TUTORIAL - Oil Painting Tips


Hiya :slight_smile: I thought as there is an Acrylic Painting Tips thread we should have one for oils :smiley: and maybe one for watercolours in the future to.

So if anyone has any tutorials, or tips about Oil painting it would be wonderful if you could share them here.

I found this website a while ago called Wetcanvas, http://wetcanvas.com it’s a wonderful site for tradtional mediums, with some awsome tutorials it’s definatly worth a look!

Thanks very much!



      Good to see you kicking this thread off! :)
      Really, many of the same things as mentioned in the [[b]Acrylic Tips Tutorial[/b]](http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=363285) apply to Oils as well. 


     [b]Recommended Brand of Oil Paint: Windsor Newton (they also sell Winton, a cheaper student version of Windsor Newton, but the quality is not nearly as good).
      For example, a limited palette for Oils is really the same as it is for Acrylics:
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/01_white.jpg[/img] Titanium White 
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/02_yellow-ochre.jpg[/img]             Yellow Ochre (or Lemon Yellow)
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/02B_cadmium-red-medium.jpg[/img]             Cadmium Red Medium 
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/03_alizarin-crimson.jpg[/img]             Alizarin Crimson
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/04_viridian-green.jpg[/img]             Viridian Green (or Pthalo Green)
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/05_ultramarine-blue.jpg[/img]             Ultramarine Blue
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/06_burnt-sienna.jpg[/img]             Burnt Sienna
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/07_burnt-umber.jpg[/img]             Burnt Umber (or Raw Umber)
            [img]http://i23.photobucket.com/albums/b380/rebeccak5/Acrylic%20Painting%20Tips/08_black.jpg[/img]             Black (Note: It's best to mix your black, see below)
       Really it is most advisable to mix your black from: Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green, and Burnt Umber. Experiment a bit to see what gives you the best result, but generally speaking you want roughly equal quantities of each in the mix. [b]Use a palette knife instead of a brush to mix your paints.[/b]
                         Use white VERY sparingly ~ as I mentioned earlier, use yellow ochre for highlight areas at first.
      [b]Materials (Click for links to images):
                 [/b][b][>>Paints<<:](http://www.winsornewton.com/) [/b]See above list for limited palette colors.
                [[b]>>White Gesso<<:[/b]](http://www.dickblick.com/categories/gesso/) For priming your painting surface, unless you purchase a preprimed surface, such as treated canvas.
                 [[b]>>Brushes<<:[/b]](http://www.dickblick.com/categories/acrylicbrushes/) A variety of flat bristled [b]NATURAL [/b]brushes is best. You DO NOT want to use synthetic brushes for oil painging. If you can, invest in GOOD brushes. Cheap brushes will only shed hairs and cause painting to be a nightmare. Try getting two brushes in a variety of sizes. Buy long handled, not short handled, brushes.
                    [[b]>>Sponge Brush<<:[/b]](http://gvdesigns.co.uk/images/sp%20brush.jpg) A wide black sponge brush to coat your canvas with 2 or more coats of gesso, using [b]WATER [/b]as a medium for the gesso.
                    [](http://www.craftamerica.com/images/products/6545_pail_galvanized.jpg)                       [[b]>>Small Container (jar with screw on lid) for Turpentine<<:[/b]](http://www.istockphoto.com/file_thumbview_approve/736401/2/istockphoto_736401_clear_plastic_jar_green_lid.jpg) With oil paints you will need to use turpentine instead of water to thin and clean your brushes. Any glass jar with a screw on lid should be fine. You do not want to use a plastic jar for turpentine.
>>Small Container for Water (to rinse your Gesso brush only):<< [/b]Gesso is a water based medium and as such you will need a separate container for water that is wide enough to accomodate the gesso brush you are using.
      [[b]>>Turpentine<<:[/b]](http://www.dickblick.com/zz004/42/) Turpentine is necessary to rinse your brushes and to thin your paint. The brand used frequently in the U.S. is Turpenoid. They also sell "Odorless" Turpentine, but it is more expensive and not necessarily all that odorless. Check with your art stores to find an appropriate turpentine.
      Be advised that Turpentine is toxic as are oil paints, and you do not want it in your eyes or skin. Use away from pets / kids / etc. and in a ventilated place. 
