Oil Painting For Dummies
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When you're ready to start your oil painting project, be sure to gather and organize all of the necessary supplies. If you're trying to decide on colors or want to mix your own colors, refer to the color wheel for help. Making and using a viewfinder will help you stay focused when painting a still life. And as with most things, a little maintenance love goes a long way: Your brushes will last longer if you clean and maintain them properly.

Oil painting supplies

Before you begin an oil painting project, make sure you have all of the necessary supplies and get organized to avoid disruptions. Use this list as a guide for assembling the most useful oil painting materials:

  • Oil paints (in 37 ml tubes)

    • Cadmium yellow light (hue)

    • Cadmium red light (hue)

    • Alizarin crimson

    • Ultramarine blue

    • Mars black

    • Titanium white

    • Yellow ochre

    • Cerulean blue (hue)

  • Other necessary supplies and equipment

    • Gamsol or Turpenoid, 16 oz. can

    • Linseed oil

    • Canvas panel or stretched canvas, sized for specific project

    • Three small to medium glass jars with lids

    • Rags and paper towels

    • Palette knife (metal, not plastic)

    • Palette (glass or disposable paper palette with tear-off sheets)

    • Four to five bristle brushes, 1⁄4 inch to 3⁄4 inch

    • Tackle box or container to carry all this stuff

Using the color wheel for oil painting

Keep this wheel handy when you’re working on your oil painting to remind you which colors mix to make other colors and which hues are complementary. Mix the two colors on either side of the color you want to make that color.

To make tints, you make pure versions of basic hues and then add white to them. You make shades by adding black or complementary hues to the pure hues. To those shade mixtures, you add white to make tones. As you add white, black, and complementary colors to your pure hues, you change their values and their intensities in very specific ways

Complementary hues are directly across from each other on the color wheel. For example, the complement to orange is blue.

Notice on the color wheel how the values and intensities change from ring to ring. The color wheel includes:

  • Pure hues: Located on the outer ring of the wheel, these are the brightest, most intense forms of a hue. Their values can run form very light, like the yellow, to very dark, like the blue and blue-violet.

  • Shades: Found on the second ring, these are always duller and darker than the pure hues. Shades are similar to the colors of autumn leaves.

  • Tones: Found on the third ring, tones are the most versatile of colors with a wide range of values and intensities. Tones can range in value from dark to light and intensities can range from bright to dull. Most colors used in your palette will likely be tones.

  • Tints: Located on the inner ring of the color wheel, tints are always lighter in value than pure hues. They tend to be brighter and look like spring. The formula for them is pure hue plus white.


Making and using a viewfinder for oil painting

Once your oil painting work area is prepared and you’ve selected an area of your still life to paint, a viewfinder is a useful tool for composing a strong picture.

A viewfinder crops out the areas of your still life that you’re not going to paint and keeps you focused on what you want to paint.

Use this figure as a template for making your own viewfinder. Don’t forget to cut out the interior opening (or the viewfinder wouldn’t offer much of a view). (The circle represents the position for a hole punch so you can store the viewfinder in your work journal or hanging from your easel.)


Here’s how to use the viewfinder:

  1. Hold the viewfinder with your free hand.

  2. Focus on an interesting section of your still life with the viewfinder.

  3. Look through the viewfinder and draw the shapes in the same position and the same size as you see them.

The viewfinder should be proportionate to the canvas in height and width; keep the viewfinder distance from your eyes the same while drawing on the canvas.

Caring for your oil painting brushes

When you’re ready to call it a day, it’s important to properly clean your oil painting brushes so they stay in good shape and can be used over and over:

  1. Use a paper towel to wipe off any paint solids from your brushes.

  2. Using a jar of solvent, swish your brushes around and tap off the excess solvent on the outside edge of the jar. Never leave your brushes standing in the jar of solvent.

  3. Put a small amount of liquid soap in your hand and move the brushes around in the soap, cleaning and rinsing until the suds are white. Thoroughly rinse the brushes, wipe off the excess water, and then let them air dry completely until you use them again.

  4. Store the brushes so the bristles are not bent. You can roll them in a canvas sleeve or towel to keep the bristles in shape.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Anita Giddings and Sherry Stone Clifton are award-winning artist-educators who have made careers out of teaching beginning artists of all aspirations.

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