Oil painting primer, getting started with a limited palette

I was editing the main (circa 2002) tutorial pages on portrait-artist.org, and came to the oil painting page. And froze! There is waaaaay too much I want to say about oil painting! I can’t do it in just one page.

So I’m going to start a series of posts here about oil painting, then will link to them from main site.

GETTING STARTED WITH OIL PAINTING

I started painting when I was a kid, still in middle school. It’s not that hard or scary. If it were, I would have never kept with it. (Hey! I was just a kid!) So if you’ve heard that oil painting is complex, or “scary,” don’t believe it. Yes there are “rules,” yes, there are things you need to know. But you can do it. And the rewards are wonderful!

First I’m going to tell you a bit about oil paints, set you up with what to buy. (Just the barebones.) Then I’ll tell you more about the painting I’m showing here, and its significance.

Emo Guy, oil on 5×4 inch canvas panel. Thanks to XXMAUROXX for the use of his stock photo for reference.

DISPELLING SOME MYTHS ABOUT OIL PAINTING:

“It’s so nasty and toxic!” 

No, not that much more than acrylics. Both oils and acrylics use some pigments (like cobalt and cadmium) that must be handled with care. Oils do often need to be thinned with paint thinner or mineral spirits. But some of these thinners are pretty mild and will work fine with reasonable care. Or you can work around using them, by getting a completely non-toxic solvent/thinner. (I recommend it later in this post.)

“It takes weeks and weeks to dry!”

If you paint thickly, live in a humid area, and use some painting medium that slows drying, yeah, I guess so. But if you don’t paint too thickly (most of us don’t) and use a painting medium which accelerates drying, usually the paint is dry to the touch overnight (or within 24 hours). That’s usually how it works for me.

“They’re so hard to learn!”

Not any harder than acrylics, really. And oils are more forgiving, easier to blend, and richer. But that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with acrylics. They have their charms too.


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