S U P P L I E S : What to Know and What You'll Need Before Getting Started.
Please note many supplies involved with oil painting including the oil paint itself is toxic. Take proper care when using these supplies.
Wear gloves if you can or avoid getting paint and mediums on your skin. Paint in a well ventilated room.
-Alizarin crimson +
-Payne’s grey +
-Mars or Ivory black (personal preference to Mars) +
-Radiant or Titanium white (personal preference to Radiant) -
-Titanium Buff (ideal for tinting down or lightening tones with less cooling than white) -
-Burnt Umber +
-Naples Yellow light * (ideal for tinting down or lightening tones with less cooling than white) -
-Transparent Earth Orange * (Excellent for glazing- specifically skin tones) +
-Transparent Earth Red * (Excellent for glazing- specifically skin tones) +
-Transparent Earth Yellow * (Excellent for glazing- specifically skin tones) +
-Chromatic black (Excellent for glazing- specifically shadow areas) +
-Cadmium red or Vermillion (a brighter red option to the alizarin crimson.)
-Terre vert (low tint strength- grey to add olive tones to flesh) -
-Caucasian (Gamblin’s skin tone - please note it’s not to take place of skin tone but to be mixed in) -
-Asphaultum (rich dark brown great for glazing or tinting) -
- all he other bajillion colours out there.
(Sectioned in gradient to level of importance/immediacy- black being immediately required. Medium grey you can get by without but is nice to have. Light grey is unnecessary until you get more into it.)
* for portrait work
+ suitable for glazing
- not suitable for glazing
I personally use and prefer GAMBLIN OIL COLORS
To start you will need either canvas, linen, panel, or oil paper.
All have benefits and downfalls. Your choice of surface will be a personal one as you learn and explore the medium and find what is best suited for your needs.
I personally prefer using a portrait grade or medium weave linen that has been primed with multiple layers of clear gesso. I prefer the weave of the linen textile to that of traditional canvas, and the tone is a beautiful warm neutral colour that yields well for portrait backgrounds. Less paint is required than that of a white surface that shows through easier.
The downside is it is costly (especially since its not available in my country and I need to import it by the roll)
Now there are a lot of pre-made / ready to go surfaces available in art stores, however almost none are better than a proper surface you make and stretch yourself.
There are plenty of YouTube videos that show you how to make and stretch you own canvas or linen supports.
One very important thing to note is that oil paint degrades surfaces. It will eat through canvas, wood, linen, paper, and pretty much anything UNLESS your surface is properly primed. With a properly primed surface your painting can last ages.
How to prime your surface depends on what you surface is - is it flexible like canvas and linen, or is it hard panel- like wood or aluminum?
Gamblin has great options for both and they have a lot of very helpful information on their website that explains it all very clearly. I recommend going to their site and doing some reading so you have a good understanding before you get into making your own surfaces. WWW.GAMBLINCOLORS.COM
The one exception I have found to pre-mades actually being better than making your own is with Trekell Art Supplies. They have exceptional quality for there ready mades. They also have a vast range of surface options- all with very high quality materials and careful attention to each one that they themselves hand make, and at very reasonable prices for what you’re getting. The only downside is if you need larger or custom sizes, it can be tricky. They will sometimes do custom surfaces if you hit them up and they aren’t too busy.
I highly recommend them as you get more into oil painting. WWW.TREKELL.COM
At first you may not notice the difference between a cheap canvas or cheap brushes, so no need to feel obligated to sink a lot of money into supplies right away. You will find the more you paint the more they matter. Good supplies will make your life much easier as you develop your skills, you’ll need supplies that can hold up to your demands.
