The Essentials Required For Oil Painting

Posted by Kim Santillo on

The Essentials Required For Oil Painting

When exploring the world of painting, it can be a bit daunting at first.

With products like solvents, gesso, fast drying mediums and more, there is no shortage of confusion when it comes to clearly understanding the products and exactly what they do when worked into a painting.

When starting though, it’s important that you cast all that aside and concentrate fully on the fundamentals.

The scope of today’s article focuses squarely on oil paints and what you need to get started.

Here’s How Oil Paints Differ

Chances are that most folks reading this are familiar with watercolors or acrylic paints.

Forget all that.

The only common trait that oil paints carry with watercolors and acrylics is the pigment color itself.

Oil paints by their very construction feature different binding agents (typically safflower or linseed oil) and behave much differently.

Secondly, with oil paints, we would argue to say that they are a bit more beginner friendly than watercolors or acrylics due to their slow drying property.

Instead of drying within minutes, some oil paints such as this one by Coloreart may take days to fully dry.

This is terrific for beginners. 

Not only will it allow you to work on a piece and perfect it over days, allowing you to build up layers and add atmosphere, but you never feel rushed during the entire process as you may with other medium.

The slow drying nature of oil also ensures that the paint doesn’t immediately dry on the bristles of your brush which would ultimately destroy them.

But there is a catch:

Like acrylics, oils have permanence to them and will stain your clothes, carpet, or any other surfaces that they are on rather easily – so be sure that you exercise some caution when using them.

Every Painting Must Have A Surface

If you ever visit your local museum, you will often see under the artists name the medium and surface that was used when making the painting.

9 times out 10 when it comes to oil paints the surface will be canvas (with the other 1 typically being wood panels).

But why canvas?

Compared to other surfaces, canvas is cheap and provides amazing results.

But here’s the deal:

A quick visit to the art store can really leave your head spinning with more questions than answers.

From stretched canvases of all different sizes to canvas panels and even canvas pads.

For a beginner, it’s not easy trying to decide on the perfect one for you.

That’s why we always like to recommend a canvas size of 8” x 10” – it’s a familiar size to standard copy paper and will help artists with achieving proper scale in their work.

But what form should you go with – stretched, panel, or pad?

While stretched canvases are particularly nice, when first starting you are better off going with a panel instead. 

Panels feature the same woven texture on the surface that you would get when using a stretched canvas and are highly affordable – making them great for beginners to use without having to feel like you are wasting money.

So, what about canvas pads:

Canvas pads are great for practicing techniques or brush strokes, but we would never recommend them for a full painting.

As you can see in the picture above, canvas pads are simply like a sheet of paper and have no stiffness to them but still retain the woven canvas texture (because they are technically canvas as opposed to a wood pulp).

Brush Variety Is Important When It Comes To Oil Painting

If there is anything that can really add both dynamic textures and lines to your painting it will be the paintbrush.

While we won’t dive too deep into the detail of every single brush variety that is available to artists as it would go beyond the scope of today’s article, we do want to at least touch on a few of the more popular variants out there that you will want to have in your studio:

Round Brush – This is the workhorse when it comes to brushes.  Capable of delivering a dynamic range of stroke widths, the round brush is always used heavily by artists.  Expect to use this brush when painting details of a portrait (eyes, nose, etc.) or landscapes (trees, rocks, etc.).

Flat Brush – Perfect for creating straight lines or blocking off areas within a painting, the flat brush is nearly as versatile as the round brush.  When you are following the perspective of a painting, flat brushes are perfect to ensure that the lines converge onto the vanishing point. 

Larger flat brushes are great for laying down the initial wash of your painting as well.

Filbert Brush –  Filbert’s have a rounded square shape and are essentially a combination of both the flat and round brush.  Like most paint brushes, you can get quite a range of stroke widths with the filbert style brush.  However, where it really shines will be with blending your oil paints. 

Now here’s the deal:

While the above three are staples brushes for oil painting and what you should use as a beginner, when you are first starting out, we heavily recommend going with a variety pack like this one.

This not only gives you way more range when it comes to brush sizes but also variety packs are way more affordable than if you were purchasing the brushes individually.

Solvents Shouldn’t Be Scary

Yes, the induction of chemicals or other synthetic ingredients into a painting seems a bit excessive at first…

 …and you would be right!

However, after a few paintings under your belt, you should explore the world of solvents and other mediums used with oil paints.

But why?

They provide the artist with much greater control over the medium

This will help you to apply thinner or thicker layers depending on how you use them and can really make for amazing results.

A classic solvent often used with oil paints will be odorless mineral spirits or turpentine (learn more about the differences in mineral spirits and turpentine).  Essentially a paint thinner, odorless mineral spirits can thin down the binder used in the oil paint and allow you to make much more subtle washes in your painting.

But don’t just get any odorless mineral spirits at your local hardware store.

That stuff is designed for outdoor use and is often loaded with tons of impurities – making for poorer results in your painting and also causing headaches from the fumes.

Instead, you will want to always get mineral spirits designed for studio use (student grade mineral spirits will be fine).

To make your oil paint dry quicker, simply adding a little bit of an alkyd resin(commonly found at art stores) can hasten the drying times allowing you to paint additional layers more quickly.

Fundamentals And Practice Are Most Important

You can purchase the most expensive brushes or get the finest paints, but it all means nothing if you don’t have the fundamentals down and practice regularly.

Therefore, if you want to see results in your oil paintings, try to adopt a daily or every other day regimen.

It will not only allow you to see results quicker but once you do see your personal improvement with the medium you will quickly begin to wonder why you haven’t started painting with oils sooner!

Mary Fischer – Founder of the site Createlet.com, Mary is on a mission to help people of all ages to discover the joys in painting whether it’s through traditional or digital means.


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