Beginners Guide to Oil Painting

Beginners Guide to Oil Painting

If you haven’t tried oil painting before, I highly recommend you give it a go!  Many people are scared of oils because they have heard that they are toxic, and you have to use turpentine or other nasty solvents. This is not the case anymore!

I’ve written this article to break it down to the very basics that you need to get started with oil painting. Once you give this medium a chance, I’m sure you will love it!

We have also prepared a guidebook you can download - get the FREE guide here.

So, what’s the difference between Oil Paints and Acrylic Paints?

Let me start by explaining what oil paint is. Oil paint is a slow drying paint that is basically made using two ingredients – linseed oil and a powered pigment that gives the paint it’s colour. Linseed oil is the most common oil used but poppy, sunflower, safflower, soya bean and walnut oils can also be used. The dry pigment powder is mixed with the oil binder and viola you have oil paint. There is obviously a lot more science that goes into the process, but I just wanted to keep it simple.

The consistency of the paint is important, it should be smooth and a buttery paste, not stringy or long and tacky. Mediums can be added to the paint to change the consistency and make it more transparent, glossy, speed up or slow down the drying time, levelling brush strokes etc. I will go into mediums in another blog post as I want to keep this simple.

Acrylics on the other hand are basically plastic (acrylic resin + acrylic polymer binder + pigment).  Acrylics dry very quickly (dries within minutes – usually 5 – 15 minutes depending on the consistency and temperature) and can also be used with a variety of mediums to achieve different effects.

If you still are nervous about moving away from using water, you can now get water mixable oil paints, which I will discuss in another blog post coming soon!

Buttery consistency of oil paint

The Advantages of Oils

Longer working time

One of the biggest advantages of oils is that they are slow drying which means you have a longer time to work on your painting. The slower drying time means you can develop the painting gradually and have plenty of time to move the paint around allowing time to make changes and adjust and perfect your painting.

Blends beautifully

The buttery, smooth consistency of oil paint lend itself to blend beautifully and effortlessly with surrounding paint. The extra drying time also helps to create beautiful glowing blends that is not always possible with watercolour and acrylics due to their faster drying times.

Oils blend beautifully
Sheer transparents

Oil paints are very flexible in their application. Oils can create luminous and sheer transparents and glazes by diluting with solvents.

Rich colour

Oil paint creates luminous, rich colours as they contain more pigment than other mediums and the slow drying nature of the paint provides greater opportunity for blending and layering to create greater richness of colour as well as a wide tonal range.

What You Need to Get Started with Oil Painting

The Essential Basics (all you need to get started):

  • Oil Paints - obviously
  • Solvent – recommendation GAMSOL for thinning the paint and cleaning your brushes
  • Cotton Rags – you will use this to clean your brushes
  • Glass Palette – I use a glass plate or the glass pane from an old photo frame. I tape the edges, so they don’t cut my fingers on the sharp edges if the sides haven’t been bevelled.
  • 2 Glass Jars (one for clean solvent and one for sludge)
  • Brushes: Can use hard bristle brushes and Synthetic.
  • Glass scraper – grab this from your local hardware store great for removing dried oil paint from your palette
  • Surface to paint on – canvas or wooden board


Don't use your oil brushes for acrylics/watercolour etc and vise versa. Keep your oil brushes separate.

Gamblin has a mediums sampler pack which is great way to become familiar with six of Gamblins' oil painting mediums. You can play with each of the mediums before you invest in a full size bottle.

The pack includes:

  • Galkyd Lite 2 oz bottle
  • Neo Megilp 2 oz bottle
  • Refined Linseed Oil 2 oz bottle
  • Gamsol 2 oz bottle
  • Solvent Free Gel 37 ml tube
  • Cold Wax Medium 2 ml jar

This set of six mediums comes in a clear, portable plastic zip pouch and is perfect for someone starting out with oils to get set up with a variety of mediums.

Gamblin Oil Paint Medium Set

Oils Aren't Scary!

A common misconception with oils is that they are toxic and hazardous. This is not the case!

As I have mentioned the oils that are used to make the paint are natural and obtained from plants. Most oil paint are NOT toxic but some pure pigments, such as cadmium, cobalt, lead etc can be toxic but only if you eat them or breathe in the pigment as a powder. This is the same with acrylic paint if you use acrylics which contain pure pigments.

As long as you wash your hands after use and don’t eat or drink whilst you are painting you should be fine. Some people choose to wear gloves while painting to avoid absorbing any of the pigments through their skin.

Gamblin Gamsol

Another issue stopping people from using oils is the “smell” that is associated with oils. Oil paints are actually odorless it’s the solvents such as turpentine that many artists use to dilute their paints or clean their brushes that smells and if the pot of turps is left open while painting the room will fill with the fumes in no time. This no longer needs to be an issue, as you can now get odorless solvents which are safe to use.

