Our Beginners Guide to Oil Painting

We sell a lot of oil paints at Hobby Land, with many being bought by people just starting their journey into the wonderful world of oil painting.  If you’re one of them, this beginners guide to oil painting will give you a broad overview of what to buy, and what you should do as you start out. 

Our first piece of advice is to not get too far ahead of yourself. Start by doing smaller paintings as this gives you the chance to try out different techniques and experiment with colours without investing too much time or materials. 

When it comes to buying supplies, particularly paints and brushes, buy the best you can afford. By starting with cheap and inferior products, you’ll have disappointing results and this will be highly discouraging. You don’t have to buy every brush size - three is usually enough to get started with bristle (hog) brushes being the most commonly used. As for the paints themselves, we recommend Winsor & Newton Artists' and Winton Oil Colours as high-quality yet affordable oil paints with great depth and richness. However, if you are painting in an enclosed space or have an allergy to solvents, you may like to try Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oils. These oils work just like conventional oil colours, but clean up with soap and water, no solvents required!  

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colours - Hobby Land Blog

Once you have your supplies, set up a dedicated space in a well-ventilated area. The more room you have, the better you can keep your palettes and supplies ready to go and, importantly, your paintings visible. This allows you to see and think about your work, even when you're not actually painting. It also makes the process easier so you’ll be motivated to paint more often - and the more you paint, the quicker you’ll improve. 

You can paint on a variety of surfaces including canvas, paper and even wood. But the common factor here is to prepare your surface properly. It’s vital that you apply a primer called gesso as this will stop oil seeping into the surface, while protecting the surface from the acids in the paint, and giving you a surface on which the paint will adhere easily.

Many painters of all experience levels begin each piece with an oil sketch and develop their painting on top of it. We think this is a particularly good idea for beginners. This sketch is a thin underpainting that usually consists of a colour and turpentine (or odourless turpentine substitute like Turpenoid). The sketch will dry quickly so you can add layers of paint and colour without a long wait for it to dry. 

Winsor & Newton Oil Colour- Hobby Land Blog

It might be better to start with a limited colour range as this will let you focus on getting a feel for the paint, and concentrate on developing your technique. It’s important you have these things as a foundation because all the colours in the world won’t save a painting that suffers from poor paint application and even worse technique. When you’ve mastered these things, then bring more colour into your creations. 

Learn as much as you can about paint order: thick over thin, fat over lean, slow-drying over fast-drying. For example, use thinner paint and less oil in the first layers and keep thicker paint and higher oil content for ensuing layers. This will help the earlier layers dry first and will help to keep your painting from cracking. Our most popular painting medium for oil painting is Winsor & Newton Liquin.  This is must have in your oil painting box.  It improves flow, increases transparency and speeds drying. 

Traditional oil colours can take between 2 and12 days to be touch dry (depending on the colour), and up to 6 months or more to be completely dry and ready to varnish. It is well worth the wait for the deep jewel-like finish oil colours deliver.  However, if you are painting in lots of layers, or want to be able to work quicker than this, you could consider Griffin Fast Drying Oil Colour, which is touch dry in 24 hours.

Finally, always clean your brush between colours, and after every painting session. Oil painting can be a little messy so keep rags and paper towels at hand to wipe excess paint and turpentine off your brushes. It’s a smart idea to have two containers while painting: one for turpentine for cleaning your brush between colours and one for medium to mix with your paint. 

We can point you in the direction of more good advice and, of course, we can supply you with all the materials you need, including the ones we’ve mentioned in this article. Contact us and we’ll help you get started in this most rewarding of artistic pastimes.