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Oil painting basics – Professional suggestions to improve faster

Because Improvement Does Not Require Time, But The Right Knowledge.

oil painting basics - Artguilds
Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with a Flight of Ravens, Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Jan Vermeer’s Girl with a Turban, Manet’s Nanà. You probably thought about these famous and wonderful paintings when you started painting in oil. This article is thought to help you learn oil panting basics, without wanting to burn the stages. Here you will find 9 valuable tips to start painting with oil colors like a professional painter, while avoiding making trivial mistakes. Oil painting basics - ArtGuilds

Oil painting Basics: Let’s start!

1 – Use Quality Oil Paints

Let’s start with the basics: not all oil colors are the same. This certainly doesn’t mean that you have to use the top-of-the-range colors, now that you are starting. You can’t learn to paint in a satisfying way with low quality colors. Our first advice is to buy a box of good quality oil paints, opting for well-known and appreciated brands such as Maimeri, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Sennelier, Schmincke and Winsor & Newton. So, you can start with a box that is not too expensive, and then integrate it with other colors in bulk, according to your taste. This is the best way to learn oil painting according to your beginner level. 

2 – Choose The Right Paintbrushes

Which are the best brushes for this technique? Not all brushes are good for oil painting. Those who have a good budget at their disposal should try the Kolinsky Marten brushes. Thanks to the fine marten hair with which they are made, these brushes are able to capture a lot of color, and then release it slowly. Anyway, those who want to save money can also use bristle brushes; Instead, in oil technique, ox hair brushes must to be excluded, but can be used with satisfaction by those who enjoy tempera and acrylics.

3 – Don’t Trust The Color in the Tubes

True painters use out-of-the-tube colors as they are, very rarely. Instead, the practically always use a mix of 2-3 colors together before putting anything on the canvas. Why? Painters can produce an endless amount of colors from a limited number of tubes The most numerous ranges of tube colors also include 120 different colors, but they don’t cover all the colors that exist in nature. Manufacturers prepare very saturated colors to allow painters to achieve satisfactory mixes. This means that the colors we buy are too saturated, they are too far from the colors we find in real life.

4 – Don’t Mix Too Many Colors

We said painters need to mix the colors each other before they use them. That doesn’t mean you should overdo it. There’s a limit to everything, even mixing different colors. No matter how saturated they are, even the best quality pigments start to “get lost” after a while. When you mix colors, it is important to keep in mind which ones are you looking for in the mixing process. This is important, because when mixed, colors tents to gray out. Otherwise you might end up compromising the final work, or having some badly mixes with irrecoverable grey shades. Oil painting basics - ArtGuilds  

5 – Did You Know You Can Paint On Canvas But On Oil Paper Too?

Of course, when you talk about oil painting, you immediately think of canvases. Many people don’t know that it’s possible to paint on paper too! There are blocks of paper designed to best simulate the canvas texture. This paper is perfect for sketches, studies, and miniature tests of your paintings before you will paint them directly on the canvas. Try them and you’ll love them!

6 – Use The Right Thinners

Many people, at first, are convinced that white spirit is a good thinner for oil paint. Pay attention to this mistake! As you may have already guessed, it is not. White spirit should be used for cleaning brushes. There are also very different opinions on this point. We recommend using a non-toxic and odorless detergent specially designed for brush cleaning like Tintorsetto (an Italian Oil painting product). To dilute your pigments with oil, you should instead use the appropriate thinners, such as linseed oil or safflowers oil. Oil painting basics - ArtGuilds

7 – Should you use white? Not Really

This is a very common problem, easily solved with oil painting basics. Just above we told you that you shouldn’t use oil paints as they come out of the tubes. This is especially true for white. Try spreading a few strokes of white on your sheet: you can use titanium white, zinc white, titanzinco white, whatever you prefer. Well, now compare it with the white of the objects you would like to paint. The whites don’t match, does it? The reason why is that “real” white, what we find in real life, is almost always “less white” than one of the tubes. Each white will react and have a different character depending on what colors will be near it. Some whites are warmer, and they need to be mixed with a hot color like red or yellow, while others whites are colder, so they need to be mixed with a bit of blue or green.

8 – Start With A Clean Drawing

One mistake that novice painters often make is creating a heavy preliminary drawing, and then realize that the drawing below of the final work is visible. The pencil sketch must be very light and clean: never use a hard graphite pencil. To eliminate this type of problem, you can use charcoals or willow charcoals. Remember also that if you can see the sketch below of the work you are not using enough color. Other ways to overcome this problem are, for example, to apply a layer of background color, commonly called “underpainting” or “under paint” and then draw the main lines of your drawing again with the brush and a neutral color pigment.

9 – Prepare The Colors Before You Start

As you start, your attention must be all focused on the work. We recommend preparing your color palette with care before you start. Of course, it could be quite difficult to predict all the colors in advance, but the thing you can do is to prepare almost the basic colors you will use more frequently. Work with a limited palette is also good advice. Start with 4 or 5 colors taken from the tube and make the rest of the colors by mixing them together. Doing this preliminary work will allow you to totally immerse yourself into your oil painting!


These are some of the suggestions that I wish someone would have told me when I first start out with oil paintings. If you want more stories on Oil Painting Basics, I recommend you also check out another useful story : “Oil painting basics: Professional suggestions to improve faster” Get ready go get dirt and create masterpieces :)!


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