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Top oil painting tips for beginners

by Art Materials on Aug 26, 2022

Top oil painting tips for beginners

The world-famous Mona Lisa has been described as the ‘most visited, most written about and most parodied work of art in the world.’ And while the identity of Lisa Gherardini (the woman thought to feature in this artwork) has somewhat vanished over the centuries, the gaze of the woman in the oil painting has been etched in the minds of artists and ordinary people for centuries. You don’t want to be overly-optimistic about becoming the next Leonardo da Vinci, but oil painting may be just the medium to let your newfound creativity take flight. 

The beauty of using oil colour paints is their archival quality; they will stand the test of time and your artwork will become a masterpiece in its own right. And no matter where you hang your oil painting, its rich, textural characteristics will always be a statement piece in your home. 

But before you begin, you will need some tips to transform your blank canvas into a masterpiece:

#1 Select the best art supplies

The basic materials needed for oil painting include a number of durable brushes (varying in their shape and material), a palette, palette knives, rags, primer, a medium like Winsor & Newton’s Liquin Original, a solvent like turpentine to thin paint and Winton oil colour paint.

The Winton oil colour paint range is reasonably priced, durable, offers a high level of pigmentation and provides solid coverage and mixability. If you’re more of an oil painting pro, you can try the Artists’ oil colour, which has a high pigment loading and a slightly higher price tag.

Winton oil colour

#2 Safety first

Now that you’ve equipped yourself with the necessary art materials and tools to begin painting, it is vital to select the correct work space to unlock your creativity.

Since mediums like turpentine emit toxic fumes that can be hazardous to your health, it is important to find an adequately ventilated space to work.

Turpentine (used to thin your oil paints and clean your brushes) and other similar mediums are highly flammable, and rags that absorb the medium can self-ignite if not disposed correctly. However, turpentine is not widely used today and alternatives such as Sansodor Low Odour Solvent is a better alternative that’s ideal for your home studio or art class. 

Pigments in some oil paints contain harmful chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. Rather, reserve some clothing items specifically for painting and purchase latex gloves to use while working with oil paint.

oil paint

#3 Limit your palette

While you may want to express your excitement for your newfound hobby by purchasing the full spectrum of colours on offer, it is advisable to rather choose carefully. 

Opt to mix primary colours to create the ideal shade for your artwork. Read our blog on the art of choosing and mixing colours to find the perfect hue for your painting.

#4 Use a palette knife

It’s easy to get caught up in precision and line ideas when painting with a brush - but this is not the ultimate purpose of oil painting. Using a palette knife allows artists to focus on how colour and shape can work within the art.

Hot tip: When using heavy colour, you must apply the ‘thick over thin’ principle. This is because thicker layers take longer to dry and, if placed under thinner layers, they can cause the painting to crack - leaving your art muse wondering if it is an oil painting at all.

Palette knife

#5 Layer your paints

Fact: Oil paint dries extremely slowly and even if the surface feels dry, the underlayers may still be wet.

One of the key principles of oil painting is ‘fat over lean’. This effectively means that each successive layer needs to be more flexible than the one before. In other words, more medium needs to be added onto each successive layer to prevent the oil from cracking.

Once you’ve prepped your canvas, you will need to slowly build up colours and paint layers.

To ascertain whether your oil painting is dry, opt to dip a lint-free rag in solvent and rub it gently onto the painting surface. If any colour shows up on the cloth, additional drying time is required. But, if nothing comes through, your painting is ready to be varnished.

(Remember, the oilier the paint, the longer it will take to dry. Don’t forget the ‘thick over thin’ principle mentioned in point 4.)

paint mixing

#6 Express your creativity with The Art Materials Company

The quickest and most convenient way to shop for your art supplies and materials is online at The Art Materials Company.

You may never follow in the footsteps of the classical masters, and your next artwork may not end up in the Louvre, but developing the techniques required to master the medium of oil paints is a satisfying art journey that will always reap creative rewards. 

Browse our range of Winsor & Newton oil colour paints to begin your first oil painting masterpiece.