Oil painting might be intimidating for beginners. There are paints, tools, brushes, mediums etc. Compared to watercolour and acrylic painting, oil painting may seem more complicated to deal with. It was the case for me when I first started learning oil painting. However, after a while, I got used to the oil painting process and it became more and more enjoyable.
In this post, I will be showing you the tools and materials you need to start oil painting.
Oil paints are, as the name suggests, oil based. They come in different qualities, for beginners who are just starting out, student grade oil paints are more suitable for experimenting as it is cheaper. However, student grade oil paint is not as pure as artist grade oil paint thus colour mixing may not be very accurate.
There are many different brands of oil paints out there, some popular ones are Winsor & Newton, Daler Rowney, Gamblin and many more. Oil paint from different brands may have different properties to them. For example, in my experience, Winsor & Newton has a slower drying time compared to Daler Rowney. Each brand may also provide both student grade and artist grade paint. If you’re not sure which colours to buy, a simple beginner set would be a good start.
Oil painting brushes come in many shapes and sizes. The most common types are round, flat, filbert, fan and mop. Different brushes can be used to create different effects.
A good brush will bounce back to its original shape after bending. If they are not properly taken care of, the ends may start splitting and they may start losing their original shapes. However, don’t throw away all your ruined brushes as they may still be able to create some interesting effects. During a painting session, you will clean your brushes on brush cleaners when trying to change colours. After your painting session, you should wash all your used brushes with soap and water, make sure all the paint are washed out of the brush before you lay them out to dry.
Some tips to properly keep your brushes are to not store them bristle up while they are still wet. It is also not advised to keep your brushes soaked in solutions for a long period of time.
Oil paints are oil based. So unlike watercolour or acrylic paints, brushes cannot be cleaned just by dipping them in water. Special brush cleaners are needed to clean the oil paint off your brushes. These solutions can be chemically harmful and nasty on the nose. They must be used carefully and disposed of properly after use. They must not be poured down the drain.
I use Zest-it, it is relatively less harmful and has a citrus smell.
A tip for not wasting these brush cleansers is that after each use, leave the mixture of solution and paint overnight. In the morning, you’ll realise that all the oil paint has sunk to the bottom, leaving the rest of the solution clean as new, ready to be used again. You can either reuse the solution as it is with the paint at the bottom or pour out the clear solution and clean out the residue paint at the bottom. Being a lazy person, I’ve obviously opted for the first option.
Mediums are mixed with oil paints to produce different effects. Different mediums can change the flow, drying time, thickness, consistency and transparency of your paint. They can also change the type of finish for your paintings.
When you first squeeze out some paint straight out of the tube, you’ll realise that the paint is semi-solid. If you paint straight on the canvas using that paint, you will find it difficult to spread the paint out to a large area.
Some mediums are used to mix with oil paint to make them more liquidly and improve its flow on the canvas, like a lubricant.
Some mediums can be mixed with paint for different painting techniques such as glazing, which is a technique that produces richer colours by painting a thin layer of transparent colour above another painted area.
Some examples of mediums are
- Linseed oil: increase the flow and drying time of your paint. It also makes your paint more transparent.
- Liquin: speed up the drying time of the paint and gives a glossy finish
There are many different painting surfaces that can be used for oil painting. The most commonly known is the stretched canvas, some other types are canvas paper, canvas panels and various types of hardboards.
In the long run, oil paint may react with painting surfaces and eat away the surface. If your canvas is not pre-primed, it is a good idea to prime your canvas before starting to paint. Priming your canvas gives a separating layer between the painting surface and oil paint, it protects the painting surface, it may also let your paint appear more vibrant and provides a better surface to paint on.
I use 2 coats of white acrylic gesso to prime my canvas. After the 2 coats are dried, I sand them slightly to produce a smoother painting surface. If that sounds like too much work, you can always get pre-primed canvases but at a higher price.
A palette is where most of the paint mixing occurs. You squeeze tubes of different coloured paint on the palette and mix them together to create millions of different colours!
A glass palette is ideal for oil paint as it is easy to clean and when you scrape dry paint off of it there won’t be a lot of scratches like plastic or wooden ones. However, a glass palette may be hard to find or expensive.
I use disposable palettes. They are like pages of a notepad and I just tear one page off, use it as a palette and throw it away after I’m done with it. It’s convenient and the price is reasonable, not so eco-friendly though.
Palette knives can be used to mix paint, it is generally easier to mix large amounts of paint with palette knives than with brushes.
They can also be used to paint directly on the canvas. There are styles of painting where thick layers of paint are painted onto the canvas using a palette knife, this can create dimensionality and produce different effects.
So these are the basic tools and materials for oil painting. It may seem scary at first but once you get the hang of it I’m sure you will enjoy oil painting too!
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