I will recommend exploring the many different surface options to see what is best suited for you. You may find you need the flex of canvas, or the rigidity or panel, or prefer the weave and feel of linen but need it ridged, and may lean towards a linen wrapped panel- the best of both worlds. You may find you like working on metal surfaces that are slick, or wood which has a bit more absorbency. I can’t type out what is a pro, and what is a con for each since it’s all personal preference as to what YOU need out of your surface. It may take years to discover them all and find your fave, and just when you think you’ve found it, you may find yourself working on a pice that is best suited for a different surface. This is why experimenting is so important. They all offer different ways to make the paint work for you.
Making your own Stretchers:
You can purchase pre beveled and sanded stretcher bars from most art stores. Blick is probably cheapest to order from if nothing is local. There’s loads of sizes to choose from to configure how you wish. They’re easy to use and assemble. This is a great option to building your own stretcher. However, if you don’t want to be constricted to the sizes available, or have plans for specific sizes, here’s how I make custom ones:
Home Depot and Lowe’s all sell 1”x2” select pine lumber (If you’re feeling an extra deep gallery stretcher then go 1”x3). Pine is the cheapest and works just fine for stretchers but if you want heavier and more rigid (but also more expensive) than you could get poplar wood. Not necessary in my opinion for most scenarios but there could be times you may want heavier duty. Keep in mind different woods have different warp rates, so I'd suggest to stick to the more commonly used options in the industry (pine and polar). 6’ or 8’ or 10’ lengths, always pick the straightest ones. Look at them from one end looking straight down the length of it and look for any bowing.
I run them down the table saw on an angle to give one side a bevel (the one inch side). If you have a planer, either hand or electric, you could get the same effect by holding the planer on an angle on the corner and planing it down until there’s a nice bevel.
Then I cut them at 45 degree angles, bevel side up, to the measurement I need for the custom size stretcher.
Line them up on a table, making sure the 45 degree miter cuts fit nicely on all 4 ends, then air nail or screw them together. If you screw them, be sure to pre drill the holes. I then cut small pieces (6” up to 15” depending on overall size of framework) on 45 degree angels on the 2” side of the wood and fit them into the corners for support, making sure I hold them flush with the flat end, not the bevel end, so that after you stretch the canvas, the bevel is the highest point, leaving the canvas taught and not touching any bracing points.
Then add extra bracing for larger framework. Just straight cut pieces that fill in any large gaps that would leave the stretcher too flimsy. Any span of more than 24 unsupported inches should get a piece added in for support. Then it’s ready to stretch. The video covers the stretching portion pretty spot on. Not much I would change so no need to make a new video or directions for it. CLICK HERE TO WATCH
Whether you're making your own or purchasing a pre-made, one thing you'll want is that beveled edge. When it is not beveled, once you begin to paint, the pressure of the brush drags over an un-beveled edge and leaves a noticeable line all around the perimeter of your painting.
There are so many mediums it would be crazy to try to list them all. So instead I’ll give a quick breakdown of the groups and what they do, and then recommend my faves that I use.
Retarders: also known as “fats” these are mediums (often “oils”) that retard or slow the dry time. They are or are similar to the binder in oil paint itself. Notice the liquid that comes out of a fresh tube of oil paint?- that is an oil (most commonly linseed) that is mixed with the pigment to create paint- why it’s called “oil paint”. I personally hate these since oil paint already dries very slow, and I like to work fast. However this can be beneficial if you need to work slowly and want your paint to still be workable.
Common retarders include:
Thinners: these are mediums that speed up the dry time! My fave. This can allow a layer to dry overnight and be workable the very next day. They tend to have a solvent in them which is known to break down the pigment. This is what is referred to as a “lean” when we discuss the rules of oil painting. These can be your worst enemy if you don’t know how to properly use them, up your best fucking friend if you do. They can allow for a wonderful range of techniques and great way to get depth or texture in your work. Warning- these all have a level of toxicity.
