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There is much more to painting with than can be stated in a single article. But the purpose of this article is to introduce the novice painter to some of the most important fundamentals of oil paining. No one can teach you to be an artist, but what can be taught are the essential basics to working in this medium.

What do you need?

There are a number of well-known brands of oil paints. One of these is the Windsor and Newton range. These oils are well made and marked according to quality. You will need a set of these or you can buy them individually. If you do the latter then buy foundational colors like magenta or red, blue, white, black, purple, yellow and possibly some browns, like burnt sienna and the all important umber colors. Remember that from these colors you can make almost any other color or shade of color. (But this art form will have to wait for another article.) You will also need something to 'thin' the paints with. Although paint can be used directly from the tube, they are most often used in conjunction with some medium to make them more fluid and flexible. The most important of these is turpentine. Remember to use only solvents and mixers labeled as 'for artists' as household turpentine will not do the job. Of course you will need a range of different brushes. Three basic brushes, one pointed, one flat and a large flat brush for washes are good enough for a start. Finally, you will need a surface, usually canvas, on which to paint. The art of making a canvas ready or preparing it for oils can be quite complex, so for a start a pre-prepared board sold at all art shops is a good starting surface.

What next?

These days oil painting is a different game than a few hundred years ago when the artist had to grind the pigments or colors and mix them by hand. Although there is nothing to stop the modern artist from doing this, these days there are ready-made oils of the highest quality and reliability that will not crack or fade. At least they will not crack if a number of basic principles are followed. The most important of these is the 'fat over lean' principle. This simply stated means that you should not paint over a layer of paint that has high oil content with a layer that has a lower content. The reason for this is that the bottom layer will continue to expand while the top layer will have already dried, and this will cause the top layer to crack or peel or, even worse, to fall off. But how do you prevent this? This brings us to the delicate topic of oil, solvents and drying oils. We have already mentioned turpentine, but there are many oils that can be used with oil paints for different effects, the most commonly known being linseed oil. By adding a bit of linseed oil to your paint mixture you increase its 'fat' or oil content and therefore unsure that it can be applied to a layer that has less or no oil added to it.

Lastly, this short introduction cannot end without a word of encouragement. Many beginners feel that oils are too intimidating. This is simply not so. Oils are one of the most versatile and satisfying mediums in which to paint. You can paint, thickly, thinly, in layers or at once onto the canvas. Oil painting does require patience but then so does everything worth doing well.