Oil Painting Basics 101: Essential Tips and Information For Beginner Artists

For any artist eager to embark on their oil painting journey but unsure of where to begin, this guide is is for you. Oil painting offers what so many other paint mediums fall short on, but understanding key concepts and acquiring the right tools are crucial for getting started. So let's start from the beginning.

learn oil painting basics

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What is oil painting?

Oil painting is a traditional art technique that involves the use of pigments mixed with drying oils, typically linseed oil, to create vibrant and lasting artworks. Oil paints offer rich color saturation, texture, and depth, making it a popular choice amongst artists. Oil paintings have stood the test of time and continue to be appreciated for their durability and versatility in capturing intricate details and expressive brushwork.

Artist tips for oil painting

How to get started oil painting?

Getting started with oils is a complicated matter and requires a lot of patience and practice. Here are some basic steps and information that will help clear up some of your questions and simplify the process:

Familiarize yourself with the paints

Take the time to understand the unique characteristics of oil paint. Unlike other painting mediums, oil paints consist of pigments suspended in drying oils, allowing for slow and controlled manipulation. Familiarize yourself with the properties of oils, such as drying time and blending capabilities so that you can anticipate their behavior on the canvas. 

I think doing simple blending and color mixing exercises can be very helpful in getting you to become comfortable with the paints. Oil paint can very drastically from brand to brand and the paints that you purchase will require time to understand. Even with myself being a professional painter, I always need to do this when I switch to a different paint brand as it's never the same.

How to get started oil painting

Acquire the right tools

when beginning your oil painting journey, making sure that you obtain the right tools for the job is essential. Investing in artist-grade oil paints rather than student-grade can be a game changer if you are serious about your art. At the very least, learn the difference between the two grades.

Brushes are also important. Acquire a variety of brushes in different shapes and sizes to accommodate diverse techniques. You'll need to experiment to learn what works best for you and your artistic style. My favorite two brushes is this one for blocking in and this one for detail. Additionally, obtain a few palette knives for texture, a palette for color mixing, and of course a panel or canvas to paint on. The texture of your painting surface should be relatively smooth with a little bit of bite, which is why I like to paint on panels.

Tips and advice for new oil painters

Prepare your workspace

The place you paint is very important and lighting is probably the most important of it all. Set up a well-lit area that allows you to focus on your artwork comfortably. I like a light source that is high up on the ceiling and is somewhere around 4500-5000K. Sometimes I like to mix temperatures of light, but generally it should be like daylight and not too blue to too yellow. I wrote a post on lighting here. Ensure proper ventilation in your space with open windows or try using an air purifier rated for VOCs. And lastly, remember that a clutter-free and organized workspace promotes creativity, so keep it clean and simple.

Proper lighting for oil painting

Learn the basic techniques

Before tackling a large masterpiece, familiarize yourself with fundamental oil painting techniques. Start by practicing underpainting, a method that establishes the composition and values using a monochromatic base layer. Learn about toning the canvas and why it can be helpful. Experiment with glazing techniques to add depth and luminosity to your work. There are all sorts of basic experiments that you can test and try and I would encourage you to read up on all of it and educate yourself.

Basics and essentials for new oil painters

Explore resources and tutorials

These days, there are so many resources online that can be extremely helpful. Online tutorials, instructional books, and video courses provide invaluable guidance on techniques, color theory, and composition. Engage with art communities and forums to connect with fellow artists, seek advice, and share your experiences. I myself offer thousands of reference photos and real-time oil painting demonstrations through my patreon.

Watch oil painting demonstrations and get access to painting reference photos

Patience and practice

This is probably obvious for any art form, but I cannot stress the important of patience and embracing the struggle enough. Patience and practice are paramount to improving your oil painting skills. Embrace the learning process and allow yourself to make mistakes. These mistakes will be the catalyst to growth, despite how frustrating they can be. Experiment with different techniques, subject matters, and styles to find your own artistic voice. Dedicate regular time to practice and develop a consistent painting routine. Gradually, you will witness your skills and confidence grow. I've never been able to see my growth in the moment, but I always can see it when I look back on past work. So, put your head down and just keep painting, it will come with time. 

How to get started oil painting. Tips for new artists

By familiarizing yourself with the paints, acquiring the right tools, and creating a suitable workspace, you'll be on the right track to beginning a successful journey of oil painting. Don't overlook the basics, take advantage of resources online, and cultivate patience through consistent practice. With dedication and a willingness to learn, you'll discover that oils can provide endless potential for your artistic vision.


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artist chuck black

 

 I'm Chuck Black, landscape and wildlife artist based in Southwest Montana.


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