      [b]WARNING:[/b] [b][color=Cyan]NEVER use any product which contains BENZENE!!![/b] BENZENE IS HIGHLY TOXIC AND CAN CAUSE SEVERE NERVE DAMAGE. Benzene is found in some Turpentine substitutes in Hardware stores. I recommend sticking to the Turpenoid found in Art Stores.[/color]
                    [[b]>>Palette<<:[/b]](http://www.dickblick.com/zz030/34/) A great palette is a [b]glass palette[/b] which they should sell in art stores. A glass palette is great because paint scrapes off of it easily with a flat razor blade. Alternately you can use a [[b]disposable palette[/b]](http://www.dickblick.com/zz030/11/) with sheets that tear off for easy disposal.
      [b]Making your own Glass Palette (Note: Be careful!)[/b]
      You can make your own glass palette if you are careful by going to a hardware store and getting a piece of safety glass cut to size, and gluing it with [[b]Liquid Nails[/b]](http://www.liquidnails.com/home.do) to a wooden board that is about an inch wider on all sides than your glass. Once you have glued the glass to the underlying board, use duct tape and tape the glass to the board leaving around 1/2 inch border all around. This prevents you from cutting yourself on the edges of the glass. 
    [b][>>Palette knife<<:](http://www.dickblick.com/categories/paintingknives/) [/b]For use in mixing paints. A metal one is infinitely preferable to a plastic one.
                    [[b]>>A razor blade with a safety handle<<:[/b]](http://www.dickblick.com/zz574/28/) Great for scraping your palette clean periodically to make room for more paint.
                    [b]Paper towels and rags[/b][b]:[/b] Paper towels and rags are essential for wiping brushes during the painting process and during the clean up process.
                    [[b]>>[/b][b]Saran Wrap / plastic wrap:<<[/b]](http://shopuncleharrys.dukestores.duke.edu/images/Missing%20One%2010%2006%2005%20001.jpg) If you have globs of acrylic paint left over on the palette at the end of your painting session, clean the center part of the palette where you have mixed your paints with your safety handled razor blade scraper, and cover the whole palette with plastic wrap. To easily remove mixed paint from the exposed butcher tray, just scrape it down with your razor blade, wiping the excess on a paper towel.
      [b]>>[/b][b]Soap[/b][b]<<[/b][b]: [/b]You will need plenty of soap to clean your brushes. Any soap will do (I use Ivory, but it doesn't really matter) and liquid dish soap also works quite well. To clean your brushes, first rinse your brush thoroughly in your jar of turpentine, and remove excess turp and paint with a papertowel or rag. In the sink, hold a bar of soap in one hand and gently press the brush against the soap, scrubbing to get down to the base of the bristles. A good brush will be quite resilient and you shouldn't worry about really working hard to clean your brushes. After getting the brush completely clean, smooth the bristles and drag the flattened bristles through a bit of soap, and shape them so that they will dry in that position. 
      [[b]>>[/b][b]Fast Orange Hand Cleaner[/b][b]<<[/b]](http://www.pollardwater.com/EMarket/Pages/hc23108cleaner.asp)[b][:](http://www.pollardwater.com/EMarket/Pages/hc23108cleaner.asp) [/b]Fast Orange or other, heavy duty, mechanics' type soap (sold in hardware stores) is best for getting your hands clean after using oils. It is a gritty soap that removes oil based grime quickly.
                         [b]General rules of painting of any kind are to work from dark to light, and 'fat on lean'.[/b] 
                         [b]1. Working Dark to Light:[/b]
       Coat your canvas with white acrylic gesso with a lightly wet sponge brush (using water), allow that to dry. You may want to give your canvas 2 coats, but don't build the surface too thick. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly (this will dry faster if canvas is placed in the sun).
   Coat the dried gessoed surface with a coat of thinned down burned sienna paint (paint thinned with turpentine).
                         Gradually build your values using yellow ochre for your lights, and a mixed black for darks. 
                         [b]2. Working 'Fat on Lean':[/b]
       Working 'Fat on Lean' just means not to build your paint too thickly. Work 'Lean' at first, using turpentine to thin your paint (though of course not too much, use your best judgement for this). As you build your surface and your painting progresses, gradually use thicker paint, but don't slather it on ~ again, use your best judgement and build your painting organically.


