Oil Painting Basic: Part 1 | Supplies

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I get so excited when I get e-mails, phone calls, texts or anything about someone wanting to start oil painting! I'm almost tempted then and there to say, "come over to my studio and paint with me for hours!! (PLEASE!)" And sometimes I do! I love seeing others explore their creativity, beginning to advanced, and I especially love other artists. There are so many things to be learned from one another! 

I thought I'd share a little bit about what materials to begin with, and later I'll post more about how to begin, etc. If you have any questions, please comment, contact, or send me an e-mail at sarahnightingaleart@gmail.com! I'm happy to answer any questions you may have. 

>>>Don't shy away from oil painting just because you've heard "it's hard." Some of the world's most beautiful and famous work have been done in oils. I think it gets a bad rep. for beginners despite it being VERY do-able, but with a few tricks here and there, it really becomes easier and easier with practice. Just you wait. You'll be making something beautiful in no time! 


Easel: Oil painting, unlike watercolor, should always be painted sitting upright at an easel. Don't skimp out on this, a comfortable setup will make your painting experience that much better. An easel also helps keep your clothes and studio clean! If you're just starting out, a great option for an easel is a tabletop easel. They're less expensive than floor easels, and if you're not planning on working on a canvas that is as tall as you (which I do not recommend,) the tabletop easel is perfect. If you're looking for something a little more than a tabletop easel, try finding an aluminum a-frame easel that can hold a canvas as small as 8x10! 

Palette: Your palette is your work space essentially. It's where chaos happens in the best way possible. There are many different sizes, types, and materials that make up a palette. To narrow it down, there are two types of palettes: a handheld palette and a table palette. 

A handheld palette has its benefits. It allows you to be close to your painting, compare the colors on your palette to the color on your canvas while you mix, and it makes you feel a little bit fancy, if that helps. If it is wood or acrylic, either way, it is easily cleaned with your paint thinner and paper towels. Or, if you have some stubborn dried paint, take a flat edge razor blade from a hardware store (about 10 cents!) to it--just be very careful! When choosing a palette for myself, I always go with a medium sized one that isn't too heavy. I hold it in my arm and make sure it's light enough that my thumb and arm won't get tired after painting for a long time! 

A tabletop palette is really an option worth looking into, too. It is usually a little bit easier to keep paint on for the stop-drop-and-go artist, meaning, you don't have to clean the paint off every time. Most come with sealing lids that keep the air from drying your paints. If you choose a tabletop palette, find one that say "stay-wet" on it, and get a pad of the disposable palette paper or have a piece of glass cut that will fit perfectly. 

Both types of palettes can be easily stuck in your freezer to keep paint wet for longer--it'll save you $$! If you opt for a handheld palette, just be sure to stick a piece of Saran Wrap over the top of it. It'll touch your paint and stick, but it's ok. 

A Clean Everything: The very saddest moment in oil painting is when you realize that little smudge of red on your hand is now on your face, your hair, your shirt, your paints, your carpet, your couch, your dog, and somehow, it even made it to the car, but somehow, it's not on your painting. Don't ask questions. It happens. Prepare your self with an armor of cleanliness.

 A great investment is 1.) an apron! Behind the scenes of a beautiful painting isn't as glamorous as the painting. If you're not comfortable with only an apron, try an old t-shirt, button-up, or smock. Maybe even a whole outfit deemed as your "painting clothing." 

Also a great idea 2.) a box of latex or non-latex gloves that really fit YOU. Don't let them be too tight, but also, don't have extended fingers. Oil painting puts you in contact with many harmful chemicals, but if you take precautions you will be safe. Gloves keep the chemicals away from your skin, and it also allows for a very easy clean up! (Sometimes I turn my wet gloves inside out, let them dry, and re-use them in a week.)

3.) Paper towels are essential! If you don't like the idea of a clumsy roll, try using a phone book to wipe your brushes on, then tear the pages off and discard as they become to saturated. Another great option is to buy a bag of cloth towel (the ones without a lot of texture) from your local hardware store. They usually stay around my studio a bit longer than paper towels, and they absorb the paint best, in my opinion. 

4.) Paint thinner (solvent.) Paint thinners like turpentine are life saving to getting paint out of your brushes! However, turpentine itself can be very odorous and some people even find they have allergies towards it. Always opt for something like Turpenoid (the blue bottle, not the kind that says it's "natural,") or, my favorite, Gamsol. These solvents are for cleaning and shouldn't be used for thinning your paints to go on your canvas! (Yellowing, cracking, makes it very hard to lay more paint down, I could go on and on!) However, you will also need it to prep your canvas, which we will talk about later!

5.) A solvent basin! The cute little silver jars you see above. They're great to use because they have a "filter" of sorts that will keep you from cleaning your brushes in old paint. Another option is a "Silicoil" brush cleaning jar. Same idea, just with a coil inside the jar, but I find that the Silicoil leaks easier than the silver basin. 

6.) A palette knife can be used for clean up! If you have piles of paint on your palette that need to be discarded or saved in a "mud pile," the palette knife is your go to! Don't forget that it is a wonderful painting tool to apply thick paint to your canvas too!

The Perfect Surface: Let's talk about this for a minute. Did you know there are other things to paint on besides canvas? And in some cases, they're MUCH better for the longevity of your paintings. Everything from wood, copper, plastics, acetate, and even polyester film can be a wonderful painting surface! To keep things simple though, I am going to recommend two surfaces that are my favorite. The first being, can you guess? the canvas! 

