Get Started Oil Painting!

Where to begin?

Okay, so the right side of your brain is throbbing, and you want to try something new - something that seems complicated, something that you can awe your friends with, but something that takes little to no brain power. I have your solution. It's called oil painting.

The rumors are not true. It does not take a lot of talent, time, and well, it is kind of expensive but the payoffs are excellent. And the easiest place to start is with the man with the everlasting 'fro: Bob Ross. Wait! Don't stop reading! Hear me out! Or better yet, read me out. Bob may seem like your stereotypical art nut, but he is actually a great teacher, and his method is super simple. But, never start a project without a little beforehand instruction.

Before you go out and spend thousands of dollars on painting products, let me give you a little lesson on oil paints, canvases, brushes, paint thinner, and easels because believe me, it can get complicated. But I promise that by the end of this post, you'll be ready to delve into the fantastic world of oil painting.

First things first, let's start off with your choice of canvas. Here is where you get pretty much free reign in your decision - all canvases are made the same! Seriously! BUT, there are four types of what we call painting mediums, and they are all called "canvas" in one form or another. The traditional canvas you probably think of is actually a piece of canvas stretched over a wooden frame - this is what most painters use, and it is probably what you want. We generally just call these canvases, and they are the easiest to find. Prices vary depending on brand and size, but there are also different grains. As for me, I just buy the cheapest set of canvases I can find, which is usually Artist's Brand because I pretty much exclusively shop at Michael's (but you can buy canvases at any art store). I usually get these on sale in a pack of five for twenty dollars, which is a pretty good deal. For a beginner, you probably won't care much about grain, either, and can go with the cheap stuff. Usually only really picky, experienced artists care about grain when using oil paints.

Your second choice of painting medium is canvas board which is not actually canvas at all. I don't know who named these things, but they made it really confusing to beginners! A canvas board is usually what you get if you buy a painting set - it's a piece of sturdy cardboard with a rough, white surface that looks like a canvas. These are extremely cheap, but they totally suck for oil painting. The problem is that they absorb the paint very quickly - for the Bob Ross method, you need a wet canvas. Because canvas board absorbs the paint, it's like painting on a dry canvas, and it makes blending pretty much impossible unless you can paint really, really fast. I suffer occasionally just to use up the free boards that came with my painting kits, but I don't recommend it for a beginner - spend a little extra and buy a real canvas.

Your third choice is probably the cheapest alternative to a real canvas. I call it a canvas board, and I think they're usually labeled as canvas boards, but they are NOT canvas board. They are canvas wrapped boards. These work pretty great for painting, but since they are flat, you don't have anything to hold onto if you're trying to paint the bottom (if you're using a regular canvas, you can grab into the wooden frame without getting paint on your hands). But they are pretty dang cheap and usually come in packs of five at Michael's. You'll know you're buying the right thing if you can see the piece of canvas glued to the back of the board. At Michael's, they have tons of these, and they rarely sell canvas boards outside of kits - but if you're nervous about buying the wrong thing, as a sales associate.

Your last choice is of course an actual piece of canvas. I've never bothered with these, so I can't vouch for them, but some artists choose to make their own canvases. You would need to buy a plain sheet of canvas to make your own, but again I don't recommend that for beginners.

Ok, now you've got your canvas. Let's move onto brushes.

Brushes are EXTREMELY important. Trust me, I've tried painting with cheap brushes and it is torture! You may not want to spend the extra money, but you will appreciate it three paintings down the road. Buying an expensive brush means you don't have to replace it as often, and they are easier to clean. I recommend the Bob Ross brushes simply because they are created especially for his paints and his method, but I'm not saying those are the only ones you can buy (I only have two because they are really spendy). The brush aisle is probably the most intimidating one. Remember that you are using oil paints, so look for brushes that say "oil" on them, or "natural bristles." You want stiff bristles, like boar hair (that's what Bob's brushes are made out of). At Michael's, they usually have a horrible selection of Bob Ross or really any stiff, natural bristled brushes, so I usually go to another art store in town called Blaines. Try different art stores until you find one that sells these brushes - stores like Michaels often cater to families, so they keep around a lot of brushes for tempera or acrylic paint. You can use these for oil, but they don't last as long and can be a lot harder to clean.

As for the type of brush you need, I suggest buying a one inch, a two inch, a fan brush, and a round brush. The round brush isn't as necessary, but I really wish I had one - they're great for making trees. You'll also need a palette knife, but these are usually pretty easy to find. Make sure you get one that looks like the Bob Ross palette knife (there are two kinds of palette knives, and I'm not sure how to explain them, so Google the Bob Ross palette knife). You don't need the actual Bob Ross knife, one that has the same knife end will be exactly the same.

