil Paint Solvents and reinses.

Oil paints can be used by themselves, but you can alter their sheen, transparency thickness/fluidity by adding different mediums.

Those mediums include a blend of solvent with oil or alkyd resin, and some with beeswax or varnish added.

Commonly linseed oil or Turpentine or Terpenoid are used as oil paint thinners.

G. Cleaning Oil Painting Brushes

Cleaning oil paint brushes while painting you need to use a solvent such as odorless mineral spirits or linseed oil.

Along with it, you will need to use the proper disposal method while using linseed oil or turpentine.

And to clean your brushes after painting you can use oil soaps or cleaner to clean your brushes

Cleaning your brushes right is important as it will early prevent fawning.

Be aware of the ingredients of the mediums you use, as some might contain highly toxic liquids that should be avoided if you can or be used sparingly and with care.       

And if your wondering how can you clean your oil painting, look no further here is a complete guide on cleaning an oil painting.

These oil painting tips will help you buy better and useful oil painting supplies.

# Oil Painting Tip 3

When you’re painting with oils, you work in layers.

So, it is essential that you understand how each layer of color interacts with every other layer and how it affects your finished look.

Here are a few oil painting tips that will help you better understand the basic do and don’t of this medium.

These are the common mistakes that people make when they are starting in oils, so make sure you read carefully to avoid them.

Oil painting tips to help you avoid mistakes that can ruin your artwork.

A. Fat Over Lean

It means you should use thinner paint and less oil in the initial layers and fatter layers towards the end.

However, the fat does not particularly refer to the thickness of the paint but rather the amount of the oil. Paint with more oil (fat) over paint with less oil (lean).


Because if your outer layer dries faster than your inner layer it will cause your paint to crack.

B. Thick Over Thin

This rule has the same reasoning as the above rule. You will want to apply thick layers over thin to avoid cracking your paint.

In practice, I always start with thin paint that has been mixed with some odorless solvents and then continue painting with paint straight out of the tube.

C. Slow Drying Over Fast Drying

The colors of the paint can influence the drying time, so it is best to use fast-drying colors continuously as under layers.

When you paint fast-drying colors over slow drying colors what happens is, that while your lower layer is in the process of drying, it pulls and twists which causes top layers that have already tried to crack. 

D. Paint From Dark To Light

While painting in oils remember you go from dark to light.


Because when you would want your darks to be dark and transparent, adding white to them will make them look cloudy and smear your dark.

Also, it’s easier to lighten your color than darken them.

And lastly, remember these oil painting rules can be broken but key it to know when.

These oil painting tips will help you be a better painter in the long run.

#Oil Painting Tip 4

Techniques Of Oil Painting For Beginners

From Da Vinci to Van Gogh, oil painting has been the hallmark of the Old Masters.

Oil paints give the flexibility and depth of color that other mediums lack.

The slow drying time of oils allows artists to manipulate the medium over a stretched period.

Today, Oil paints are preferred by many artists because they are versatile, archival, and economical.

Although Oils do require a little more care than other mediums but don’t let that turn you off.

Oil paints also give you more with their rich pigment tones and lustrous finish that is not easily achieved with other mediums.

Oils are applied in various ways from thin glazes diluted with thinners to dense thick impasto.

Here we have a few oil painting techniques for beginners that will help you get started. 

You don’t need all of these techniques, but it’s good to be aware of them and have a basic understanding of them should you ever wish to integrate them into your artwork at some point.

A. Underpainting – The Base Layer.

underpaint for oil painting. 
the base layer made with yellow and blue paint.

For an artist, only a few things can be daunting than a blank canvas and with this oil painting technique, you don’t need to worry about it.

An underpainting is a method of laying down your first layers of paint in a neutral tone which functions as a base layer for your painting.

It acts as the foundation of your artwork which helps you to build contrast and tonal values.

This may seem like a simple oil painting technique but it can have a major effect on your painting. It can also act as an outline of how painting feels.

E.g., A blue undertone can give your painting a cold feel, similarly, a yellow-toned underpainting will give a warm tone to your painting.

B. Blocking-In

Blocking in technique in oil painting.

In this oil painting technique, you roughly add the base hues to your artwork without worrying about refining the details.

To get the best results, apply thinned-out oil paint for a smooth and even spread.

As a beginner be sure of using neutral colors because it will be hard to neutralize or paint over vibrant colors.

This technique is usually followed up after underpainting.

C. Blending

Blending of oil paint in canvas.

Belding is an oil painting technique where you mix two colors that are adjacent on your canvas so that there is a smooth transition between them.

This effect is given when the transition between the colors is not supposed to be an abrupt line.

 Blending is only possible when the paint is wet, and the biggest advantage of working with oils is that they stay wet for a long time.

D. Glazing

Glazing technique in oil painting

Glazing is a technique in which you paint thin transparent or semi-transparent layers of paint over thicker, opaque layers that have been let to dry.

