Taking the First Steps to Painting With Oils

oil paintingMore than ever, art is being touted as a most effective and healing way to express one’s creativity and emotions. Since the beginning of time, artists’ works have told the story of their lives and of the generation in which they live. Oil paintings are some of the most well-known and coveted masterpieces in history. Painting with oils gives art a certain kind of life that speaks to art lovers and aficionados.


Many modern day artists and beginners crave the experience of working with oil paints. Beginners often start off using watercolors, which can be much more forgiving and abstract enough for inexperienced painters to alter and correct. Painting with oils, however, is a much different story, and requires learning a few timeless skills.


We offer beginners in oil painting, a guide on how to get started:


1. First, begin with choosing a painting surface made for oil paints. There are a multitude of brands that make artist’s canvases, so you can ask your store clerk for the best ones for painting with oils. Although they are often a bit more expensive linen, canvases are best.


2. For successful oil paintings, you must follow the “fat over lean” rule. It simply means that the oil paints you begin with should be thinner that the subsequent coats. With each coat, the paint should contain more oil than the coats used in the beginning.


3. To accomplish the “fat over lean” method of painting with oils, the first coats of paint must be diluted. Using an odorless paint solvent is recommended. Make sure that the room in which you are painting has good ventilation, because even though your solvent may be odorless, it is still evaporating into the air. The first coat of paint should be diluted until it becomes like watercolor.


4. Begin to use the first coat of diluted oil paints with a stiff paint brush. Fill in the areas of the canvas you choose to paint. Using a few different brushes for painting with oils is best. If you can, having one brush for each paint color is recommended. The size of the brush should correlate with the area of the canvas being painted.


5. Your next coat of paint should be mixed with less solvent than the primary coat. At this time you will begin to cover the first coat of paint and begin a process called modeling. Modeling includes softening transition areas, defining some of the edges while softening others. Darken your shadow areas and lighten up your areas of light.


6. Allow this coat to dry thoroughly. Your next coat of paint will be used without the use of any solvent. With this oilier and richer coat of paint, you will begin to accentuate certain areas of the canvas. This step is often the longest part of the process, taking up to 2-3 hours to complete. In this process you are defining more light and shadow aspects of your painting.


7. The finishing coats of your oil painting should be mixed with a little linseed oil for an even oilier and richer texture. You may also use Stand oil for this process. Since the last coats of paints will be thicker, they will take longer to dry. You can speed up the drying process by adding a bit of Liquin, which is a synthetic resin that helps paint to dry faster.


You can try these measurements for the best results:


  • One part of the mixture should be composed of ½ solvent, ½ linseed oil
  • The remaining part should be Liquin or a similar product
  • Shake the mixture until every part is thoroughly incorporated.
  • You are now ready to apply your final coats using this mixture.


Art is your own personal and unique expression. If you are a beginner, remember to have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment. Hunakai Studio aims to teach others how to open their minds and use art to show their emotions. Oil painting is just one way to achieve this.