I remember my very first trip to my local art supply store over 15 years ago. I was an absolute beginner just starting out with oil painting at the time, and knew absolutely nothing about oil painting supplies. When I first entered the store, I remember how confused and lost I felt as I stared at the seemingly endless amount of materials before me. This particular art store was huge and had every tube of paint, every brush, medium and support known to man within its many aisles.
After standing there for several moments with a blank look on my face, a very helpful sales person quickly came to my rescue to see if I needed any help. I answered her with an emphatic “YES PLEASE”. She saw me coming from a mile away and to make a long story shorter, 30 minutes later I left that store with a huge box full of supplies, half of which I had absolutely no idea what to do with and to this day are still in their packages somewhere in my closet. I honestly wish I knew then what i know now. I could have saved my self a great deal of money.
The point of this guide is to hopefully save you from this type of unfavorable situation and to help you find the right supplies that you need to start oil painting and save you a lot of money in the process.
When you are first starting out in oil painting, there is no need to go overboard on supplies. Just buy enough to get started and when you become more experienced, after working with the materials, you can then try out different supplies until you find the items you are most comfortable working with.
Oil Painting Brushes
Brushes come in various sizes and shapes from flats to brights to rounds. Brushes are something you should definitely spend a bit more on on and shoot for quality. This is not to say that you need to purchase 150 dollar brushes, but you don’t want really cheap brushes either. Cheap brushes are a huge headache mainly because they shed hair , lose their shape, or otherwise fall apart. I no longer waste my money on cheap brushes as it just isn’t worth the savings in my opinion.
There are basically two different textures available when it comes to brushes: Hard and Soft. The hard class of brushes, often referred to as “bristle brushes”, are perfect for oil painting as they are quite resilient. Hard bristle brushes are made from hogs hair and are very strong and stiff. They can hold a good amount of paint when loaded and handle the oil paint quite well overall.
The soft oil painting brushes have softer, more delicate hairs that are made from animals like sable, squirrel and mongoose. These softer brushes can give your work a softer, smoother appearance . The authentic animal hair brushes like sable for instance can be rather expensive, so you may find it more practical to purchase a synthetic brush made of nylon, which work just fine as a substitute.
I personally recommend hard bristle brushes with oil painting as the soft brushes are just to flimsy and delicate in my opinion to really move the paint around.
There are a variety of brush shapes available to the artist and each is meant to perform a certain way for a certain situation. Frankly, I don’t see the need to have all these different shapes. I prefer to work with flats and filberts of various sizes and only occasionally will I reach for a round brush. I never use bright’s or fan brushes as I don’t see the need. Honestly, the only way you will know what you need is to work these different shapes and you will soon figure out what works best for you.
Flat oil painting brushes have a wide square end with medium to long hairs. Flat brushes generally have a lot of spring to them and can hold a lot of paint. You can use these brushes for broad sweeping strokes or you can turn the brush on its edge to create fine lines. Flat brushes are great for earlier stages of a painting when you are blocking in large areas.
Bright oil painting brushes are similar in shape to flat brushes but the hairs are shorter. They are best used for making shorter controlled strokes. They do not hold nearly as much paint as a flat brush.
The filbert is also similar to the flat brush only the edge of the brush comes to a rounded shape. The hairs of the filbert are medium to long in length. This rounded shape will give you more control then a bright. The filbert is great for blending and figurative work.
A round oil painting brush has a round or pointed tip. They hold a nice amount of paint and are great for making thin or thick lines. Use this brush for dabbing on dots or blotches of color. Round brushes are also good for washes, fills and detailed work. They are not suited for creating hard straight edges.
The fan oil painting brush is a flat fan shaped brush. The fan brush is a specialized brush. It is either used very often by the artist or not at all. It really depends on your style of painting. This brush is not suited for holding paint. It is used more often for blending colors and you should keep this brush clean and dry if you plan to do a lot of blending during a session. The brush will begin to lose its effectiveness when it becomes filled with paint. You may want to keep a few extras on hand.
Just like shapes, brushes are also available in a number of sizes. These sizes are indicated by numbers 1,2,4,6,8,10; size 1 being the smallest and 10 the largest in this example.
Caring for your Brushes
No matter what brush you buy, whether they are top of the line expensive brushes, or cheaper ones, you will definitely get more life out of them if you care for them properly. Getting as much oil paint off your brushes after each painting session is your main objective here. If you leave oil paint on your brushes for extended periods of time, the oil paint will harden and become very difficult to remove. This can definitely harm your brushes. So the sooner you clean your brushes, the easier it will be to remove the paint.
That being said, I have tried many different products and methods to clean and preserve my brushes and the following is the result of trial and error. I do not use paint thinner or mineral spirits as I try to avoid working with anything toxic if I can.