This is usually done with a wide, soft-bristle brush and it can also be done with color pigments.

The process is time-consuming but the effect that is produced is stunning because the initial layers of color influence the most visible layer.

This technique gives shine and is achieved by bringing together light and dark tones.

E. Alla Prima ( Wet-on-Wet)

Alla prima, a technique in oil painting where you continue to paint over wet paint.

Also known as wet-on-wet, as the name suggests, you continue to paint on wet paint.

Traditionally, you would wait for each layer to dry before you start painting on it, which is a very time-consuming process as oil panting take a long time to dry.

Alla prima became the preferred way to paint for many artists as this technique allowed them to finish their projects much faster than the traditional way.

This technique has transformed oil painting for the modern world.

F. Scumbling

Scumbling technique in oil painting.

Scumbling refers to a technique where you use a dry-stiff brush with little paint to bring texture to your painting.

This method gives an added transition of tones, enhancing the blend of pigments.

This technique is ideal to lighten up dark areas by giving them a fuzzy appearance.  

G. Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro technique in oil painting.

An Italian word means light-dark, as the name suggests this technique is best for bringing both dark and light tones.

In this technique, the tones give a more vivid and dramatic shade using the contrast of shadow and highlight.

This oil painting technique is used to bring depth to an artwork.

These are some basic oil painting techniques that will help you throughout your journey. 

#Oil painting tip 5

Oil Painting Colors And Their Drying Time

These tips for oil painting will help you have a better understanding of your colors and their drying time.

This is not something you need to stress about but a thing you should be aware of.

Fastest Drying (2 Day)Medium Drying (5 Days)Slow – Drying (Above 5 Days)
Burnt UmberWinsor Blues and Greens Cadmium Hues
Raw UmberBurnt Sienna Permanent Rose (Quinacridone)
Cobalt BlueCobalt VioletAlizarin Crimson Hue
Burnt SiennaCobalt Green
Permanent MauveUltramarine Blue
Prussian BlueSap Green
Raw SiennaPermanent Alizarin
Flake WhiteCrimson
Titanium White
Zinc White
Lamp Black
Ivory Black
Mars Black
Bismuth Yellow

A. Factors that influence the drying time of oil paint.

  • The temperature
  • The amount of light
  • How thick each layer of paint is
  • How much and which medium was used
  • The quality of the paint
  • The color of the paint
  • The brand of paint

B. How to dry oil paint faster?

  • Try painting on an even surface, cracks and gaps can cause the paint to build up which will take a longer time to dry.
  • Start your artwork with fast-drying paints. (Refer to the list above)
  • Keep your painting in a room with good air circulation or with a fan, that way amply of oxygen can reach your painting.
  • Ensure that the room isn’t too humid and use a dehumidifier if you have one.
  • Make sure that room is warm, why? High temperatures allow faster oxidation reactions.

These oil painting tips will help you dry your painting fast and safely.

# Oil painting tip 6

These painting tips will help you have a healthy journey and become a better painter.

A. Do Not Make Simple Matters Complex

Simplicity has its charm!

If you can paint a building or the ocean with a single stroke of your brush, do that.

Do not make simple matters complex.

B. Paint for Yourself

Do not let the opinions of other people influence how you paint.

Paint how you want to paint and let people make up their opinions afterward.

Do not try to please everyone. That is an impossible task.

C. If Something Adds No Value, Cut It out or Simplify It

Do not add detail for the sake of adding detail.

If something does not help you communicate what you want to say, cut it out or simplify it.

D. Try to Create a Beautiful Painting, Not Beautiful Parts

Try viewing your artwork as a whole and do it, everyone, a while by stepping back and observation your painting.

 Your painting should look beautiful from afar.

E. Rules Can Be Broken, but Have a Reason for Doing So

Rules are meant to work as a guideline or a framework. There are no hard and fast rules in art.

And the thing that feels limiting should be discarded, even rules.  

Always feel free to break any of the art rules, but have a reason for doing so.

You must remember these rules, especially for those who are struggling to develop their style.

Don’t try to force a style instead try painting with principles.

Oil painting is a medium that lets you do whatever you want from hyper-realistic portraits to wild landscapes but the only catch is that you should know how to do it.

But if you are just someone who likes oil paintings and isn’t sure about pursuing it, don’t worry with PortraitFlip you can get any photo painted in oil by professionals.

End Note

That’s all folks!

I hope these tips for oil painting helped clear your doubts and encouraged you to pursue oil painting.

If you are someone who is already on his/her painting journey, let us know how it is going and leave a few helpful oil painting tips for our beginners in the comment section.

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And if you have reached here, thank you!

Happy painting!!

2 thoughts on “6 *Must* Know Oil Painting Tips Before You Start Working With Oils

  1. Pingback: How To Clean An Oil Painting: A Comprehensive Guide (+Dos And Don’ts)

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