This list is for artists who want to start oil painting but aren’t sure what paint supplies to buy. All of these items can be found at any local art supply store or online at Blick Art Materials, and are absolutely necessary for beginning oil painters.
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1. Oil paint
Obviously, the first thing you’ll need is oil paint and lots of it. For beginners, I’d suggest Winsor & Newton Winton 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:
I recommend buying 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. If you shop at Blick, go here and scroll down to pick and choose which tube and size you want to add to your cart. They always reduced or free shipping offers if you end up spending a certain amount.
NOTE: Some artists prefer to start with a pack of 10 small tubes (like this starter set) and that’s fine. I just know from experience that you can’t be too precious about how much you’re using, and it’s often better to buy the larger tubes and not stress about it.
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.
I‘d suggest six total in a range of sizes: two size 2 brushes, two size 6 brushes, and two size 12 brushes. One of each pair should be a flat brush (with a squared-off brush tip) and the other should be a filbert brush (with a slightly rounded tip). You can get these kinds of brushes fairly cheap here at Blick.
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). Don’t buy turpentine at an art store—instead, go to a home improvement store and buy it there. It’ll be a lot cheaper, and it’s the same stuff.
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.
Before putting any paint down, I’d suggest sketching out whatever it is you’ll be painting. Charcoal pencils work pretty well 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.
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 another 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 if you buy a raw canvas) you should coat it with Gesso first, using a big house brush. This will give you a solid, long-lasting surface that your oil paint can adhere to.