How to paint a picture in oil. How can you nicely paint an oil painting, so much so that you can show off, give or even sell your work? These are, in practice, the true objectives of those who begin to paint and who undertake to become familiar with canvases, brushes, oil paints, various auxiliaries, and so on. Of course, from the moment you pick up a brush for the first time to the moment you manage to hang your satisfying painting (really satisfying without the typical beginner mistakes) in most cases, it will take some time. Sometimes a lot. But this is precisely what makes painting and drawing ideas easy so exciting: it is an activity that needs to be refined over time to become more and more capable, more agile, more virtuous. If everyone were able to take a brush and paint an oil painting without errors and with high-level results, the inherent charm of the painting itself would disappear in the blink of an eye.
How to paint a picture in oil: the theory
There are two ways to learn how to paint an oil picture. It is possible to travel only one and travel a little of one and a little of the other. It is possible to learn to paint self-taught, thus relying on books and online tutorials on oil painting. Or you can opt for the more traditional way, relying on a painting teacher. It must be said. It can do in many ways: the youngest can decide, once they have finished middle school, to enroll in the artistic high school. Others, more grown-up, can look for an oil painting course in their city, compatibly with their schedules. Still, others may opt for a third option, which tends to be more expensive, namely a private art teacher.
As we explained recently in some articles dedicated to the advantages of learning to paint with a teacher and those of learning to paint on your own, no path is correct and one that is wrong. Both have pros and cons, and the idea of doing a part of this self-taught path, and a part with a painting teacher, shouldn’t be eliminated. Those who use the support of a teacher will tend to understand much earlier and with fewer errors how to paint a picture in oil in a satisfactory way. However, those who arrive there self-taught will perhaps do so in a slower way, but precisely for this reason with more pride and, perhaps, with a few more points of creativity.
Accessories for painting an oil painting
Whether you choose the self-taught path or that of the painting course, in all cases, to paint an oil painting, you will need a certain number of indispensable accessories. It starts, of course, from the brush, or rather, from the brushes for painting. What are the best brushes for oil painting? Undoubtedly the most popular are the Kolinsky Marten brushes, with a particular soft hair, which allows you to collect many colors. However, it must say that it is certainly possible to find excellent brushes even spending less, starting from the assumption that synthetic brushes have reached completely new heights of quality in recent years.
In addition to the brushes, paper albums will be needed for the various sketches and the various tests and to paint a picture in oil, one or more canvases. You could write a book on how to understand and choose the canvases to paint: for now, to start, know that the first choice par excellence is linen, with its extremely dense texture, its great resistance to time, and so on. Certainly, you do not fall badly even with the more affordable cotton canvases and spend even less on the first works with the linen or cotton blend canvases.
Which oil colors to choose to start?
Which oil colors to choose to start with? As you can see in our category dedicated to oil paint packs, there is a great deal of choice. Undoubtedly a professional artist, or an artist who does not accept compromises, would opt for the best oil colors without leaving room for compromises. Let’s talk about Schmincke’s Mussini oil, Maimeri’s oil line artists, and Rembrandt’s legendary Extra fine.
But you don’t have to go for the more expensive oil paints, at least not at first. On the contrary, it will be good to opt for a set of colors of good quality and affordable price in this first phase, leaving the choice of bulk tubes of the highest lines to subsequent purchases. Maimeri, Sennelier, Van Gogh, and Winsor & Newton provide budding artists with excellent quality color sets at absolutely competitive prices. With a pack of 10 or 12 tubes of these brands, you will certainly have the oil paints you need to start your first oil painting.
A lot of exercises
Before discussing the preparation of the canvas, we want to emphasize that, before getting to paint on the latter, it is good to familiarize yourself with brushes and colors, using sheets of paper to paint. Some drawing paper albums are designed specifically for painting, and in some cases, there are even albums with “canvas” sheets, which amazingly approach the canvas.
Before getting to your first painting on canvas, therefore, we recommend that you practice mixing and diluting the colors, using the different types of brushes (round trip, flat, cat’s tongue, and so on), cleaning the brushes to outline the drawing in pencil, to make the chiaroscuro and so on. In short, as mentioned at the beginning, from the first session with a brush to the first painting on canvas, a little time usually passes.
Prepare the canvas for painting
And here, usually, beginners get terrified. Is it really necessary to prepare the canvas before painting? Can’t you buy it, remove it from its packaging, place it on the easel and start your work? Here, in some cases, yes: on the market and in our e-commerce, some canvases are already good and ready to be used. However, in other cases, the canvases are “raw” and must therefore be prepared to receive the color. In still other cases, for the most demanding painters, those same “ready” canvases are not enough and must still be prepared. But what does it mean to prepare the canvas for painting?
Well, conceptually, we talk about the priming of the canvas, which can be done in many different ways, with plaster, oil, glue, lime, and so on. In any case, for beginners, it is recommended to buy a ready-made canvas, which has therefore already received a good primer. In case your canvas is not ready. However, we recommend that you read our primer guide.
How to paint an oil picture: a step by step guide
Let’s see, therefore, how to paint an oil picture in practice. The canvas is ready: now we have to put the subject we want to portray in front of us. It is good to start not with a live subject, but rather with a print of an image, to be divided into a grid made in pencil to bring – with pencil or charcoal – the drawing fairly faithfully on the canvas, with the due proportions. It’s a bit slow and a bit cumbersome, it’s true. But the double grid – both on the example image and the canvas – is the only way, for those who do not have an excellent pencil drawing technique, to start from an exact base, with realistic dimensions and proportions. Later, when the first painted picture is a memory, you can sketch a drawing without a grid, or maybe do, even more, eliminating the pencil phase, to start directly with a brush.