Odorless solvents like Gamsol (by Gamblin) are safe to use inside and you don’t need any special equipment.

Easy to clean

Cleaning up after a painting session is easy. Water is replaced with solvents when you are using oils.

All you need is the solvent you used during your painting session. To keep your brushes in good condition, clean your brushes before the paint has a chance to dry. You have a longer window to do this than acrylics as oils are slow drying but don’t leave it too long.

To clean your brushes, smoosh them into your Gamsol solvent, then wipe them off with a cotton rag until dry (old cotton t-shirts cut up into pieces are perfect).

When you want to give a really good thorough clean after a lot of painting, do the same thing above (repeat multiple times if needed), then put a small amount of dish-soap into the palm of your hand, rub your brush into this creating a lather, then rinse with warm water and dry off and reshape the tip using your cotton rag.

Oils Are Economical to Use!

Many people think that oils are expensive to use and that they have to buy many mediums in order to use oils, but this really isn’t the case.

A beginner can start out with just oil paint and solvent.

Here are some of the reasons why Oils are actually more economical to use than other mediums:

Paint Usage

While oil paint tubes are usually a bit more expensive than acrylics are, a little bit of oil goes a long way so a small tube will last you much longer than acrylics. Also, because the paint takes longer to dry you don’t waste so much paint, as you can leave your paint sitting on your palette for a while (even overnight) without it drying out!

Re-use Solvent

Some artists dispose of their solvents after just one use, which is wasteful and unnecessary. “Go greener” and recycle your solvents using a sludge jar. Sounds lovely doesn’t it?

After you have cleaned your brushes allow the dirty solvent to sit overnight. The paint sludge and pigment solids will settle in the bottom of the jar leaving clean solvent on top. Gently pour the clear solvent into a second glass jar to be used another time. The jar with the sludge can be saved for the next paint session and when full disposed of accordingly.


Never pour solvents or paint sludge down the sink or into a street gutter. Take to a hazardous-waste-disposal site. This sounds like a big inconvenience, but it will take you a very long time to fill up a whole jar of sludge, so it’s not something you will need to do very often.

Higher buying power

Did you know that oil paintings sell for higher prices? Why? There are several reasons why oil paintings fetch a higher price including the fact that there are multiple layers of paint, oil paints are generally more expensive than acrylics, they take longer to dry so therefore longer to paint.

5 Golden Rules of Oil Painting

5 Golden Rules of Oil Painting
Don’t mix with water!

Use solvent to thin paint and clean up. As the saying goes oil and water do not mix the same goes with oil paint (unless you are using water mixable oils!).

Fat over Lean

Painting ‘fat over lean’ means to start with thin layers of paint by mixing in more solvent. Then work up to thicker layers of paint. This is because thinner layers of paint dry quicker than thicker layers – if the layers on the bottom dry slower than the layers on top then the painting can crack later on, so to avoid this always paint thin layers first and thicker layers later.

Paint oils over the top of acrylics

Oils are very versatile and lend themselves well to mixed media pieces but always paint oils over the top of acrylics (never acrylics over oils). This is because oils don’t mix with water and because oils take longer to dry than water based mediums – so if you paint a water based medium on top of oils this can cause the painting to crack (the same way it does if you don’t paint fat over lean).

Allow layers to dry

You will need to allow 12 – 30 hours to dry between each layer before you can paint over a layer. The drying time will depend on any mediums you have used. You can add a quick drying medium to your oil paint to allow faster drying.

Leave for 12 months before varnishing

The curing time for oils is generally 12 months. If you varnish your painting too early your varnish layer could crack as the paint contracts as it dries, and the paint wouldn’t be able to harden so it won’t have a strong bond between the layers.


Even if an oil painting is dry to touch it doesn’t mean it is completely dry.

Get the FREE Beginners Guide to Oil Painting

  • Essentials for getting started with oils
  • Guide to Oil Painting Mediums
  • Understanding the Fat over Lean rule
  • Terminology Guide
  • Oil Painting Techniques
  • Water Mixable Oils, Oil Sticks, Oil Pastels & Water Soluble Oil Pastels.
Beginners Guide to Oil Painting - Free Guide


As some of you probably already know we are embarking on #juneoilartchallenge.  That’s right the complete month of June is devoted to ALL things oil. To find out more about our challenge you can read, June Oil Art Challenge.

Follow @articciart on Instagram to receive tips and inspiration for using all types of oil mediums and join in #juneoilartchallenge.

June Oil Art Challenge by Articci

Copy the above image and save to your phone or computer desktop. You might even like to print it out and glue into your art journal or stick on your wall in your art studio or in a prominent position on the fridge. Re-share the image on your Instagram wall and post to Facebook to help get the challenge moving. Tag your friends and fellow art buddies and share the fun together.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified when we release video tutorials.

P.S You can also join our Facebook group – For the Love of Art – which is a space for artists and art lovers to be inspired, supported and learn and grow together.


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