Common thinners include:
-Mineral spirits: This shit is the most toxic of the toxic. It is pure thinner- the modern day replacement to paint thinner. But it thins and dries paint the fastest. This is most often used for creating a wash under painting, or for actually cleaning your brushes since it strips the paint so well. This is one thing that’s probably the most commonly used that I will not recommend. Aside from being toxic, it breaks down oils to its crumbly flaky pigment as it desolated the fats. Not good groundwork for a painting you want to last. If you can learn to paint without it, you’ll never miss it. However if you want to use this, I recommend at least an odourless mineral spirit. (Gamblin has one of the safer and best OMS options called Gamsol). Please keep in mind that though most of you won’t be able to smell it- it is still toxic. Use with proper ventilation. Keep off skin! You may notice headaches when using. Has a very thin water like consistency
-Galkyd (by Gamblin) and Liquin (by Windsor and Newton): these mediums have a honey like consistency and are less toxic than mineral spirts, are safer to use, easier to use, don’t degrade the paint as much, are great for speeding up dry time. You can either mix a little bit to thin the paint and make it more workable and smooth which will speed dry time a little, or you can use a little more and thin the paint out to a transparent glaze. These options are really great for glazing. They do start to get gummy after a few hours if you have a small cup of it sitting out, or a little puddle poured on your palette. So either just mix a couple drops for the beginning and only use what you need- adding more as you go on through your session, and make sure to leave any glazing until the end/ last few hours, or you’ll find you have to come to a halt for the day and let it finish drying over night. That being said- it will have it dry enough to paint on the next day if you’ve been working in thin layers and used it for glazing. Both these options will smooth your brush stokes. Of these two I prefer the Galkyd. You don’t really notice the difference in the beginning. They both work very well. Only after using both for a few years did I start to see a the workability differ. Do not cost the painting in a final layer of this. It will Yellow and can bubble over time and looks like shit- it is NOT suitable for varnishing.
-Galkyd Lite (by Gamblin) and Liquin Fine Detail (by Windsor and Newton): these are the more fluid versions of the ones above. They are less thick and honey like, but not as thin as the watery consistency of mineral spirits. They dry faster than the ones above- and like the name suggests, they are grey for doing finer details. They thin and smooth the paint to a great workability. These are my favourite and most used mediums. I use them for every painting I do. I tend to use Liquin Fine Detail just slightly more than the Galkyd light. Again you won’t notice much of a difference between the two until you use both more actively. Both are great for glazing. I highly recommend starting with one of these mediums. Same shit about not using it to varnish as the above mediums.
-Galkyd Gel and Impasto: these unlike all above will speed dry time but give texture to your strokes. Like the above they thin the paint and make the paint more transparent the more you use, it unlike the above that flatten the paint, these will give medium body texture for subtle brush stokes, and dimensionality. Depending how much you use, you can be back painting the next day if you’re next layers are thin. Give a little bit before varnishing if you use this though. It takes a while for it to properly cure all the way through- a good way to tell is to stick your thumb nail on the thickest part and see if it holds up to indentations. If it indents- it’s not cured.
-Cold Wax: Gamblin offers a medium that can be used during the painting and also as a matte varnish when you’re done. Like the name suggests it is a waxy medium that speeds up dry time. This is great for palette knife work for a build up if crazy intense texture.
Okay, so there are a hell ton more, but these are great starting points. Honestly you can get away with only using Galkyd Lite or Liquin Fine Detail. I will go years without using any other medium. But you will want at least one medium. Trust me you do not want to oil paint without one!
If you'd like to read more about other available mediums and what they are used for, you can check this out
There are a few options out there, but most notably will be a piece of glass. Easiest to clean and lasts forever. Trust me- you will want easy to clean. If you forget to clean you palette, those oils can be a bitch to scrape off. Get yourself a little razor knife palette scraper and you’ll be set.
