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How to paint oils

There's something about painting with oils that makes you feel like a true artist.

Maybe it's because in a small way you feel like you're standing on the shoulders of giants like Leonardo Da Vinci and Claude Monet. Or maybe it's the thick, buttery consistency and generous drying time that let's you indulge in playful experimentation. 

While they are often associated with being a bit messy and smelly, oil paints will allow you to create effects that you just can't achieve with any other medium. 

Yes, they do require more clean up than acrylics or watercolours, and even using low odour thinners you need to work in a well-ventilated area. But if you can set your workspace up right, these can become almost non-issues.

The long drying time of oil paint allows you to create very smooth and soft blends - ideal if you're aiming for a photo-realistic style.  It also allows you to come back to a painting a day later, with fresh eyes, and make adjustments.

The downside to the longer drying times means that it can be difficult to finish a painting in a day.  The wet-in-wet method (popularised by Bob Ross) does allow you to overcome this but you're restricted to a particular type of style that some feel is a bit 'painting by numbers'.  

If you're a newcomer to art in general, my recommendation is to start with acrylic paints. You can achieve many of the same effects you can with oils but the fast drying speeds everything up... including your learning curve!

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Don't Forget Those Fundamentals

Whether you end up learning how to paint with oils, acrylics or even coloured pencils, there are some fundamental principles that apply to everything.

Understanding the basics of colour is one for example. Another is tonal value...

All accomplished artwork has great tonal value - lights that are light, darks that are dark enough and subtle transitions between the two where necessary.

When an oil painting looks flat and amateurish you can almost guarantee there's poor use of tonal value.

This is why I suggest you read and follow our free oil painting ebook The Number 1 Way To Improve Your Oil Painting. It's not just to get you on our email list! It's because that book will get you, on a practical level, to understand what tonal value is. And it will improve your ability to draw and paint any subject matter, in any medium!

The Quickest Way To Master Oil Painting

If you haven't read our article How To Practice Your Art, I strongly recommend you do that before you start your next (or first) oil painting.

While it's not specific to oil painting, it's an approach that allows you master any skill to a high level, in the shortest possible time.   

It's an approach we've taken from experts in the field of accelerated learning and then adapted it for hobby artists. It's based on the idea of deconstructing a skill (in this case oil painting) into small, component parts and only the ones that make the biggest difference.

Here's a quick example...

I love portrait paintings. That's the subject matter that inspires me most.

If I was learning to paint portraits in oils, instead of trying to paint full portraits, I'd practice painting an eye, a nose, a mouth, sections of hair and so on. 

I'd paint 6-8 facial feature studies on my canvas instead of one single portrait. It would take me less time, I'd be less worried about messing up and more willing to experiment.

But even before these small studies, I'd practice colour mixing flesh tones and create a chart of colours that I could refer back to. And prior to that I'd learn how to make various brush marks with various types of brushes. 

I'd start general and get specific. 

This is the opposite of how most people try to learn how to paint.


Free Oil Painting Lessons, Guides & Tips

To get started with oils you obviously need the right equipment. The articles below will help you with that.

You'll also find some examples of quick study exercises that will help you get to grip with oil paints quickly and without any pressure.

Don't forget to explore the drawing and observation section and practice article. While they're not specific to oil painting per se, they are essential to essential if you want to make great art.   

Oil paints - A guide to the different oil paints plus Bob's recommendation for a starter set of colours...

Oil painting brushes - A guide to the different brush types available and Bob's recommendation for a starter set of brushes...

Painting and palette knives - What's the difference between painting and palette knives and do you need them?...

Oil painting mediums - Quick overview and things like linseed oil and thinners and which you need to consider as a would-be oil painter...

Oil painting surfaces - A guide to buying and using canvases...

Oil painting palettes - A quick overview of oil palettes...

Artists easels - A guide to buying an easel and setting up your oil painting workspace...

Oil painting tips from visitors to the site - A selection of short oil painting tips from visitors to the site...

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