A no-BS guide to what to buy when starting off oil painting ($150–$200)
I started to learn how to paint with oil paints over Christmas last year (2019). In retrospect I spent more money than I needed to and I wanted to pay it forward for you if you are considering starting oil painting.
First off, GO FOR IT! It is very fun, relaxing, and gratifying to paint with oils and after a little practice what you produce can look pretty good, definitely makes good gifts, and if you get really good maybe even make a little money.
The main goal of this list is to buy very few things but to buy the highest quality you can afford. So do not buy the cheapest version of anything especially brushes buy as good quality as you can afford.
What you need
It is good to start with only a few primary colors bc it forces you to learn to mix your colors from the primaries and white.
- Titanium White (big tube)
- Napthol Red (small tube)
- Ultramarine Blue (small tube)
- Burnt Umber (small tube)
- Cadmium Yellow Pale/Light (small tube)
You can make your own black by mixing French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber together. Don’t buy black paint, it sucks.
If you want more colors, I’d recommend
- Yellow Ocher (for skin)
- Cadmium Red (for skin, blush)
- Raw Umber (for shadows)
- Burnt Sienna (for imprimatura)
- Cobalt Blue (for skys)
You can buy “studio” grade paints to start to learn, or if you have the budget already buy “artist” grade paints. Once you are a bit better at painting you’ll want to use all artist grade paints bc they are much, much better.
Start off buying disposable palette paper. I recommend a toned palette paper that is grey/blue. Do not buy the smallest size or you’ll quickly feel constrained on your palette.
When you get more advanced you might want a glass palette. You can make your own quite easily or Genevapaints.com sells a good one for $110.
“Supports” are what you paint on. Traditionally you paint on stretched and primed canvas. You can use canvas or canvas board if you like, but I recommend to start off with toned canvas paper made to support oils.
You probably won’t be framing many of your first pieces (b/c you are learning!) so this canvas paper works well and is affordable. If you want to keep anything you do like, you can can by adhering it later to some board.
When you are better at painting you can get canvas boards and stretched/primed canvases.
Note: Your palette and supports ought to be toned (grey or brown) because it is easier to see the darkness/lightness value of your paint when the background is a neutral value. If you paint on a white background everything looks darker than it actually is.
When you want to go to the next level, I recommend oil primed linen panels from Jerry Artarama. If you want to go bigger than 12' then you want to use stretched linen canvases.
You need brushes too! Get all natural bristle brushes (no synthetics—they don’t hold enough paint). Do not go cheap on brushes, get at least the medium-range priced brushes. Get the top priced if you have the budget. The more expensive the brush, the longer it will last and the better it will work for you from day one. You’ll want two of each, one for dark colors, and one for light colors.
- 2x Filbert or Flat 8 (workhorse brushes for almost everything)
- 2x Filbert or Flat 4 (Another workhorse brush but a little smaller for smaller paintings or details)
- 2x Round 1 (for small details)
- Flat 12 (big flat brush for doing backgrounds quickly)
- Palette Knife—not technically a brush but you need it to mix your paint and sometimes to put it on or take it off the canvas. Get a long-ish one with rounded edges.
Oil paints are pretty thick and saturated coming straight out of the tube, so usually painters mix some “medium” into their paints to thin them out and achieve other effects.
There are lots of different medium (media?) to use, and you can also just use your paint thinner, but that makes the paint really thin really fast. Instead,I recommend for beginners just use one of these:
Mix about 1/2 medium 1/2 paint. If you paint with layers, add a little thinner to your lower layers, and no thinner to upper layers.
Clean Up ($15)
For cleaning your brushes you’ll need a paint thinner. I like Gamsol—a non-toxic alternative to turpentine. You still need good ventilation if you have this open.
Brush soap—you’ll need a nice paint brush soap bar or, to save money you can just use cheapo shampoo.
Paper Towels or Rags—you’ll need these! Don’t throw towels or clothes away anymore! Cut them up into rags and use them to wipe your brushes while painting. If you are going to use paper towels, I recommend the blue oil rags for car mechanics.
You can buy an easel if you want but it is not necessary to start. I like the french portable easel because then you can use it in a studio or outdoors. You can also get an H-frame easel on Amazon for $200.
You will want to paint in as close to full daylight light as possible. Once you start setting up your studio you’ll want to get some powerful (5000k) lights and hang them. Check out Draw Mix Paint’s video on setting up a studio. I got 4 florescent tubes for $100 and attached 3 of them to my ~15ft ceiling and it works great.
I recommend DrawMixPaint.com’s videos for getting started and continuing painting lessons.
I’m on instagram at @sebabraus.