This list is for artists who want to start oil painting but aren’t sure of what paint supplies to buy. All of these items can be found at any art supply store, and are absolutely necessary for beginning oil painters.
1. Oil paint
Obviously the first thing you’ll need is oil paint, and lots of it. For beginners, I’d suggest Winsor & Newton oil paint. It’s a less expensive brand of oil paint, but the quality is fine. As far as colors go, here’s a list of the must-haves:
Titanium White, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Pthalo Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, and Cadmium Yellow.
Buy each of these colors in 200ml tubes except for Pthalo Blue—Pthalo’s pretty powerful so you probably won’t need as much as you do with the others.
Technically those are all the colors you need, but you should also get a few greens and browns until you learn more about mixing colors. Pick up some Permanent Green Light, Viridian, Burnt Umber, and Burnt Sienna to round out your palette.
2. Proper painting brushes
If you’re just starting out, trust me, you won’t need a ton of different paintbrushes. All you really need is a few natural bristle brushes in different sizes. I‘d suggest six: two small, two medium, and two large.
I actually wrote an in-depth article on what type of brushes to buy for oil painting, so read that for the full details.
3. Turpentine (AKA paint thinner)
Unlike watercolors or acrylics you can’t clean up oil paints with water. Instead, you’ll need to use turpentine or mineral spirits to get the paint out of your brushes (and off your skin). Find out more about cleaning your brushes after oil painting.
Newspaper is handy to have around when you clean your paint brushes at the end of the day, but it’s also good to use WHILE you’re painting.
Why? Because it’s important to clean your brush every time you start painting a new section or switch colors—and that‘ll happen a lot in every painting.
There’s no need to use turpentine for a full cleaning, just grab some newspaper (cut 4 inch squares ahead of time if you feel like it) and quickly squeeze all the paint out of the bristles. That’ll keep your colors from contaminating each other throughout the painting process.
5. Linseed stand oil
This one might be optional but I know I wouldn’t paint without it. As you’re mixing colors you’ll find they’re easier to mix when you add a little painter’s medium. I usually pour out a few tablespoons of medium every time I sit down to paint. You won’t need much—just dab your brush into the medium before mixing colors.
Medium is made by combining linseed stand oil with turpentine—here’s a full tutorial I wrote on how to make artist’s medium for oil painting.
6. A charcoal pencil
Before putting any paint down, I’d suggest sketching out whatever it is you’ll be painting. Charcoal works pretty good on the texture of canvas (better than graphite, anyway) and it doesn’t have to be perfect, just an outline drawing so you can see your composition ahead of time.
These days I do all my preliminary sketches in paint with a paintbrush, but a charcoal pencil is probably easier to handle if you’re new to painting.
7. A “palette”
When it comes to palettes, you don’t have to be fancy. For a while I used a big piece of glass. To clean it, I just took a flat razor blade and scraped all the old paint off.
These days I don’t even do that anymore—instead I found a quick (and very cheap) way to keep my palette clean using wax paper.
Whatever you choose, you’ll need someplace to mix paint. Make sure it’s big enough to hold all your colors AND have a lot of space left over for mixing.
8. Comfortable, messy clothes
If your clothes don’t start out messy they’ll get that way soon. Every painter needs a few painting outfits that they can get paint on, but make sure they’re comfortable too.
9. A painter’s easel
Every oil painter needs an easel but you may not need an expensive one right at first. At the very least an easel should be adjustable to your height (whether you like to sit or stand) and securely hold your paintings, whatever size they may be.
For beginners, find something cheap at a garage sale and use it until it starts to annoy you. After you’ve painted for a little it’ll be easier to walk into an art store and pick out an easel that will work for you. If you try to buy an easel without ever having painted, you’ll have a tough time knowing what you want.
10. Canvas (or other painting surface)
Canvas is great for painting on but if you’re just starting out, why not use paper? At least to practice on and get a feel for the paint.
If you do use paper (or wood, or masonite, or any other surface) you should probably coat it with Gesso first, using a big house brush.
When you’re ready to buy canvases, get a pre-primed canvas and you won’t have to worry about any preparation at all.
That’s the list! Good luck and happy painting!
(PS, once you’re ready to start selling your oil paintings online, make sure to check out Hands Free Artist Websites, EmptyEasel’s full-service art website solution for artists. We manage your website so you can get back in the studio!)