Essential Tips You Need for Working in Oil Paint

Essential Tips You Need for Working in Oil Paint

Oil painting has a long and rich place in art history, and it remains a popular medium today. If you’re familiar with acrylic, switching to oil paint is straightforward. But like any material, it has its idiosyncrasies that you should know before putting brush to canvas.

1. It’s Ok to Make Mistakes

Instead of saying, “Oh, no, I’ve blown it!” just ask yourself, “What’s next?” Fear stops a lot of people from painting, which is such a shame. The worst that can happen is that you abandon it, or scrape down the parts that aren’t working and paint them again. A painting can be thought of as a series of choices and judgments. Sometimes we make the wrong ones and that’s not only OK, it’s inevitable.

2. Invest in Your Supplies

Buy professional-grade paint, brushes and supports, not student grade products. Inexpensive paint has a lot of filler, so it takes more to cover an area, which means you won’t be saving as much money as you thought. Cheap brushes don’t hold up and don’t let you control the marks you want to make. If you find that you’re fighting the brush to get the result you want, time to upgrade.

Everyone has different preferences for what feels good to paint on. Try a variety of decent quality canvases or panels and settle on the one that’s right for you. If you’re not invested in traditional stretched canvas, you might try gessoed cotton canvas panels.

3. Use a Mirror

It’s one of the best ways to catch mistakes. For whatever reason, seeing a painting in reverse can cause problems to jump out. If you’re doing portraits, it’s a great way to check the eyes and other features. For a still life, it will illuminate the relationships between objects.

4. Take Care of Your Health

There’s no getting around it: Painting in traditional oils means odors and fumes. Be aware of the air quality in your painting space. An air filter with a carbon insert will remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air. A small desk fan will also keep the air moving.

5. Try a Limited Color Palette

Start, or experiment, with a limited palette of four colors — one suggestion is Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, French Ultramarine and Permanent Red Medium. Though challenging, there’s a big advantage to this approach: color harmony happens automatically. It will also open your eyes to the colors “in between” the tube colors you can buy.

6. Understand the Five Elements

There are five elements that are present in every representational painting: design/composition, drawing, values, color and edges?


Once you have the idea for your painting, make thumbnail sketches, just 1″ – 2″ in size, to work out the design. Don’t get into detail, just work on arranging the main elements. Try different proportions of rectangles or maybe see how it might look like as a square.