If you are painting anything that requires very carefully selected colours, then paint the underside of you palette grey. This will give you the neutral background you need to mix perfect tones. They sell grey palettes, and I’ve bought one, but they suck to clean and so if you don’t clean it ti perfection every time, it’s not long until it’s no longer grey. They are also prone to scrapes if you use a palette scrapper. A wood hand palette is easy for accessibility but not ideal unless you really need to have it on you hand. There are upright grey palettes if you need to match values and tones exactly ( the value of paint will change when on a flat surface from when you turn it vertically... you can see this by holding out your hand flat and then turn it upwards and notice the change in value as the flat surface accepts more light. But again this is a bitch to clean. I spent a good amount on one, used it twice and never again used it. Seriously a cheap piece of glass will be a trusty tried and true palette option. You can customize the size of it, plop it on a rolling table if you need it to be accessible. You can even get a ‘stay wet’ container for it with a lid if you’ve mixed colours and don’t want them to dry out before you’re finished your piece. Have an old frame not in use? Rob the glass.... use that.
This is a doozy. There are so many brands and so many different types within the one brand. How do you know which to choose?
This again is so much preference based but some things to note to help you make your decision:
First thing to note is what the bristles are made of. Some are much softer than others. These make them more flexible and help thin paint strokes away. Whereas others- like hog hair bristled, are stiffer, making them great for textural brush work, but the rigidity also makes them easier to accidentally lift paint up, which can be hard if you’re beginning, as you generally want to use more paint when working with these.
Second to note is brush shape. There are flats, curved, rounds, angled... all sorts. They all have their place. They all can be used for various techniques, and again this will be personal preference according to your paint style. I find myself using curved (Filberts), more than any other type. Get a wide range of cheap ones and experiment, you’ll quickly see what each can be used for.
Third to note, is how long the bristles are. The longer they are the more they flex and bounce and longer you can drag them for... think of pin-striping, see how long those bristles are, that’s b/c the long bristles bend and flex allowing for long smooth pulls without interruption. Now if you aren’t painting something that requires these long pulls, it can be a pain in the ass having too much flex. You’ll discover what you need as you understand you paint style. But the great thing about long bristled brushes is over time the build up of paint that happens at the base moves up the bristles and takes longer to get to an unworkable point. With shorter bristled brushes, the paint that gets gummed up at the base begins to push the bristles outward, warping the shape and as it gets further down to the top, this build up begins to stiffen the brush. So something that was a pain to work with at first by being too long and flexible, over time becomes more manageable if you don’t want that flex. The short brushes over time become harder “rounds”.. great for oil dry brush or for lifting paint out, but hard to paint with. Now you can’t entirely avoid brush change and damage. But you can help mitigate the issues with proper brush cleaning at the end of every paint session, and by getting a good quality brush. You may pay more upfront but save money long term.
Last thing to note is size- this is pretty obvious, but not without remark. I personally choose to use the biggest brush I can for the job! It gives me the smoothest results working this way, and if we do lessons you’ll see why. It’s very easy to get inconsistent results using smaller brushes. Also a point worth making when dealing with detail brushes, it’s not the size of the brush that maters, but the size of the point! Often those very small brushes with only a few hairs will be dead after a few uses. Where as a larger one with more hairs that comes to a fine point will hold the paint and it’s shape better and give you bomb detailing abilities.
All that being said get some cheap brushes until you’ve figured out what kind you prefer. Once you’ve figured out the length, shape, and bristle type that best works for you, invest in some good brushes. There are many out there, notably Rosemary brushes, and my preference - Trekell- like their paint surfaces you get an incredible product at a more than fair price. These are what I use in conjunction with larger house paint brushes, and a selection of poofy make up brushes for blending.
There are a few things you can use at the end of a paint session to clean your brushes:
-Turps (Degrades brushes quicker but cleans very easily and quickly. Old school option, not many still use this since it's hella toxic and bad for the health. Flammable! Extra caution when disposing of rags. Requires stainless steel brush washer.)
-Turpenoid Natural (a non-toxic, non flammable brush cleaner, conditioner and paint thinner formulated from the natural essence of citrus products and other natural sources.Not as effective as regular turps).
