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Is Oil Painting Difficult To Learn? Easy? Beginner Friendly?

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Oil painting has a reputation for being intimidating, but does it really deserve that notoriety?

As long as you take proper precautions and use oil paints and their associated materials as intended, there is nothing inherently dangerous about using modern oil painting supplies.

Due to its slow drying nature, oil painting can be challenging, but that quality can also make certain techniques easier than with faster drying paints.

Is oil painting difficult to learn? Oil painting is not any harder to learn than any other type of painting. With time, effort, practice, and a little bit of knowledge, you can learn to use oil paint effectively. As time goes on you can work to master various techniques such as blending, wet-on-wet, and impasto.

If you are wanting to learn the basics of oil painting, then you’re in the right place.

This article will teach you everything you need to know to get started with oil paints, including what supplies you will need, some simple oil painting techniques, and some of the best oil paints to try.

Oil Painting for Beginners

The most important thing to know before you get started with oil paints is that mindset is everything. Go easy on yourself and let go of expectations.

Coming to the canvas with a relaxed and curious attitude and being willing to learn through experimentation guarantees an enjoyable experience that will keep you coming back to your palette.

And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! The more you practice, the better you will get.

What You Need To Get Started

Oil Paints

These don’t have to be fancy, and if you’re willing to learn a little color theory, you don’t have to get a ton of colors.

A cool and a warm version of each of the primary colors as well as black and white should serve you well. 

Basic Colors for Beginning Oil Painters

  • Titanium White
  • Ivory Black
  • Cadmium Red
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Phthalo Blue
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow

Brushes

Stiff hog bristle or synthetic brushes work well with oil paint. Start with a larger 1-inch wash brush for background work, a medium sized round brush, and a smaller fine-tipped detail brush.

(I explain all the various brush types here if you need some clarification.)

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is used as a medium to help carry the oil paint and extends its drying time.

Use it to adjust the consistency of the paint in the same way that you would use water with watercolor paint.

Thinner

Oil paint out of the tube is thick, but turpentine or mineral spirits can be used to thin the paint.

Cleaning Jar

A jar with a metal coil inside is ideal for cleaning oil painting brushes and can be found at any art store or purchased online (find it here on Amazon).

Old Rags

You will want to use old rags or newsprint to clean your brushes as you work. 

Palette

A glass or plastic palette is fine for use with oil paints.

Canvas

You will need a canvas or any gessoed surface to paint on.

Old Clothes or an Apron

It’s a good idea to wear an apron or old clothes you don’t mind getting paint on while you work.

Understanding Oil Paints

Oil paints consist of ground up pigment, which gives the paint its color, and a drying oil (commonly linseed oil) that functions as a binder.

Adding more linseed oil to the paint can make it more liquid.

You can also add a solvent (such as turpentine or mineral spirits) to the paint to make it a lower viscosity, although the solvent does tend to affect the brilliance of the paint.

Different Grades

Oil paints range from student grade to professional grade.

Student-grade oil paint is typically less expensive and comes in larger quantities, while professional-grade paints tend to come in smaller tubes and contain higher quality pigments.

Mediums

Linseed oil, white spirits, and turpentine are commonly used oil-painting mediums.

Drying Time

Depending on the humidity of the environment, the type and amount of paint used, and painting techniques, oil paint can take weeks or even months to completely dry!

Cleanup

Use of thinners or solvents is appropriate for cleaning brushes and spilled paint. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area when using chemicals!

Basic Oil Painting Techniques

Of course you don’t need to master every technique right away, but you should be familiar with the basics so that learning will be easy as you grow in skills.

Underpainting – Mapping out your intended painting by applying a thin layer of paint in a wash-like consistency.

Blocking In – Similar to underpainting in that you are using a larger brush to apply a thin layer of paint to different areas of your painting, giving yourself a rough idea of what colors will go where.

Blending – Softening the border between two colors by gently mixing them together while wet.

Scumbling – Applying thin layers of paint using a hard, dry brush in order to create a cracked texture.

Glazing – Just like with a donut, applying thin, transparent layers of paint over dried portions of color in order to create a polished appearance.

Alla Prima – Alla prima, or wet-on-wet, is the technique of applying wet paint on top of wet paint. 

Impasto – The impasto technique consists of applying very thick paint to the canvas. Impasto paintings can have incredibly long drying times.

Advantages of Using Oil Paints 

  • Highly pigmented colors
  • Easy to blend
  • Can easily create different consistencies with the use of mediums

Disadvantages of Using Oil Paints 

  • Slow drying time
  • Solvents can contain harsh chemicals

How Long Does It Take To Learn Oil Painting?

One of the great things about painting in general is that no matter what level you are, there is always more to learn.

You can learn how to create a wash for an underpainting in a matter of minutes, while achieving your desired results with alla prima or impasto techniques can take a little longer.

Be patient with the learning process and open to any unexpected outcomes, and above all, have fun!

Best Oil Paints for Beginners

When you’re just starting out, it’s important to have a good set of solid colors that are easy to work with.

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Colour Starter Set

Winsor & Newton Winton Oil Color Paint, Starter Set, 10 x 37ml Tubes, 1.25 Fl Oz (Pack of 10)
  • Ideal for student and amateur artists or more accomplished painters requiring large volumes of color...
  • A high level of pigmentation provides good covering power and tinting strength

This set comes with 10 different colors that can be used for both interior and exterior projects.

This is a cost-effective set that can be used by both beginners and more advanced painters alike.

Castle Art Supplies Oil Paint Set

Castle Art Supplies 24 x 12ml Oil Paint Set | Great Value Set for Adult Artists, Beginners and Advanced | Vibrant Variety of Smooth-to-use Colors | In Impressive Presentation Box With Tutorial
  • BE INSPIRED The greatest works in the greatest galleries are oil paintings. But don’t be daunted;...
  • EXPECT QUALITY Arranged in two rows of easy-to-pick color families, the 24 handy sized12ml tubes are...

This is a great choice for those who are completely new to the concept of color mixing.

With a veritable rainbow of 24 tubes of color, you can experiment with color mixing while also having premixed colors to fall back on if your experiments go awry!

Williamsburg Traditional Colors Oil Set

Williamsburg Oil Traditional Colors Set
  • Williamsburg Oils - Traditional Colors Set of 9
  • Traditional Colors Set

This set is perfect for those who are ready to put their color-combining skills to the test.

It contains 8 colors, including a warm and a cool version of each of the primary colors as well as Raw Sienna, French Raw Umber, and Titanium White. 

Related Questions: 

Is Oil Painting Harder Than Acrylic?

The answer to this question really depends on the individual. While oil painting can be challenging due to its slow-drying nature, that same quality also makes it versatile and adjustable. 
The blending process can be considerably smoother with oil paints, as wet paint is a key component of this technique.
As with anything, the more practice you get, the better you will be at both oil and acrylic painting.

Should I Wet My Brush Before Oil Painting?

You do not need to use water at all when oil painting.
You can use linseed oil or turpentine to transform the consistency of the oil paint, but there is no need to wet the brush the water before starting.

Conclusion 

If you’ve been looking to channel your inner Bob Ross but have felt like you weren’t sure what supplies you needed or where to start, this article should leave you feeling confident and ready to try your hand at oil painting. 

Let go of expectations, experiment with new techniques, and let yourself have fun! You may find yourself pleasantly surprised at your results!

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