Oil Painting Ideas for Beginners


As a beginning oil painter, you will likely need to focus on mastering the techniques of painting with oils rather than discovering your own style. With practice, you will be able to branch out into more personal and expressive paintings and subjects. Focus on understanding and observing the behavior of oil paint, and learn from your experiences. Luckily, oil paint is fairly intuitive to use.

Manipulation of Oil Paint

  • Choose only a small selection of basic colors in student-grade paint. The primary colors plus black and white will be sufficient. Mixing your own colors from the primaries is one way to achieve valuable understanding of the consistency of oil paint and color mixing. Also, as a painter you likely will be drawn to certain colors more than others. But as a beginner, you may not know what those colors are yet. Purchasing colors at random may prove to be a waste of money.

    In your first paintings, or before you begin a painting, experiment with different consistencies of paint. Oil paint can be thinned with turpentine or medium. Oil paint thinned with turpentine is often runny, like turpentine itself. Oil paint thinned with medium is smooth and glossy, like oil.

    Keep in mind the rules of fat over lean. Different paints dry at different speeds. Paint mixed with turpentine is thinner and dries faster (it is "lean"). Paint mixed with medium is the "fat", and it dries more slowly. The faster-drying paint should always go beneath the slower-drying paint. If the slower-drying paint was underneath the faster-drying paint, the top layer would crack when the under layer constricted as it dried.

Subject Matter

  • For your first paintings, choose a subject matter that is basic and not difficult to execute. Landscapes are an example of a good subject for an inexperienced oil painter. Landscapes can be simple but rewarding. They can be applied to the canvas spontaneously, without need of a photograph for reference. A landscape can be easily altered or adjusted without concern that it will look wrong. Landscapes also provide excellent opportunities for blending paint on the canvas because landscapes are often made up of large spans of open spaces where color adjusts by subtle grades and degrees, like in the sky or in bodies of water.

Other Tips

  • Keep your paint on a palette under a lid. Leftover oil paint will dry very slowly and will last for hours or days. If paint is left on a palette in a large clump, the exterior will dry quicker than the interior. Puncture the exterior to reach the soft, usable interior.

    Keep the turpentine in a glass jar--never plastic. Cut a square of galvanized steel that is slightly larger than the opening of the jar. Fold down each corner of the galvanized steel so that it is pointing straight down like the legs of a table. Place the galvanized steel in the bottom of the turpentine jar. The folded down corners will support the flat top. When you dip the paint brush in the turpentine, running the brush along the galvanized steel will help you remove excess paint from the brush.

    Oil paint is expensive, and it often comes in tubes made out of metal or rubbery plastic that can be tough to squeeze. Paint tube squeezers are available at most art supply stores. These tools look like miniature wringers, and they are designed to flatten the tube as you turn the crank and pull the tube through the gears. Tube squeezers ensure that you get the most paint out of your paint tubes.

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