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How to Use Oil Paints Guide

Updated on March 23, 2012
One of my oil paintings, "Bound Wrists"
One of my oil paintings, "Bound Wrists"

This article was written to answer the question: "What are some tips for getting started in oil painting?"

What a great question this is! I have been through the process of getting started in oil painting. I taught myself how to use oil paints about six years ago. Along my journey, I participated in local art shows and even had two solo shows.

The process that I followed in order to learn how to use oil paint is one that I'm sure many artists will smirk at. I was not taught any painting in school. However, I had taken several art classes in high school and have always been artistic. In order to learn to paint, I turned to Bob Ross.

I told a fellow artist this once, and he became very animated during a diatribe about how no person who wants to learn how to paint should ever watch Bob Ross. I disagree. It's important to understand what Bob Ross taught me. Bob Ross taught me how to use oil paint. He taught me brush techniques.

The artist who was so very adamantly against Bob Ross actually made a good point that following Bob Ross instructions teaches the students to make that painting but not how to paint. I would say there is some truth to that. I already had a foundation in drawing. I knew how to make artistic representations of objects. Watching Bob Ross as a sole means of art instruction may not be as helpful for someone who does not have drawing skills, because drawing skills can help the artist move from the Bob Ross landscapes to the artist's own compositions.

I am thankful that I could paint with Bob Ross and learn brush techniques and become familiar with oil painting basics. I would recommend that to anyone interested in learning how to oil paint. I also would recommend that they keep drawing which provides excellent practice in creating balanced compositions, shading, texture, and contrast.

As far as materials go, one important thing to remember is to always use odorless paint thinner. The artist should still paint in a well-ventilated area, but the odorless paint thinner will help a lot with keeping the smells bearable. I keep my paint thinner in a large coffee can with a lid. Inside the can, I have a grate to clean the brushes. I also keep a lot of paper towels handy while painting.

Especially when starting out, I don't think any particular oil paint brushes are best. I think the beginning is more about finding which tools that you like. I use the largest Bob Ross brush and Bob Ross palette knife, but the rest of my brushes are a mixture of ones that I love to use. Some are actually rather cheap, but I like them.

I also do some acrylic painting and watercolor. I keep all my brushes separate. I have brushes designated for each type of paint. When you are starting, I think the economy canvases are good enough. I spent time for awhile just practicing using a palette knife to make mountains. It's a technique that I'm glad that I mastered, because I apply it to other things all the time. If you have some cheap canvases or even canvas board, you don't have to worry so much about wasting a precious canvas for practice. You can just do what you need to do.

The best oil paint is artist-grade oil paint. Student grade is a poorer quality. Whether you choose to spend the money on artist-grade oil paint would depend on if you think the difference in quality is worthwhile during your learning process.

I hope this was helpful for people who want to learn how to use oil paints. The most important thing is to loosen up and have fun with it!


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