Canvas can come in many grades of linen or cotton, stretched or un-stretched. Although linen is to drool over, a nice stretched cotton canvas will keep things affordable and convenient if you're just starting out. Find one that doesn't have too much texture, and one that doesn't feel like sandpaper! (Usually it is the really cheap canvas that feels like sandpaper.) If you're having a hard time laying your paint down, it's typically because your surface isn't good. If you get a canvas that does feel like sandpaper, prepare it with a coat of white acrylic paint or a quality *Gesso. 

The other surface I love is a 9x12in sheet of Duralar, made by Grafix (.005 matte polyester film.) It is a very smooth surface. It literally is smoother than a piece of paper. It's a different experience from painting on canvas, and you'll want to tape it to a piece of board while you paint, but it's very affordable, easy to mount later, and is stored VERY easily (once your work is dry)! 

Give both options a try! I like to use canvas for my big pieces, and Duralar for practice or studies. 

Oil Paint: Shopping for the paint itself is almost as fun for me as painting! Colors vary from brand to brand, as does quality. My favorite will always be Gamblin Oil Paints. Their colors are rich, the paint feels smooth and buttery, and tube to tube, it's always consistent! The colors that are consistently on my palette are always a Gamblin color! If you're serious about wanting to paint something beautiful, paint with Gamblin.

As you are shopping for paint, you will find that prices vary drastically. As a rule of thumb, it's pretty common to find that price = quality and the quality of paint = the quality of your experience. Buy what you can afford, but choose quality over quantity if you have to!

In my opinion, I like brands you can buy in stores in this order:

M. Grahm & Co.
Winsor & Newton 
Blick Oil Paints
and . . .  dare I say, Winton Oil Paints (for the beginner if you really must save a penny.)

EXTRA: Vesari Classic Artist's Oil Colors and Natural Pigments Oil Colors can be found online and are to die for! But they're definitely the priciest, so much so that I don't even buy them . . . yet. 


A palette can be reduced to as little as four colors:

Titanium White
Ivory Black
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Red 

Yes, those four colors, though they aren't necessarily the primary colors, can create BEAUTIFUL paintings with a wide variety of color. Just look up "Anders Zorn" and you'll know what I mean. 

If you want to be a bit more adventurous, find a warm and a cool of the rainbow, add white, and you're set! This is the palette I typically use:

Titanium White
Cadmium Yellow (Cool Yellow)
Cadmium Yellow Medium (Warm Yellow)
Cad Red Light (Warm Red) 
Alizarin Crimson Permanent (Cool Red)
Ultramarine Blue 
Cobalt Blue
Sap Green
Burnt Sienna
Burnt Umber
Ivory Black

And if I really am feeling fun that day, I'll add these colors to my palette:
Yellow Ochre
Naples Yellow Light
Cinnabar Green (what am I saying, it's the perfect color, and it's always on my palette!)
Indian Yellow
Raw Umber
Cerulean Blue 
Quinacridone Red
And any other color I find in a store and fall in love with!

Oil Medium: Some people think of this as your paint thinner, when really, it should be thought as a smoother or glider. Sometimes it helps your paints stay wet, other times it helps them dry fast. You can use many, but you only need one! Also, they usually last a long time as you only need the teeniest, tiniest bit! Let me tell you about a few that I love, and you choose for yourself. Also, don't forget the palette cup to put a tiny bit into! (See the little circle jar on my palette?) 

Walnut Alkyd Medium:
This can be used as a drier, meaning it'll help your paints dry a fraction of a bit faster. It's very beautiful in the fact that it helps your oil paint look glossy, like oil should!

Walnut Oil: This will keep your paint wet a fraction of a bit longer! It also helps keep your paint looking glossy, and is 9x out of 10 my go to medium! Can't say enough good things about it!

Liquin: This is a great medium for someone who want their paint to dry a bit faster, and likes a very quick mix-in for smoothness. I haven't used it in years, but it's a great thing for beginners. It won't let your paint stay glossy however, so you will have to varnish your painting when it dries.

Cobalt Drier: I rarely use this, but it's worth noting. Cobalt drier, is just that--a really good drier! If you need your paint to dry fast--use a bit of this and you're on your way! It won't dry it in minutes, but it will dry it over night! Don't be afraid of the price either, you will have it for years even if you use it consistently! That's how little of it you have to use to have it work!

Brushes: As far as materials go, brushes are the most personal--even more so than colors! I always tell those I mentor or teach to pick out brushes that feel good to you! It's as simple as that. I have some really cheap brushes that are fantastic and that I keep in my top 10 next to a $35+ dollar brush! If you like texture in your strokes, go for a hog bristle brush that is really stiff, if you like smooth beautiful detail, find a long-handled sable brush that feels soft and delicate. I will always go for a sable or synthetic that feels really, really soft! As for sizes and shapes, get a variety of medium brushes, a couple small and maybe one or two larger brushes. Shapes that I love are Brights, Flats, and an occasional Filbert or Round!! (See that bright green handled brush with the really white bristle in the picture above? I never use it! But that's just me!) 

Because we are talking about brushes, let's talk about one more thing! Cleaning your brushes! You already have your painting solvent, Turpenoid or the like, and that used for step 1! Supplies for step 2. and 3. are simple as can be and hopefully can be found in your house already! A bar of soap and some good hair conditioner! We'll talk more about this next time! 

Have fun shopping! Art stores are the artist's candy shop, and online is pretty fun too (saving $$$!)

Good luck! Send me any questions you may have! Happy days of painting are ahead of you!


>>If you've missed them, check out these two other tutorial-like posts!

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