Here are the products that I have on hand:
- Baby Oil
- Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver
- Turpenoid Natural
- Old Rags or Paper Towels
Brush Cleaning Steps
- The first thing I do is remove any excess paint that is on the brush by gently squeezing it out with a rag or paper towel.
- I put some baby oil in a jar or cup and swish the brush around in the baby oil.
- I then wash it with Masters Brush Cleaner until the water runs clear and paint is no longer coming off the brush.
- I gently squeeze the excess water out of the brush
- I put a tiny bit of the Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver on the brush and re-shape it
- I lay the brushes down flat on a towel to dry
I have the Turpenoid Natural on hand in the event I have some really stubborn brushes that do not get as clean as I would like. The Turpenoid Natural is a strong solvent that removes stubborn oil paint.
Well that is my process. If you ask 5 different artists how they get their brushes clean, you will probably get 5 different answers. Some artists use dish soap, others have had luck using a product called Goop Hand Cleaner. Dawn works pretty well. I haven’t tried the Goop yet, but curiosity is getting the better of me and plan on giving it a try soon. I will keep you posted on my findings.
There are a ton of Oil Paints on the market today and new brands are always coming on the scene. I have tried a variety of different oil paints and have finally found paints that are not only good quality but are also affordable on my budget.
There are two grades of Oil Paints available to the artist and those are Artist Quality and Student Grade. Artist quality paints are of higher quality, but they are also very expensive. Student oil colors are similar to Artist Grade Paints only they have less pigment and tend to use more fillers. These fillers will make the student grade paint handle differently than artist grade. Expensive pigments like Cadmiums and Cobalts are replaced with much cheaper pigments. You will notice this when you see a label like “Cadmium Red Light Hue”. This is why I will only purchase real Cadmium Colors as opposed to those labeled as “Hues”. It is difficult to find Student Grade paint with real Cadmium pigments, but i did find one listed below that I am very happy with and is quite affordable.
Student grade paints are cheaper initially, but you do tend to use more of these paints because of the weaker pigmentation and they don’t spread as far. You should purchase a small tube of Artist quality paint and try it along with the Student side by side to really see and feel the difference.
I never buy Artist Quality as I simply cannot afford them. I use high quality Student grade paints that I am very pleased with. I recommend Student Quality paints if you are just starting out and cannot afford Artist Quality. If after working with the Student Grade paints, you would like to continue working with oils, then you can upgrade, but for now, stick with Student Grade for practice and experimentation.
Here are the colors of my palette. You do not have to buy these exact colors, as this is only my preference.
- Cadmium Yellow Light
- Yellow Ochre
- Cadmium Red Light
- Grumbacher Red
- Light Red
- Cadmium Orange
- Burnt Sienna
- Raw Sienna
- Burnt Umber
- Alizarin Crimson
- Thalo Green
- Thalo Blue
- Ivory Black
- Titanium White
For my Cadmium Colors, I buy a brand called Maimeri Classico Oil Colors. I have only tried the Cadmium Colors from this line, so I can’t speak for the rest of their colors.
For my titanium white and ivory black, I use Blick oil colors. I find these colors in this brand to be quite nice, especially the titanium white. Most other titanium whites I have used were too stiff for my taste. Blicks titanium white is buttery and workable straight from the tube. Same goes for the black.
For the other colors, I mix and match and use Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton and Grumbacher Academy. It really depends on what is cheapest in price at the time. I always buy the biggest tube I can afford at the time as it is just more economical to buy the bigger tubes. You really don’t need a tubed green. A number of awesome greens can be mixed from various blues, yellows, oranges, blacks, etc.
It really is a matter of convenience. Sometimes I just like to convenience of reaching for a tubed green as opposed to mixing it myself.
I buy my paints Online from Dick Blick or Misterart.com. The prices are fantastic, shipping is fast and my products always arrive undamaged. If I need something quickly and don’t want to wait, I will stop down to a local art supply store, most of the time at Michael’s. Prices at brick and mortar retail stores are more expensive than online. If you do decide to shop at Michael’s, make sure you go online to their website and print out coupons. They almost always have sales.
Oil Painting Mediums
Oil painting is a wonderful medium all on its own, but there are modifiers that you can add to the oil paint that can change its behavior. The use of oil painting mediums is really a matter of taste and not a requirement. Many artists do not use any mediums at all other then a bit of oil to make the paint more workable, as some paints are quite thick straight from the tube. Other artists swear by certain mediums.
It should also be noted that artists differ on opinion when it comes to the effectiveness and quality of oil painting mediums, so you should experiment on your own and form your own opinion. Make sure before using any oil painting medium that you read all warning labels and always work in a well ventilated area. It is also recommended that you work with gloves or other skin protectant to protect your skin.
