Learning how to paint in oils takes talent, age-old techniques, and some basic supplies.
For beginners who can't wait to get to the art store to buy oil colors and painting supplies, a few tips are included for getting started easily without having your new hobby cost your a small fortune:
1. When first starting out, resist the urge to buy expensive supplies. Begin with a cheap starter set. These usually include oil paints, brushes in various sizes, some of type of medium (such as linseed oil for thinning out paint), turpentine (for cleaning brushes), a pallet board for mixing colors, and maybe even starter canvas panels. Some sets even come with a small table easel.
Also, pick up an inexpensive container of liquid white acrylic paint. Use this as a base coat for your canvas. As it dries, it helps smooth the surface and make paint application that much easier when you're ready to begin.
2. Because oil painting can be a messy affair, find some old clothes to wear. Plenty of rags or paper towels come in handy for wiping off brushes. Use old newspapers to cover floors and other surfaces.
If painting indoors, remember that oil paints and turpentine are highly flammable. The strong odor can also become toxic so always choose a well-ventilated area to set up your paints, canvas and easel.
3. Volumes have been written on the use of color in oil painting. These often take into account complementary colors, the use of 'hot' as opposed to 'cool', or even the psychological impact of color. As you progress you can pursue this further in-depth.
For now, here are essential colors any aspiring artist may have in their beginner oil painting arsenal:
In addition to the primary colors of red, blue and yellow with this basic palette you can also blend various shades of greens (blue and yellow), oranges (crimson and yellow), and violets (blue and crimson).
Notice there is no mention of black. All beginners usually make the mistake of using black for dark areas. Look around and observe that unless you're in a pitch black room there is no such thing as pure black. Instead, mixing blues and browns to arrive at black usually results in a more natural depiction of light and shadow.
4. When you're ready to begin, remember that a major trick to a successful oil painting is planning and organization. If you've ever seen a preparatory drawing by an Old Master, you'll realize that most of the work was in developing their composition before they ever applied paint to canvas: (see illustration 1)
- First, overpaint the canvas with your base coat of white acrylic which should dry in a matter of minutes.
- Next, with your drawing as a guide use a light pencil to map out your subject on the canvas.
- Now mix up some turpentine with raw sienna or burnt umber (or any dark hue) to create a very thin "wash" with which to begin establishing lights and darks.
With a medium brush, apply light wash coats at first and then begin overcoating to build up your dark areas. (See illustration 2)
The end result should be a b&w 'snapshot' that you've created to help you visualize your subject on canvas (that is, before you 'develop' your picture in color).
Suddenly, you'll see that you've easily established the most difficult part of your painting and that it is well on its way to being completed.
All it takes now is an overlay of color, which you can experiment with in the same way - by using thin layers and building up (or correcting) as you go. (See illustration 3)
5. It takes play and experimentation to duplicate the colors you see whether you're painting from a favorite photo or from nature. You can simply dive in and begin experimenting with different colors to see what you come up with - you may be surprised at the results! If you don't like what you see, a course in color 'theory' comes highly recommended or search the Web for online tutorials to help ease your journey through a world of countless color possibilities.
6. As you paint with different brushes, eventually you will find that there are only a few that will become favorites and that you will actually use. The same goes for colors - with some painters opting in favor of cool vs hot colors, or going through stages (look up "Picasso's Blue Period") where one color takes precedence over others.
In the end, mastery only comes with actual painting. To paraphrase an old adage, "How do you become a famous painter? Practice, practice, practice."