Let's talk easels next. These are pretty simple, you just need to think about where you're going to be painting. I prefer tabletop easels because I like having a large space to lay out my stuff. But if you're going to be doing an outdoor painting, you'll want a portable stand alone easel. Costco often gets in this really nice easel that folds up and has a drawer to store your paints and brushes in. The paint and brushes it comes with are pretty much worthless, but the easel is a great deal. I think it also comes with a wooden palette, but I don't recommend using that (they are practically impossible to clean!). You can buy easels almost anywhere, including Wal-Mart, and price doesn't really make a difference in my opinion. Choose whatever fits your budget and your painting space.

Finally, let's talk oil paints. This is an extremely wide and complicated topic, so I'll try to condense. There are two types of oil paint - oily and dry. For the Bob Ross technique, you want dry paint. Here, as with brushes, it where price makes a HUGE difference. I'm not saying you have to spend oodles of money, but I really suggest buying the Bob Ross paints if you're going to use his method. You can get away with other brands, but they tend to be much oiler. The more oily the paint is, the more difficult it is to blend colors without creating a muddy painting. You can get away with it if you're patient, but I don't recommend it! Of course, sometimes you get lucky and find another brand that produces a dry paint, but they're not labeled "dry" or "oily" so you have to just take a leap. For your first try, I suggest buying a Bob Ross kit. It's the cheapest way to buy the paint, and they always come with a palette knife and at least one brush. The most common colors are: alizarin crimson, titanium white, pthalo blue, prussian blue, pthalo green, sap green, and cadmium yellow. You'll also need some form of black. Bob always says you need "midnight" black, but I have a tube of lamp black and I never notice a difference! To me, black is black. Of course, that is up to you.

If you're going to use the Bob Ross method, you'll also need liquid white. Bob is the only brand that makes liquid white, as it is his own invention. It's a little expensive, but one can will last you practically forever (if you buy a kit, it will come with a small bottle that will last you quite a while). If you expand on your skills, you'll also want to buy liquid white, liquid black, and black gesso - but you won't need these to begin so don't worry about it.

You're also going to need a palette. I suggest buying a pack of disposable paper palettes - these are usually with the sketch pads and watercolor pads. You can buy a plastic palette, but these are hard to clean. A disposable palette just gets thrown away and never gets stained because you use a new one every time.

Speaking of cleaning, you're going to need some paint thinner for your brushes! This is where you can really blow your budget by accident. Do NOT buy paint thinner from a craft store. The cheapest thinner Michael's sells is $25 a gallon - you can buy mineral spirits, the same product, at Wal-Mart for $8. Just be sure you get an odorless thinner because that stuff stinks! Remember that you just want something to protect and clean your brushes, which is what paint thinner (even the $8 Wal-Mart stuff) is made for. Don't let anyone tell you different - they just want your money! And in case you don't feel safe spending so little, I can promise you that Terpanoid is the WORST paint thinner in the world. And is costs $75 a gallon! Don't waste your money. I got talked into buying Turpenoid Natural once when I first started painting. I spent $30 on a small bottle and I swear I used half of it cleaning my brushes after one session - it sucks. Mona Lisa Mineral Spirits sell for $25 and work pretty well, but I still recommend buying something at Wal-Mart or other store for a lot less.

Okay, so now you know all about the products you're going to need. How about some instruction?

If you're painting the Bob Ross method, there's not going around it - you're going to have to buy some Bob Ross instructions. You can buy his books at most art stores, but I really suggest spending the extra money and buying one of his series on DVD - you'll probably have to go to his website for that. The books are all instructions from TV episodes, and it makes a world of difference to watch him teach you. I suggest getting one series that has a painting or two that you like, and learning the method before trying a book. You'll probably be okay with a book, but it helps to see exactly how to paint the trees, the grass, the water, etc. The books have pictures, but it's not quite the same.

If you don't want to try to Bob Ross method, there are lots of other books and DVDs you can try. I personally only use the Bob Ross method because it is so easy, but I have tried other books that have a lot of good tips. The thing about oil painting is that unless you're using the Bob Ross method, you're probably going to have to learn to draw (which I'm not terribly good at!). Look through some painting books until you find something that works for you - painting is really subjective, and everyone learns and teaches a different way.

Well folks, that's all I have to say. I hope you learned something! Go, paint, amaze!

Comments 1 comment

Kathleen Durbin 4 years ago

I'm starting to use oils again after 30 years and still have my old brushes, although they look rather bedraggled. It's nice to know that I don't have to buy absolutely EVERY brush that is recommended. I'm painting for my own enjoyment. Thanks for the good tips.

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