Linseed oil is made from the seed of the flax plant. During its early history, linseed oil had a different role then it has today. Originally it was used as a final varnish for paintings that were created using the egg tempera medium. Linseed oil is used as binder in today’s oil paints. Linseed oil dries thoroughly and forms a strong paint film. Because linseed oil dries slowly, the paint remains in a workable state, enabling the artist to continue working on the painting for some time. When linseed oil ages, it does tend to yellow unfortunately. Many painters avoid using linseed oil with lighter colors like whites and yellows. Below are a few varieties of linseed oils that are available to today’s oil painters.
Cold Pressed Linseed Oil
Cold pressed linseed oil is made by extracting the oils from the raw flaxseed. The oil is extracted by using pressure and not heat, thereby creating a linseed oil in its purist form. Cold pressed linseed oil can be used as a binder in oil paints, but can also be used as a medium to thin oil paints, heighten gloss and transparency, and reduce the visibility of brush strokes. Many painters and manufacturers alike feel cold pressed linseed oil is superior in quality to other linseed oils because there is no refinement made to the oil. Cold pressed linseed oil results in a low yield, so this oil does carry a heftier price tag.
Steam Pressed or Refined Linseed Oil
When the flaxseed is steam heated and then pressed it yields more oil, thereby making refined linseed oil a more affordable medium for artists and for use as a binder in oil paints. The process of steam heating the flax seeds produces more waste, so this waste has to be removed through a refinement process. The oil is treated with an acid which removes the waste materials. The acid is then neutralized with an alkali solution. Refined linseed oil can be used to thin oil paint and increase brilliance and transparency.
Sun Thickened Linseed Oil
Sun thickened linseed oil is a thick bodied medium that is produced using the heat of the sun. An equal amount of both linseed oil and water are mixed together in a container and left in sunlight for several weeks or longer. The water and linseed oil eventually separate resulting in a thicker oil with a honey like consistency. Sun thickened linseed oil is not used as a binder in oil paints but as an independent medium that improves flow and increases gloss. Sun thickened linseed oil has less of a tendency to yellow and speeds drying.
Stand oil is also a thick bodied medium like sun thickened linseed oil. Linseed oil is heated at a high steady temperature, in an air tight container, which results in a very thick honey like consistency. Stand oil is useful as a glazing medium when mixed with turpentine and damar varnish. Stand oil helps improve the flow and has good resistance to yellowing. Stand oil is a slow drying medium that produces a strong enamel like paint film.
Poppy Seed Oil
Because linseed oil has a tendency to yellow as it ages, other oils have come onto the market. Amongst these oils are poppy seed and safflower oil. Poppy seed oil is extracted from the seeds of the opium poppy. Poppy seed oil is a pale slower drying oil and is less likely to yellow when compared with linseed oil. It is often used with whites, blues and pale colors.
Safflower oil is similar to poppy seed oil in that they both are suitable for whites and light colors. It has less of a tendency to yellow when compared to linseed oil.
Walnut oil is a pale oil that helps make paint more fluid and has good drying power. It has less of a tendency to yellow when compared with linseed oil. Walnut oil has to be stored properly or it can spoil.
Liquin is a popular series of oil painting mediums. Many artists swear by these mediums and they are definitely worth a try if you have never worked with them before. Liquin is an alkyd medium produced by treating a naturally derived oil, like linseed oil for instance, with alcohol and an acid.
This alkyd greatly speeds up the drying time of oil paints. This means that your oil paints will dry within approximately 1-6 days as opposed to 2 – 12 or more. These numbers vary of course depending on the pigment you are using. Now this is touch dry, not fully dry. You will still have to wait 6-12 months for your painting to fully dry if you wish to varnish it.
I published a video not that long ago, from Dick Blick and Winsor & Newton, that describes this mediums in greater detail as well as demonstrates how they work.
Oil Painting Supports
An oil painting support is any surface that oil paint can be applied to. There are a variety of different surfaces that you can paint on. Everything from certain woods, canvas, paper, glass and even metals can serve as supports for oil paint. Below are some of the more common supports that artists use today.
Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant. The plants are harvested and then left to soak in water until the outside of the plant rots away leaving the fibers underneath. The fibers are then processed into yarns or threads which are then woven into canvas. The fibers of the flax plant are long and quite strong and make for a very interesting and durable painting support. Paintings executed on this surface have withstood the test of time. It is for this reason that linen canvas is a favorite amongst professional oil painters. Unfortunately linen canvas is rather expensive and may not be the best option for beginners or for those artists on a tight budget. There are a variety of different linen canvases available, from rolled canvas to pre-stretched. It comes primed for acrylic and oils, or you can get it unprimed as well.
