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Get Started with Oil Painting for Beginners and Reconnect with Your Creative Side

By Malcolm Dewey October 01, 2021 Lifestyle

So you want to start painting? I am delighted with your decision, because painting is one of the most rewarding pastimes available to us.

No doubt you have some time available and want a relaxing hobby? Painting will do that for you. If you want to rekindle your painting talent from earlier days before other commitments got in the way you also have my undivided attention.

You see I intended to follow an art career after high school. But back in the day art and career were two words that did not go together well. Instead I went into the attorney business.

Like many other artists before me, including the famous Henri Matisse and Wassily Kandinsky, I did eventually escape and returned to art. Phew! Now I have the pleasure of painting professionally and teaching other artists how to paint better too. I am truly grateful for that.

Which brings me back to you. In this article and ones to follow, I am going to take you along a journey of discovery. I hope to show you how to paint with confidence. More importantly how to focus on what is important so that you get excellent results quickly.

My job is not to peddle a paint-by-numbers system. You deserve much better. Instead I will show you how to see like an artist so that you can develop your unique style.

First let us make sure you have the necessary kit for painting. I am going to focus on oil painting since that is my first love.

Equipment Essentials

A word of caution here. There is great potential to spend a small fortune then experience buyer’s remorse. Often the precious materials are then stored away never to be seen again. We do not want that to happen. So my list of materials is lean and ripped. Essentials that will not cost a lot, but will give you the results you will be proud of.

Essential Paints

A few colors are critical. These are Titanium white, Cadmium red light, Cadmium yellow light (or lemon), Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue and Alizarin Crimson.

Convenience Colors

Additional optional colors include Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre.

So few colors? Yes, it is far better to get good quality student paints than too many colors. I will show you how to mix colors with confidence and you will get better results. Plus, your confidence as an artist will soar when you discover how you can mix all the colors you need from the above few tubes. A good student brand is Maimeri Classico for example. Chat to your art shop owner if you can for more tips on the many brands available.


Keeping things real once again means having a few good brushes. When it comes to oils, I am a big fan of top quality bristle brushes. The type called “long flats” are excellent. Two of these in sizes 6 and 8 will do. Then a rigger for a few fine lines now and to sign your name.

Also fine hair brushes like the mongoose type are not as expensive as sable. Of course there are excellent synthetic brushes and even combination varieties. For inspiration, try Rosemary & Co or brushes by Raphael in France. If you are lucky, your local art store may keep them.

Cleaning Materials

A good brush needs proper care. I find that old fashioned kerosene (turpentine) works best to clean oil painting brushes. Take precautions of course. I have a video demonstrating this cleaning method here. Now I do this at the end of the day’s painting only. During painting I simply wipe off the brush with paper towel.

Avoid using cleaning spirits or kerosene while painting as the paint does not benefit from these volatile fluids. Alternatively artist white spirits can also clean your brushes. There are a few eco-friendly products to try as well. Maimeri eco brush cleaner comes to mind.

On the subject of safety, please work in a ventilated space and use rubber gloves. Better safe than sorry.


Another potential money trap that I fall into now and then. One good H-frame easel for your studio will do for a start. Later you can add a plein air paint box and maybe a desktop easel for travel. If you paint large scale then a wall mounted shelf may work for you. The cost is nominal. I have promised myself a fancy easel with counter weights and such, but honestly I paint just fine on my humble H-frame. As far as plein air goes my favorite painting box is homemade!

Painting Surfaces

If you are starting out, then the best size to work on is 6 x 8” and 10 x 12” panels. Larger painting panels or canvasses are not ideal for learning and add frustration. Truth is that you will be tempted to paint a large canvas. Go for it. But do not despair if the results are not as intended. Have fun with it. For learning sound painting technique, the small panels will be perfect.

You can get pre-made panels like Gatorboard, or have MDF panels cut to size. You can even make canvas covered panels. If you need to prime them use gesso or similar acrylic primer. A few coats is all you need. Remember to use a cheap brush for this and not your expensive ones.


Always have a few sketch books, soft pencils, a charcoal stick or two, felt tip markers (wedge shape tip) in black and gray.


Sometimes you may need to add a touch of medium to soften your paint. You can purchase many brand name varieties. But make your own with a 50/50 combination of artist’s white spirits and linseed oil.


A simple tear-off pad is convenient. Or use the traditional wood variety. Glass sheets are also popular. The main thing is use a large palette for more mixing space. A painting knife is handy for mixing paint and for applying paint too.

You Are Almost Ready to Begin!

Lastly though you will need a place to paint. Ideally you have a space where you can leave your paints undisturbed. It is a real pain to have to pack up then unpack everything to continue painting another day. This could turn your passion into a chore after a while. Some people have studios, sheds or a corner in the bedroom. It does not matter so long as you can start painting easily when the desire is there.

The above is all the material you need to start painting this weekend. The important thing is to start. Have fun getting your painting kit together. It is exciting, but the best is yet to come. When you have your first painting ready to display I guarantee you will be hooked on this wonderful creative journey.

Do you have a passion for oil painting? Do you have any questions on materials? Or any issues about starting your painting adventure? I would love to hear from you. Please leave your comments and questions below.

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The Author

Malcolm Dewey is a professional artist and writer. He is passionate about painting in oils and watercolor. Malcolm loves landscape painting. He teaches painting to artists of all levels. Working online on his website and in personal lessons Malcolm helps other artists paint better with structured painting lessons. His Facebook page can be found here.

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