Oil Painting Basics

Oil Painting Basics


Things you need to know about working with oil paints!

The book mentioned in the video is Carol Marine's "Daily Painting" I recommend you get this book if you're interested in pursuing oil painting as a dedicated hobby or career.

Oil paint VS watercolor, gouache & acrylic


Oil paints

  • slow drying
  • oil based
  • require a primed surface
  • not water-soluble

watercolor, gouache & acrylic

  • quick drying
  • water based
  • don't require a primed surface
  • water-soluble

Student grade paint  VS  Artist grade paint


Student grade

  • less pigment, more filler
  • paint runs out faster
  • cheaper
  • good for beginners

Artist grade

  • more pigment
  • lasts longer
  • more expensive
  • good for advanced painters

Brush Maintenance

  • Don't use super warm water or you'll soften the glue that holds the bristles together.
  • Add soap or cleaner and swish the bristles around under running water (without abusing them) until the water runs clean.
  • Use half of a tennis ball instead of your hand.
  • Remove any excess moisture from the base of the bristles and let your brushes dry flat over night or hang them upside down on a towel rack using rubber bands (example in video).
  • Try not to leave your dirty brushes to dry overnight. If this does happen, let the hardened bristles soak in soap or cleaner for a few hours and that should help remove the paint. Doing this too many times will eventually ruin your brush, though, so try not to do it often. 


  • Use palette paper on its own or put it in a sealable tupperware, which can keep your paints from drying overnight!
  • You can also use a piece of glass or a frame, just be sure to clean it before the paint dries up.

Soap & Cleaner

*There are lots of options! I suggest you try different things to find out what your preference is.

Some options include:

  • brush cleaner
  • dish soap 
  • oil soap
  • etc.

Thinners & Solvents

*some of these are more toxic and flammable than others. Please do a bit of research before you choose one to make sure the product meets your specific needs. 


They can be used to:

  • thin down the oil paint
  • rinse dirty brushes
  • remove wet paint from a surface

Some options include:

  • turpentine
  • turpenoid
  • turpenoid natural
  • mineral spirits
  • etc.


Mediums are used to speed up of slow down the drying process. They can also add a matte or glossy finish or add texture to the paint. 

To find out what a specific product is for, read the label, ask someone that works at an art store or look it up online. 

*Again, the best way to find out if you like a product is to try it out yourself. 

Some options include:

  • linseed oil
  • walnut oil
  • stand oil
  • liquin
  • etc.

Painting Surfaces

You can pretty much paint on anything as long as it's primed (usually with a few coats of white gesso).

Most store bought pre-made surfaces are already primed, so you can start painting on them immediately. The larger these are, the pricier they get. If you decide you want to make oil painting a dedicated hobby or career, you can learn how to build your own surfaces and how to prime them yourself. (I will make tutorials on these topics soon!)

Some options include:

  • stretched canvas
  • canvas board
  • wood panel
  • linen
  • paper
  • etc.

Thinner/Solvent Jar

I suggest you store some thinner or solvent in a jar to rinse your brushes while you're working. 

I like to use this Silicoil Brush Cleaning Tank because it comes with a coil inside that makes rinsing my brushes very easy. 

You can also use a mason jar or any recycled glass jar with a sealable lid.

A small amount of thinner/solvent can last for quite a while, so don't dispose of it after just one use. If you let it sit, the paint will collect at the bottom of the jar and leave usable thinner/solvent on top. 

Once your thinner/solvent has become dirty and gunky, collect it in a separate glass jar or metal can and replace it with clean thinner/solvent. *DO NOT pour used thinner/solvent down the drain.* These chemicals are hazardous and need to be disposed of appropriately.


Make sure your painting room has good ventilation. Most oil paint thinners and solvents contain chemicals and fumes that can cause you to feel lightheaded or sick if you inhale them for too long. 

Some suggestions include:

  • Don't use a small room with no windows and little air circulation. 
  • keep the window(s) and door open while you're working to allow for good air flow. 
  • Place a fan near the door to let clean air circulate into the room. 
  • Take breaks while you're working. Just step outside for a few minutes and enjoy the fresh air. 

Safety Tips

  • To dispose of used thinner/solvent and rags first take a few minutes to research online and find out where the nearest household hazardous waste collection site is near you. Make sure that they accept the type of hazardous materials you need to dispose of before you drop them off. You can also ask them how often you should dispose of your used thinner/solvent. I personally collect about a gallon of used thinner/solvent before dropping it off. 

  • Take equal precautions with used rags. Once your rags are saturated with thinner/solvent and paint, store them in a glass jar and fill it with water. This will prevent any fire from starting (source).

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after they've come in contact with oil paint and thinner/solvent. (These shouldn't cause any immediate damage to your skin but if you do notice any changes after coming in contact with them, please seek medical help).  

  • If you get thinner/solvent in your eyes, mouth or other sensitive areas, wash it out with water for several minutes and seek medical attention. 

  • If you spill thinner/solvent be sure to clean the area thoroughly with soap and warm water. 


Remember to be safe when working with these materials and have fun!

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below and I'll be sure to reply to you promptly.

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