Intro to Oil Painting: Part 1 – Basics

In part 1 of this oil painting tutorial, essential techniques, materials, and approaches to oil painting are thoroughly covered. (Watch Part 2)

71 min. video

Topics covered include all of the supplies: brushes, palette knives, oil paints, palettes, surfaces, and more.

Safety hazards which include ventilation and disposal are explained in depth, as well as brush techniques, painting exercises and recommendations for how to get started. 

Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu, Teaching Artist Cat Huang and Guest Artist Owen Rival.

Video Walkthrough

  • Nothing can substitute seeing oil paintings in person.
  • There are many challenges of oil painting, it’s a technique that is very slow to master and can take years.
  • There are safety hazards that come with oil painting that are important to know about.
  • Protective gear like wearing gloves, applying Artguard to your hands can help a lot.
  • Ventilation is important if you are using a solvent. Open all your windows when it’s warm enough to do so!
  • Disposal of solvents has to be done responsibly, never pour it down the sink!
  • Many towns have a household hazardous waste day where you can dispose of solvents.
  • Cotton rags aren’t just for cleaning brushes, they are great for wiping away areas in your painting.
  • There are some toxic oil paint colors, avoid lead paints like Flake White and Cremnitz White if possible.
  • Glass palettes are great because they clean easily with a window scraper.
  • How to choose which colors you use, starting with 2 blues, 2 yellows, and 2 reds plus white is a good place to start.
  • You can always add more colors later; sometimes having too many colors can overcomplicate the mixing process.
  • The strength of individual paint colors varies tremendously. Cadmium red is a very powerful color whereas yellow ochre isn’t by comparison.
  • Mixing black can create a more vibrant look, black straight from the tube is often very full looking.
  • Some combinations for mixing black are burnt umber + ultramarine blue and viridian + alizarin crimson.
  • There are so many types of palette knives, try a bunch and you’ll find some that are a good fit for you.
  • How to clean brushes with a Silicoil brush cleaning tank
  • Oil medium recipe: 1 part linseed oil, 1 part stand oil, 3 parts gamsol
  • Liquin speeds up the drying time for oils
  • Cold wax medium adds body to the oil paint and can make the paint more dimensional.
  • Rub a layer of oil medium between layers with a cotton rag, it will even out all the colors and bring them to the surface. This layer is also a good way to get started with glazing.
  • Underpaintings provide a guide and foundation for your painting.
  • Blocking in colors requires using a very wide brush to be efficient.
  • Painting a jack fruit
  • Oil paintings are often built up using multiple layers in order to take advantage of opaque and transparent paint. (glazing)
  • “Fat over Lean” is the way you want to build up an oil painting.
  • Brush techniques are tougher than they seem, it takes a lot to develop diverse techniques.
  • Opaque vs. Transparent paint
  • Retouch varnish can be used right away on an oil painting to bring the colors to the surface.
  • Picture varnish is the final varnish, you have to wait 1 year before applying the varnish to allow the oil paint to fully dry.
  • Painting mastercopies is an excellent exercise to look more deeply at the process of painting.
  • Mixing colors in advance can make the painting process more fluid so you’re not always stopping to mix.
  • Complementary color still lifes are a great exercise to strengthen your color mixing skills.
Intro to Oil Painting, Lobster Still Life
Water Mixable Oils Still Life Painting, banner

Prof Lieu’s Tips

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Honestly, it’s really not that important to learn oil painting, especially if you have limited space and budget for supplies.

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Portrait Painting in Acrylic

Oil painting requires SO many supplies just to get started which can get overwhelming really fast.

In fact, sometimes oil painting can really turn people off because it just requires so much housekeeping and supplies to make it possible.

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