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Getting Started With Oil Paints

In a minimalist sense, all today’s oil painter really needs is oil paint and a canvas. But most oil artists have a less messy affair in mind. In that case, you will need the following:

  • A Palette
  • A knife to mix your colors
  • Several brushes
  • Turpentine, mineral spirits, or other paint thinner for thinning and cleaning
  • An easel
  • A well ventilated space
  • A well-lit space, either with natural sunlight or decent approximation
  • A good amount of patience

The Surface

You can buy great canvasses pre-stretched and pre-primed at most art supply stores. Creating your own canvas is an art unto itself, and not one entered into lightly by first time artists. Buying professionally prepared canvasses leaves you free to indulge your imagination as a beginning artist without worrying about the canvas you’re using.

The Paint

With such a variety of paints, it will be up to you to select the paint you want. A few common guidelines are price and quality. Beginning painters should strongly consider middle grade paints that work very well but aren’t too pricey. Many student grade paints have been created for just this purpose. Beginning artists have less experience, and therefore waste more paint and may not yet have the experience to appreciate the subtle difference in very expensive paints.

The Brushes

As with paints, there are a wide variety of brushes from which to choose. Go to the art supply store, pick the brushes up, feel the bristles with your hands, consider the weight of the handles, and think about the type of painting you plan to create,. Only then are you ready to make your purchase. Obviously if you are painting a mural, a pencil thin brush will not be advantageous. Pick size, bristle stiffness, and orientation based upon your visualized outcome. There are ‘value packs’ that work wonderfully for first-time artists designed to save you money for other supplies.

The Easel

Don’t skimp here. There is nothing more frustrating than having the paint, the brushes and the urge, and having an easel that distracts your attention and allows the canvas to move about. It’s ok to buy less expensive paints, mediums, brushes and canvasses, because you will purchase more expensively as you gain experience. But for goodness sake, don’t get an easel that will undermine your desire to get creative when the urge strikes!

The Space

It should not be understated that oil paints have an odor. Oil paints release vapors that should be ventilated properly, and the solvents and thinners used to clean and thin the paints are much the same. Mineral spirits have been developed with less ‘smelly’ attributes, but that doesn’t really mean they are less toxic; just less noticeable. Make sure your space gives you lots of fresh air and ventilates the room to minimize the fumes.

The Sun

Good lighting is important if you want to see your paintings clearly. Florescent lighting is cheap, easy and durable, but it distorts the colors you are trying to achieve when painting. One way to avoid this type of distortion is by painting outside. If that is not possible, paint close to windows for the best natural light. The difference in color is amazing.

The Patience

Starting out, there is nothing that will help you more as a painter than patience. At first, what you envision in your mind may not come out exactly like that on canvas. You may have frustrating sessions where you feel you have accomplished nothing but to waste your materials. But as they say in Hawaii, no rain, no rainbows—all artists must go through difficult learning periods to create great pieces of art. Have fun putting brush to canvas and great things will happen. Enjoy!

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Acrylic Painting Technique
Acrylic Painting Tips
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Famous Oil Paintings
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