Mineral Spirits (Toxic and degrades brushes but cleans very easily and quickly)
-Odourless Mineral Spirits (the less of the toxic of the thinner options. It cleans easily and quickly. But still recommend a mask and proper ventilation when using. Most can't smell it but you may notice headaches and nausea if you're not wearing a mask or have proper ventilation. Still early brush degradation. Requires stainless steel brush washer. You can read more about it here )
-Linseed soap (non-toxic, safe and natural option, good for brushes longevity but takes longer and more elbow grease to clean. You'll for sure want a brush scrubber for this.)
-Dawn dish soap -blue one is best (Non-toxic, safe option, good for brushes longevity but takes longer and more elbow grease to clean. Recommend a brush scrubber, will make you life so much easier)
*Wear gloves when cleaning. If you get oils on your skin wash off immediately. Oils are a pain to get off the skin, especially if the've been mixed with certain mediums. I've noticed when Dawn dish soap isn't enough to remove it from skin, most make-up wipes do an amazing job of quick clean up without having to scrub too hard and leaving the skin raw.
Aside from acting as a protective barrier to preserve the longevity of your painting, varnishing also enhances the appearance of the final work. You'll notice after an oil painting has dried, it will've lost its depth and lustre. To bring back the depth and vibrancy you'll want to varnish your piece once thoroughly dry enough. Dry time is dependent on several factors:
-The pigments used ( Some colour pigments dry faster than others. Additionally Alkyd oils share similar properties to regular oils but dry faster)
-Mediums used (Depending on whether you used a thinner, or a fat will determine the rate at which a piece has dried. Using thinners allows the paint to dry faster and speed up finial dry time to varnish.)
-Thickness of paint (How thick your paint application is will drastically affect dry time. A thin Layer of paint will dry faster than thicker layer. This, however, may not be true if the thin layer was painted using a medium to sloe dry time (retarder/fat) and if the thicker layer was painted using a medium to speed dry time ( a thinner/lean).
-Painting application. ( If you're painting alla prima (wet-on wet), oil dry-brush, painting with palette knives, or painting with multiple thin layers, will all change the rate at which your painting dries.)
Understanding if your painting is dry enough to varnish is key! Just because the surface of your painting is dry doesn't mean the painting is properly cured enough to varnish. The paint has to be dry all the way through to the substrate beneath! The best way to see if your painting is ready is to take your fingernail and poke the thickest part of the painting. If it leaves an indent easily it is not dry enough. If you see no effect then you're good to varnish. So naturally the thinner paint application with use of a drying medium will allow for the quickest varnish time. This is the technique I employ since I have deadlines with exhibits and need to get the work out of studio quickly and cannot wait a year to varnish. Yes, you read that correctly, if you're painting with thicker applications to explore texture and physical dimensionality, then it can be a year (or longer) until your painting is ready to be varnished.
If you varnish a piece too soon, you risk the painting cracking.
There are conservation retouch spray varnishes that are meant to be temporary solutions in the mean time, but not suitable for long term varnishing, and removing a temporary varnish coat can be tricky.
How To Choose The Right Varnish:
There are several options to choose from, and aside from whether you want a spray varnish (they make final spray varnishes that are actually not bad and can be a good option for certain pieces, but can be tricky to get even and cohesive results each time) or if you want a standard brush on varnish (that is more reliable)- there are three finishes to choose from:
-Matte (This removes the shine from the painting. You can get Matte spray varnishes that are suitable for oil paintings, or you can use Gamblin's cold wax medium- just grab a cheesecloth and rub it onto your dry painting in little buffer motions. The upside to this is no pesky shine that can make it difficult to see the painting in certain light. The downside is it doesn't get the most vibrancy or depth to your bright colours or blacks. But it does do a good job of smoothing the finish when applied correctly.)
-Gloss ( This enhances the shine from the painting, and levels the finish. Gloss finishes can be difficult to photograph or see in certain light, however it's the best option for getting the most vibrancy and depth out of your colours and shadows.)
