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How to Paint with Oils

With the right preparation, you too can paint using the medium masters have used for centuries.


  • Step 1: Buy quality oil paint and brushes Buy oil paints from an art supplier, where well-formulated oil paints are less likely to dry yellow and brittle or harden in the tube. Get sable brushes of various shapes and sizes.
  • TIP: Keep in mind that paints with cadmium will dry in days rather than hours.
  • Step 2: Pretreat with gesso Pretreat an already stretched canvas with gesso. To further fill pores and smooth the surface, use fine sandpaper, and cover a second time. Once the gesso dries, sketch your scene.
  • Step 3: Squeeze paint on palette Set the canvas on the easel. Squeeze out the "fat" or thick paint from the bottom of the tube onto the palette.
  • Step 4: Mix linseed and mineral spirits Mix linseed oil into the darker colors to be used on the under-painting, since it dries better. Use the palette knife to work in mineral spirits to make the paint lean and elastic.
  • TIP: Essential oils like turpentine evaporate well and are good thinners. Resins and balsams add clarity and gloss.
  • Step 5: Brush lightly Use a light hand when applying the paint, and a wider stroke when applying more medium.
  • Step 6: Correct mistakes Correct mistakes, wiping away the paint with the palette knife and use a turpentine-dipped, lint-free cloth to finish removing. When you repaint, sand that surface first and moisten it with a touch of mineral oil.
  • Step 7: Clean brushes as you paint Dip the brush in a cup filled with a small amount of turpentine to clean as you paint. Dry the painting in light whenever possible, as daylight cures the colors better.
  • TIP: Painting thinner layers over a thick drying layer will distort the surface of the painting.
  • Step 8: Finish session Wipe your knife and handles with rags when you're finished. Stir the brushes in solvent, but don't soak them overnight. Scoop leftover globs of paint from the palette so that the surface is smooth for the next round.
  • FACT: Did you know? Oil paints were originally used only for utilitarian purposes, until the discovery of turpentine as an effective thinning agent.

You Will Need

  • A variety of colored oil paints
  • Sable brushes
  • A stretched canvas
  • Gesso
  • Fine sandpaper
  • An easel
  • A palette
  • Linseed oil
  • A palette knife
  • Mineral spirits
  • Turpentine
  • Lint-free cloth
  • A cup
  • Rags
  • Paints with cadmium (optional)
  • Resins (optional)
  • Balsams (optional)

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