30+ Oil Painting Tips for Beginners! {Sketchbook Sunday}

Hi friends! Every time I paint with oils I am filled with a warm pleasant feeling of coming home. Some of this enjoyable nostalgia might come from the fumes but mostly it is because there is nothing quite like the sumptuous feeling of an oil paint loaded brush gliding across the canvas. You have all the time in the world with oils, they won’t dry out on you while you are working no matter where you live and you can build up layers and transparent glazes to get a luminosity that rivals watercolor, only different.

Have you been curious about trying oils? Or maybe you dabble in oil paints but wonder if you might be missing out on a tip or trick that could make your life easier or save you some money? If so check out today’s video where I sake 30+ tips (or oil painting hacks) that will save you time, money and bring more joy to your painting!

Supplies (Affiliate links to Arteza and Amazon used. If shopping on the Arteza website use coupon code PROMO10 for 10% off your order)

Here are the tips (watch the video for ddetailed explanation)

  1. Start with a set of good quality inexpensive paints so you can see what colors you like and replace what you actually use with larger tubes of better paint (and see if oils are for you before spending much) Also, buy an extra tube of white.
  2. Use a limited palette for a more professional look.
  3. Start with loose sketch with a small brush and thinned down paint.
  4. After sketching block in colors in a thin coat.
  5. Use a disposable palette and scrape it off so you can reuse it again (it’s less wasteful than the paper towels you will need to clean a wood palette)
  6. Use paper towels for clean up instead of washable rags *rags used for oil paint can start a fire in your dryer
  7. Use a brush washing jar (or make your own) with a cleaning screen so you don’t waste paint thinner.
  8. Buy good quality paint brushes once. I like inexpensive synthetic hogs by Royal & Langnickle or Creative Mark. Be sure to clean them properly.
  9. How to clean brushes: rinse in thinner, wipe off excess and follow up with soap and air dry.
  10. Let your washed brushes dry before using with oils again.
  11. Follow the “Fat over Lean” rule which means your first layers of paint are thinned with solvent and last layers are thinned with oil to the top layers dry slower than the first layers to avoid cracking.
  12. Practice your drawing skills because with oils you will lose your sketch as you paint. Knowing to draw will let you draw in your minds eye and you know where your lines belong even after they have vanished.
  13. Use an adjustable board or easel to avoid glare and for comfort.
  14. When colors won’t stick let the paint set up overnight and then you can add a new layer with a softer brush. Remember the Fat over Lean Rule.
  15. Scrape off your palette when you are done for the day.
  16. Save big amounts of squeezed out paint by placing your palette in a sealed plastic try (like a Tupperware that you don’t need for food or in a zip lock bag) to keep it fresh for a few days while you work on your painting.
  17. You can also cover your palette with foil and stick it in the freezer according to many artists. The best practice it to only put out when you will use in a day IMHO.
  18. Have dedicated brushes for oil paints as you could deposit oils onto your other mediums if you use the same brushes for everything.
  19. Recycle old watermedia brushes for oils (but don’t use them for watermedia again)
  20. Save details for the end of a painting and use small brushes gently at this stage.
  21. Add linseed oil to dark colors to help it flow, keep the colors dark and keep your lines fine.
  22. Take your time, the paint dries slow so you don’t need to rush. You can paint in layers over days and weeks or paint “Alla Prima” or all at once.
  23. Have a spot to leave your painting to dry where it won’t be in the way or collect dust or pet hair. 
  24. Varnish your painting 6 months after your painting is done to protect it and even out the paint sheen.
  25. How to use oils in a sketchbook: First prime the page with acrylic gesso or you can do an acrylic paint under painting. This protects the paper underneath. Leave the book clipped open until the painting is touch dry.
  26. Save bright whits and dark darks till the end after your paint sets up a bit so it will layer on top.
  27. Use soft, blunt mop brushes for fans to soften and blend edges where needed.
  28. Use a glazing technique for adding depth and rich layers. Mix paint and oil together to make glazes. Glazes are transparent layers of color applied at the end of a painting.
  29. Buy larger tubes of the colors you really like as it costs less over time
  30. Try water mixable oils if you don’t like the smell or cleanup of traditional oils. 
  31. Add interest in a boring area buy adding spots of a complementary color. I added red in the muddy green foreground.
  32. Use warmer colors in areas you want to come forwards and cool colors where you want things to recede.
  33. Add texture and highlights by scraping into the paint film with the end of a brush or palette knife. This is called sgraffito. You can also apply thick physical textures with a palette knife. Thick passages of color will take much longer to dry.

If you enjoyed these tips check out my other free oil painting tutorials here. Til next time happy painting!

3 Responses

  1. Lindsay, I tried to sign up for your newsletter on your website and the confirmation box part is kinda wonky… I’m not sure if it worked…” It wanted me to: “We need to confirm you are a human. Check the box in the reCAPTCHA below and click the “confirm” button.” I can’t find the ‘reCAPTCHA’ box… it’s not there…? Thanks for your help and sharing your wonderful talent !!! G

    >

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  2. This was a great surprise. Oils my first medium. Enjoyed all the times and things thanks again Lindsay!! Loved the painting!

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  3. I cannot do oils. Not even oil pastels(sob). Lindsay, can this be done in acrylics? I hope it would be challenge that intrigues you. I did try the “water based oils” but no go. Many people have this issue, mine was an industrial accident resulting in reactive airways disease. I long to do vibrant scenes like this but I am still clumsy with acrylics.

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