-Satin (This is the middle ground between gloss and matte finish. It doesn't get rid of all the shine, but dampens it, making it easier to see in tricky lighting than the gloss, but not as well as the matte. It doesn't wash out your blacks as much as a matte, but doesn't enhance them as much as a gloss. Ultimately its a good middle ground. This is the varnish option I use the most.)
Knowing which to choose will be a matter of personal choice as to what you want most from your finished painting.
Brands I use are:
Traditional varnish in all finish options on I use Gamlblin Varnishes
There are many varnish options out there that offer different characteristics (like anti-yellowing, to UV resistance) Feel free to explore to find the option you like best for your work and process. Just make sure it is a suitable for oil painting.
Now please don't be an idiot that varnishes with the trendy (and horribly wrong) #varnishporn technique you see on instagram! This can ruin your painting. Watch how to properly varnish HERE
Getting proper studio light is a common struggle no matter what medium you're working with.I've found that ceiling lights can be tricky unless it's set up in the right location and you never move from this spot. I prefer mounting an armlight (that you typically mount to a desk, drafting table or easel), and mount it on the wall in the nearest corner, as high to the celling as possible. I paint with both hands so I end up with shadows one way or another, so if you use one hand you may find mounting it to the opposite side to be more helpful. This overhead light that isn't directly above you but off to the side seems to be less harsh for glare with oils and creates a softer light than direct overhead. The right bulb is key! too warm or too cool of a bulb and it changes the tone of your painting, too dim and you cant see shit, and too bright is blinding and hard to work in. I found the Ottlite full spectrum bulb is perfect for the arm light since the cone shade stops it from being too overpowering. but it's a nice white/ neutral bright light perfect for getting a true tone when painting. I recently enlarged my studio and found this light set up is only good for about 8' though, so with a studio wall 3 times that length, I've installed 8" pot lights with a neutral 3500K light that are in the middle of the studio but they alone leave horrible shadows, so I'll set up a ring light off to my side a few feet away, keeping it as tall as possible so it is more overhead. If your lighting is too low, then outside of the studio it wont read the same as when you painted it in the studio, since lighting almost always comes from above- whether it's natural or artificial lighting. If you're working on a piece for a specific location, keep the light source of its hanging place in mind, and try to mirror that lighting in your studio so as you paint it you can see exactly what it will look like in situ.
Galleries usually have harsh spotlights, where as a collectors home typically does not. You can always give lighting instructions to the collector or gallery for hat looks best to display the work, but you can help to keep your art always looking it's best by painting it with the most universal light source- a nice neutral "daylight" tone bulb that comes from somewhere overhead that is diffused and not too harsh.
A ring light does the job better than a lot of lights, but so far nothing beats the quality of light from the OttLite bulb. You can buy it HERE
I just got long screws and drilled the armlight into the upper corner of my studio above my paint zone and it was perfect for my smaller studio. So with it being larger and moving from area to area, I'm thinking I'll have to make tall stands I can easily move around with me with the armlight and OttLiteset up. You don't need to spend a ton of money on stands and set ups, get crafty and use scraps you may have laying around. Just make sure your light is coming from high up enough above you, and to your side or in front of you, not behind you or you'll get too many shadows.
TIP FOR LIGHTING WHEN PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR ART:
Try to mirror the lighting to your light source in the painting. If light is coming from the right side in the painting, then make the light brighter to the right side during your photoshoot of the final piece. You typically don't want uneven lighting, so having it lit from both sides with a diffused light ( a sheet or soft box is perfect to minimize glare and get even lighting), but then taking a brighter light that isn't diffused and pointing it at your art to mimic the light source in the art can give it extra punch if it's just not looking as good in the photo as it does in person. Just whatever you do if you are only using one light to photograph your piece, DO NOT HAVE IT CONTRADICT THE LIGHT SOURCE IN THE PAINTING!! If all you have is a fixed overhead light, then turn your painting however you have to to line the light up with the arts light source.