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i don’t know if i’m allowed to post if i don’t really know anything, but i found this thread very useful the other day:


I didn’t know that it’s advisable to paint the underpainting in a complementary color until now…maybe it will help someone else.


Hey, enialadam, you beat me to it! Thanks for stating this off. There’s quite a bit of ground to cover, so hopefully this thread will be helpful to people. I was making a few notes last night of some things to share.

Sizing with Shellac:
Outside of rabbit skin glue, shellac is one of the best “sizing” liquids I use on firm supports (wood.) It’s easier to handle in that you don’t have to keep it warm. Also “no rabbits were harmed during the making of this painting.”:wink: There are commercial brands of it in liquid form, or in dry flakes that you make liquid with denatured alcohol. The flakes are more economical in terms of volume, but the liquid form is a bit more convenient. Get bleached (white) shellac that is wax-free. A commercial brand that is bleached is hard to find. Shellac is an organic product (made from bugs) so it has a limited shelf life, except for the commercial brands, like Zinsser, that claim their cans to last up to three years. What they use to make it last that long, I don’t know. That’s a reason I prefer the flakes.

Washes of oil:
It’s not advisable to thin your oil paint to a ‘watery’ consistency. Doing this with a solvent like turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (oms) to a point where it’s very runny will cause the pigment to have poor adhesion. Oils are not watercolors. If you want a very thin look of paint on your surface, you can apply it with a rag by wiping very thinly without having to dilute it, and get very much the same result. This is a technique I use often for my underpainting tone. I’ll mix up the shade I want, dab it with a brush in random spots of paint, and then scrub the surface with a rag. If that rag is SLIGHTLY damp with solvent, this works a bit more easily. Some colors are also very transparent right out of the tube, and work well for this effect.

Similar to the problem of washes of oil being a no-no, there are certain textures you might want to get with paint, which would be difficult to achieve without a very fluid medium, like splatters or drips. Some manufacturers make paint that is very fluid. Unlike the typical “buttery” consistency of oils, you open these up and the paint practically drips out. Many painters hate this and discount these paints as poorly manufactured product and unusable, but sometimes you may want a very “wet” paint that still has a concentrated color. When you want to draw long lines, these paints would work well in addition to being fluid enough to cause splatters with an old toothbrush or stiff bristle brush. Sennelier is one brand that tends to be very fluid in all the colors I’ve tried.

That brings up another tip: how to paint long lines of concentrated color. A heavy loaded brush of opaque paint only goes so far, and if you thin it down to go further, it’s not opaque enough. If you don’t have any of that fluid paint handy, draw your lines in ink. Shellac based ink is more compatible with oil than carbon (sumi-e) or water based ink. Acrylic ink won’t adhere to oil. With a little study you can make your own shellac ink. Glazed oil paint on top of the ink would dull it to some degree but still allow it to strike through. Many ancient egg tempera paintings overlaid with oils were made this way. You could try colored inks as well.

Cleaning brushes:
This is a question that comes up often: what’s the best way to keep your brushes clean? There are some specialty soaps that are designed for brushes (Pink Soap, Ugly Dog, etc.) that work well, but still tend to leave paint or oil behind if used by themselves. Solvents can be very effective, but the fumes can be unpleasant to work with, or dry out the skin by removing the oil on your hand. In that case I’d follow up with lotion. Turpentine can also be rough on hairs. OMS or possibly kerosene would be a good cleaning solvent. Use these with care.

To avoid using solvents for cleaning, a method I prefer for brush cleaning is to use oil. I wipe off as much of the paint first as I can, and then dip the brush in a tiny bit of oil, rubbing it into the hairs. Finally I wash it with brush soap, and pat it dry. That always seems to get the most paint out. I use is mineral oil (unscented baby oil) since it seems to wash out best. This is non-drying oil, so I want to be sure and get as much off the brush as possible. You can also use a painting oil medium, like linseed, walnut or safflower, but besides being more expensive, these are drying oils, and a little bit left in the brush, while harmless to your painting, can cause the brush to get stiff. One thing that helps remove excess oil is acetone, which you could use before soaping, but that has strong fumes too. I have difficulty believing there’d be much mineral oil left behind after washing that would cause any painting problems, but it’s a risk worth mentioning.