Cotton canvas is the most popular support for beginner oil painters. It is a relatively strong material and much cheaper than linen. It has a very even and mechanical weave. There is a big debate going on in the art world over which is the better painting support, linen or canvas? What support will last longer? This is really a matter of personal opinion and taste. I know many artists, including myself, who use cotton canvas exclusively. Other artists swear by linen. If the surface is sized correctly, then your painting will be well protected from rot and will last a long time. So when deciding between linen or cotton, I feel your decision should be based on what you can afford and how you enjoy working with the material itself and not whether or not it will be around in three hundred years. If you are really concerned about the durability of cotton, then purchase a heavy grade cotton canvas and try stretching it yourself. Cotton canvas is available in rolls or pre-stretched, primed or unprimed.
For those artists who may be on a tight budget but still want a descent quality surface to paint on, then canvas pads are a good choice. Canvas pads come in a variety of different sizes and are great for beginners who are just starting out. Canvas pads are great for practice or doing studies. Make certain you get a heavy weight canvas pad suitable to hold oil paint.
Masonite or Hardboard
Masonite is another popular oil painting support for artists. Masonite is actually a trademarked name for a synthetic hardboard made from wood particles. Hardboard is inexpensive and rigid. If you plan to use large hardboards, it is recommended that you reinforce them with a frame, as they can bow or bend. You can purchase plain hardboards or other varieties like canvas boards, which are hardboards covered with a ready to paint canvas material.
The earliest known oil paintings were created on wood panels made of oak or poplar. The wood was covered with a uniform ground made of animal skin glue and chalk. The ground was then polished smooth to create a surface suitable for oil paint.
Pure hard wood panels are not the most popular ground for oil painters today. They are costly and rather difficult to lug around. A good alternative that oil painters use is plywood. There is good quality plywood available made of birch, poplar or mahogany that is suitable for oil paints if prepared correctly. Do not paint on soft woods such as pine because they contain more resins and do not resist moisture very well.
The above are the more popular oil painting supports in use today. There are others that artists use when they are feeling adventurous. Metals like copper and aluminum are sometimes used as a painting support. Obviously metals are quite heavy, so paintings on this type of support are usually on the smaller side. There are also other fabrics used in oil painting like jute, which is a strong natural fiber with a rough texture.
Experiment with the variety of painting supports available and have fun. You will eventually find one that you are happy with or maybe you will come up with your own unique support for painting?
A painters palette is a surface where you mix and arrange your oil paints. Palettes are made from various materials including glass,wood, plastic, coated paper and even disposable plates. These surfaces must be non-porous so that the oil is not absorbed into the surface of the palette. Palettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Everything from square, rectangular, circular and the classical palette shape are available. The classical palette is usually made of wood with a hole in it designed to be held by the artist while he or she is painting. I tend to be a very messy painter and like to leave my paints sometimes for a day or more, so I use disposable paper palettes or plates.
Easels are also available in various sizes and price ranges. You will need a good stable easel to paint on, otherwise your canvas will wobble around when you paint. This can be quite frustrating. You also need to decide whether you will be painting primarily in your studio or if you are an outdoor painter. If you are painting outdoors you should consider purchasing a French easel. If you work primarily in your studio, then you have a lot of easels to choose from. I personally do not use an easel at all and prefer to paint with my canvas laying flat on the floor.
Where to Buy/My Supply List
So Hope you found this little guide helpful and hopefully you are in a better position to purchase quality and affordable oil painting supplies. I will close this guide by sharing my personal supply list .
It is important to note again, that this is only my preference for supplies. You may not like everything on this list. Only time and experience will tell you the best supplies for your particular budget and painting style.
My Supply List
This can all be purchased online at Dick Blick or Misterart.com by following the links below.
- Cadmium Yellow Light (200 ml) ( Maimeri Classico)
- Cadmium Red Light (200 ml) ( Maimeri Classico)
- Cadmium Orange (200 ml) ( Maimeri Classico)
- Titanium White (225 ml ) (Blick Oil Colors)
- Ivory Black (225 ml ) (Blick Oil Colors)
- Yellow Ochre (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Light Red (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Grumbacher Red (Largest Size) (Grumbacher Academy)
- Burnt Sienna (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Raw Sienna (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Burnt Umber (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Alizarin Crimson (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Thalo Green (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
- Thalo Blue (Largest Size) (Georgian, Winsor and Newton Winton or Grumbacher Academy)
Purchase these Paints Online at Dick Blick:
Grumbacher Academy Oil Colors
Maimeri Classico Oil Colors
Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colors
Daler-Rowney Georgian Oil Colors
Blick Studio Disposable Palette Pads
- or Plates
As stated above, I do not use an easel as I like to work on the floor. I understand not everyone is comfortable with this. Below is a good quality, affordable easel: