Oil Painting Guide for the Complete Beginner – Where to Start?

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beginner oil painting supplies laying on top of each other on a canvas

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Are you just entering the world of oil painting? If so, welcome! It might feel intimidating at first with all the new materials (painting comes with a LOT of paraphernalia!) and concepts. This guide is for absolute beginner oil painting and will help you to lay some groundwork on how to approach learning this new medium!

Not a complete beginner and looking for some great beginner oil painting tips to get started painting? Start with these:

Beginner oil painting mind set

I can’t tell you how many times I see students get overwhelmed after just the first day of class. Painting is hard! However, as a beginner to oil painting, it is completely natural for you feel distressed about all the new information bombarding you. Every new endeavor that is entered is at least a little overwhelming. The important thing to keep in mind is that it will take time to absorb all of the new concepts.

In time, the various concepts will become so imbedded in your mind that it will feel natural instead of overwhelming. So, whenever you feel distressed, just take a deep breath and give yourself some time to absorb the information.

Find yourself a good oil painting teacher

It is best to find yourself a good teacher. Try to search for oil painting classes in your area. There might possibly be a workshop happening by a painter who is traveling through your area. If you cannot find a good oil painting class in your physical location, structured online courses proven to help you grow are a great option.

You can take a look at my oil painting for beginners master course, The Foundational Painter. That will take you through everything you need to know about the fundamentals of painting and teach you through the application of painting projects and step by step lessons.

I also highly recommend studying the works of great painters. Velazquez, Vermeer, Piero della Francesca… Make the great masters your teachers and do as many studies as you can of these their paintings, you will learn a lot! When using google arts and culture you can find very high resolution images that are excellent for study!

Create a consistent painting schedule

It is important to dedicate at least a day every week for oil painting. That way, you will be able to create consistency and build on top of what you are learning. If you can set aside more time in the week to paint that is of course even better. Like everything however, the most important thing consistency. Do not go all out and paint 30 hours the first week and then stop completely. It is much better to start slow and paint once a week then to quit after doing a weeklong 30 hour sprint.

Gather your oil painting materials!

Oil painting art supplies such as paint, brushes and palette for beginners, laid out on a table
When getting oil painting art supplies, start with a few and grow your collection as needed

This one might be an obvious one, but you cannot start painting without paint and all the required tools. One aspect of painting (whether you like it or not) is that it requires a lot of materials. Before you go all out and get every color there is, start with a limited palette. This palette will consist of white, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, and cadmium red. Having a limited palette will take away some overwhelm and let you focus more on value than color.

Value is the most important element you should pay attention to when learning to paint. If your colors are completely off, but your values are correct then your painting will hold. However, if your colors are absolutely fabulous but your values are not right, then your painting will not work. That is all to say that a limited palette will help you focus on value instead of color as you learn to paint.

Set up your painting easel

There are so many easels for painting out on the market (you an even make your own)! This in itself might be a little overwhelming for you. First, ask yourself if you want to paint plein air or mostly in studio. This will help you decide which type of easel you need – a plein air easel or studio easel. If you want to do both you can find easels that will do both! Refer to ”The Ultimate Easel Guide” for more information.

Make lots of starts with plenty of oil paints and big brushes

One of the most important things you can do for your learning process is to make a lot of starts.

artist with brush showing how to start and oil painting with a big paint brush and plenty of paint on her palette
When learning how to start oil painting, it helps to use big brushes and plenty of paint. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes as they are what will help you learn faster!

It does not do you any good to try to ‘finish’ a painting by going well past the point of having no idea what you are doing. Making lots of starts will accelerate your learning as you are intensely working on how to initially start a painting. When you have this stage under your belt you will be able to move further and create more complete paintings.

A big mistake many beginning painters make is not using enough paint. You will learn much more quickly by using a lot of paint and big brushes. Using large brushes prevent you from becoming too detailed and rather focus on the big picture of what you are working on.

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    Hello! I'm Elisabeth Larson Koehler

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    6 thoughts on “Oil Painting Guide for the Complete Beginner – Where to Start?”

    1. Hello there! I’ve always wanted to learn drawing and whilst in this current situation, my drawing skills lie somewhere in the kindergarten levels , I hope with time and practice I might be able to draw something even vaguely similar to the old masters.( that’s the goal) however , I have no idea where to start, how to build a foundation, what to practice? any ideas?

      1. Hi Sanika! A great place to start would be to get some charcoal (soft vine or willow charcoal) and charcoal paper. Set up a still life for yourself that has very clear light and dark values and start to make a tonal drawing that has a strong sense of light and dark. The more you practice value and creating clear light and dark values with drawing the easier painting will be!

    2. Sandra Cantwell

      What to learn oils painted before acrlics trying to educate myself because retired lost husband this sep just turned 70 was cancer so IAM trying to get back painting

      1. I am trying to get back into oil painting also. So many distractions, life happens huh and it seems cancer has it’s why of interfering in everyone’s life one way or, and then another. I am alone also and retired, but I love that part, even with this lock down so to speak, I do not have to fear someone is going to be knocking on the door. I have the silence and uninterrupted time to concentrate on painting, if I would just start. I have been procuring supplies and researching a lot of information. Presently I have been looking for a teacher that would be in my perceived style of interest and medium. I found one group and teacher I would have loved, but felt I didn’t know enough to start that program and the cost was financially to high for me, not that it wasn’t worth it, that I don’t know. Well, maybe we will meet again on our journey.

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