If anyone has any specific questions, feel free to speak up. I’ve been using oils for many years, so if I don’t know an answer, I’ll try to lead you to a good solution.


WOW thanks for posting everyone! Some awsome tips I will have to test out.

I’m new to oil painting. I sat in on a tutorial my art tutor was giving a friend of mine outside school hours (I hadn’t had time to sort out my cavas to join in unnfortunatly), I learnt a lot and since this week we have our usual term holidays I jumped at the chance to get started on a painting! (you can see the progress in my anatomy sketchbook, link below).

Thanks Rebecca for the awsome tutorials! You seem to have so much knowledge, is there anything you don’t know?? haha. I was wondering when I saw your tips about what paints to use in the Acrylic tips thread, whether they could be transfered to oils, and now I see they can.

Thanks so much! This is wonderful! :bounce:



Great tips! Thank you for sharing those! :thumbsup:


You’re welcome! :slight_smile: It’s pretty hard to teach traditional stuff through the web without a studio etc. so this is about the best I can do in that regard. Much easier to go the digital route, which is something of a catch~22 since I think people should work traditionally as well. But am happy to share anything I know (just fyi I know jack about gouache or watercolors) :wink: so please feel free to ask / share your own tips and tricks for digital / traditional drawing and painting. :slight_smile:




Synthetic brushes can be safely used with oils. The problem arises with using turpentine to clean them since it can damage the plastic hairs. See my note above about cleaning without solvents. Synthetics have a softer feel (generally) so they’re a bit awkard to push around thick paint, but nice for detail work and blending. My personal favorite is red sables which are natural hair brushes. Hog’s hair brushes are good for moving paint around and scumble techniques.

Acrylic Gesso is an acrylic polymer that has pigment and powder mixed in. There’s debate even amoung the companies that sell it as to whether or not it’s appropiate as an oil painting ground. It makes a physical absorbancy for the paint mainly because it has microscopic holes in it the paint can sink into, unlike other types of ground that are actually chemically absorbant and more compatible with oil. That makes the hold weaker with acrylic gesso, but somewhat effective. The main advantage is convenience since it dries fast, cleans with water, and serves as both a size and ground for painting. Some folks start using it as soon as it’s touch dry, but the manufacturers actually say to wait a least a month before you start an oil painting on it. Oil based or traditional primers are more often recommended, some of which have an alkyd oil base and dry within a day. Non-alkyd primers take from 1 to 6 months to dry.

Not crazy about the black sponge brushes. They tend to break up into little pieces, and I have to pick that out of the gesso. Try a plastic spatula, or varnish brush instead. Thin layers of gesso work best, in my experience.

Turpentine: What you want is pure gum spirits of turpentine, and you can see that on the label of what you buy in the art store. It’s actually made from the gases of tree sap; a weird process. It’s absolutely necessary to use in a well ventilated area. Always keep your container covered when not using this stuff. Odorless mineral spirits are more easily dealt with, but just because you can’t smell them, doesn’t mean the fumes aren’t there, so use with the same care.

For palette surfaces, I really like metal. An old butcher plate or cookie sheet will work. Glass scares me since I can be a klutz :).

Oil paint on the palette can be left out and still be used a day later. There’s usually a skin that has dried on top that can be removed. If you cover your palette with plastic to keep the air from circulating around it, it will stay fresher, but don’t let it go longer than a day.

I tend to work on fairly small pieces, so I prefer wood panels instead of stretched canvas. I like the smoother surface and they’re a more handy size to deal with.

I’ve not used watercolor all that much, but know a bit about gouache. Neat stuff.


dbclemons: Thanks again! I like to use Hog hair brushes, I bought a pack of 18 the other day they came in a nice canvas brush holder. They were on sale so I just had to buy them, and they work wonderfully for me :slight_smile:

I’m currently posting step by step wip’s of my current oil painting. I’m no expert but maybe it will come in handy for those interested in starting an oil painting who may feel a little intimidated or unsure of where to start. (link in signature).


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