Introduction to Oil Painting

Oil Painting is one of those time honored arts that many people find intimidating. After an oil painting class with a professor who knew what they were doing, I realized there are a few basics to oil painting that can break it down and make it simple. This is a quick introduction to the art of oil painting. Nothing can substitute for years of practice and education, but this may help you over your fears of learning how to start to paint with oils.

One of the first things to remember when oil painting is that oil paintings are accomplished in layers. The first paint layers should be basic, building detail with each layer. With that in mind there are three general areas to start learning about oil painting. The first is what colors should you buy, the second is how to mix basic colors to make secondary colors, and finally how to use linseed oil and turpentine in oil painting.

What Paint Colors to Buy First

Almost every introduction to oil painting should include a list of what colors are necessary to start oil painting. There are 11 colors that you should purchase first. They are Cadmium Red, Light Yellow, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson, Titanium White, Black, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, and Viridian Green.

Color Mixing Basics

There are a few color mixing basics that will carry you through years of happy oil painting. Here is a quick guide; you may have learned them in grade school:

Yellow + Red = Orange
Red + Green = Brown
Red + Blue = Purple
Yellow + Green = Blue
Yellow + Blue = Green

Linseed Oil and Turpentine

Some how in my own introductions to oil painting in college this valuable information was always left out. I wasted tube after tube of paint squeezing it directly out on to a pallet and glopping it onto a canvas. Pure oil paint can take a long time to dry and be very messy. The addition of linseed oil and turpentine allows you to thin the paint out, control your paint, paint layers, and extend your oil paint.

Keep in mind that the more turpentine that faster your paint will dry. That is why first layers or base layers of your oil painting should be applied with a mix of 3 parts turpentine and 1 part linseed oil. Most artists will mix this combination in a small jar and label it 1 for the first layer. You can pour someone to your oil paint palette, as you need it. After your first layer dries you are ready for the next.

For the second layer I like to mix 2 parts turpentine and 2 parts linseed oil. You should store this in its own jar with a 2 labeled on it. Of course this is for the second layer. Organization is key so that when you walk away form your painting you are able to return and know what layer you are working on.

For the third layer of paint, when you are getting a lot more detailed I like to use a mixture that is 1 part turpentine and 3 parts linseed oil. The higher oil level will help the painting have that shiny look that all oil painting have. Label this mixture 3 and put it in its own jar as well.

Keep in mind that you should not use a combination that has more turpentine in it on top of a layer that has more linseed oil. A more simple explanation might be you should not use the #1 mixture on top of an area that has been painted with the #3 mixture. This is very similar to painting the walls in your home. Flat wall paint will not adhere correctly to a wall that has been painted with high gloss paint.

I hope this general introduction to oil paint has made you feel more comfortable about approaching learning how to paint with oils. This basic information is a great place to start and can set you on the right track.

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