Beginners Guide to Oil Painting

Are you ready to dive into the colorful world of oil painting? Are you wondering where on earth to start? Maybe you’re thinking, ‘isn’t turpentine used by mechanics?’

Check out this beginner's guide to oil painting essentials, where we'll walk you through everything you need to unleash your creativity. From brushes to paints and surfaces, this post contains a full kit to get you started on your oil painting journey!

What you need to start oil painting:

Oil Paint

If you're new to oil painting, we recommend saving yourself some trouble and investing in a beginner's kit. These typically come with all the essential colors you'll need to begin. Just make sure you have at least red, yellow, blue (the primary colors), and white, and you'll be good to go.



Solvent is a substance utilized to dissolve the oil in paint, serving several purposes:

  • Enhancing the flow of the paint.
  • Thinning the paint, which is particularly useful for creating delicate washes.
  • Significantly accelerating the drying process of oil paint.

While various solvents are on the market, for beginners, opting for an odorless solvent is advisable. Although traditional solvents such as turpentine may offer greater potency, they require specific PPE and ventilation to limit their toxic effects on the body.


Linseed Oil

Oil paints naturally contain oil, so adding a ‘drying oil’, such as linseed oil, can enhance and change the texture of your paint.

Oil medium serves as the opposite of paint thinner, intended to enrich your paint by:

  • Enhancing its flow.
  • Slowing down the drying process.
  • Increasing transparency, which is ideal for glazing.

The general practice is to start with a solvent-heavy mixture for thin washes, gradually incorporating more oil as you progress. The final layers of your painting should be the richest in oil content.


Paint Brushes

Oil paints can be applied using various brushes according to artist preference; different shapes, hair (whether natural or synthetic) and handle lengths are all available.

Stiffer brushes are recommended for retaining visible brush marks, while softer ones are better for blending paint passages. Long-handled brushes offer a wider view of the painting, aiding in overall composition, while short-handled brushes are handy for detailing. Brushes typically come in round, flat, or filbert shapes, and having a variety of sizes in each shape can help explore different brush marks and maintain color purity. There's no standard sizing system for brushes, so checking dimensions in millimeters is essential when purchasing online.


Brush sets designed for oil painting are an excellent starting point for building a collection.


Palette Knives

Palette knives are essential tools not only for mixing paints on your palette but also for creating textured strokes on your canvas. They enable effects that brushes cannot achieve. When choosing palette knives, it's important to look for knives that are firm yet flexible.



When it comes to oil painting, canvas is the most commonly used, and most suitable. As you begin, consider using canvas boards or canvas pads —they're economical and allow for ample experimentation.

Canvas boards consist of canvas stretched over sturdy cardboard. While canvas boards may not be archival quality and may bend if not framed, they're inexpensive and space-efficient.

Canvas pads consist of sheets of canvas bound together like a pad of paper. They provide beginners with a cost-effective way to practice and experiment with oil painting techniques over a large number of sheets, and are lightweight and easy to transport.


Palettes for oil painting are made of wood or glass. Beginners can opt for a disposable paper palette to allow for easy clean-up, or a wooden palette for a budget-friendly yet traditional painting experience!


Oil Paint Cleaner

To clean and preserve your brushes, it’s best to invest in a specific brush-cleaning soap.


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