How to Oil Paint (The Illustrator’s Way) – Part 1

February 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

Hey everyone. So, like I said in my first post, I studied as an illustrator and not as a painter, so I had to teach myself how to use oils. How I do it is probably different than they teach in fine art studios, but hey, it’s okay!

I learned what I could from snippets off the internet and with a lot of trial and error. However, all of the articles I read online assumed the reader already knew how to use oils and just talked about doing different techniques. This was frustrating for a complete beginner. I might as well have been an alien trying to understand Earth speak.

And so, here I am going to teach you everything you need to get started, down to the very basics. Part 1 will focus on what you will need materials-wise.

1) Liquids

These are SO important for oil painting. If you don’t already know, oil paints are not soluble with water, meaning they don’t mix and painting won’t work. What I use  to make the paint thin and spreadable is linseed oil. It’s like water for these paints…just don’t drink it. (A guy in my class once mixed up his soda cup and his painting cup and…well, he left class real fast). But anyways, linseed oil makes the paint spread like butter. The texture has a great consistency.

Next, I rarely use this, but it’s nice if you’re pressed for time, is Japan Dryer. It’s made by Weber brand and it can speed up a thin coat of paint that would take 3 or 4 days to dry down to only half a day if lucky. It’s crazy stuff. The downside is, I find it’s harder to get vibrant colors with this as it spreads the paint very thin and adds a slight brown color to it.

And lastly is turpentine or paint thinner. Same thing. I use Mona Lisa brand just because it’s cheap and you get a lot for the price. This I use only to clean my brushes. I used to use it as paint thinner like the linseed oil, but again, it makes the paint thin and takes forever to dry. Both Mona Lisa bottles are the same thing. The one in the back with the black background is the newer label and I thought I’d show both just in case you find the older one on a shelf.

2) Oil Paints


You don’t need a ton of colors. Just a little time learning how a few can be mixed into an infinite array of shades and tones. It’s a total money saver.

You want a large tube of white, firstly for mixing. You will use a lot of it. Also a small black tube, and the primary colors (blue, red, yellow) are the most important. It’s a good idea to have two kinds: a primary that is warm (closer to red on the color wheel) and primary that is cool (closer to blue on the color wheel).

Then I have a green, a purple, a pink (I make a lot of pinks in my paintings), an orange, a tan, and a brown (burnt umber is great).

With these tubes you can create almost any color.

3) Brushes and other Accessories

The top, shiny metal, cake serving looking device is your palette knife. This thing must have been created by God because it makes mixing paint a dream.
The large cup is what I put the paint thinner in. It’s a good idea to use a cup of this size because when you’re trying to clean you’re brushes, a lot of swirling and dabbing will be going on, and you don’t want to splash or spill that stuff on you.
The small dixie cup is where I put a miniscule amount of linseed oil.
And of course you need a paper towel for cleaning.
The large gray mat thing on the bottom is a paper palette where you can mix your paints. You can use anything: plexiglass, an actual metal or plastic palette, paper plate. Whatever. I just like the paper pads so much because they’re disposable and cheap. No clean up involved! :D
As for brushes I use 3 mainly. I don’t paint on very large canvases so the biggest brush I have is a size 4 and use it from everything from the background to large sections. The middle size is a 2 and I use this for filling in small spaces. And I have a tiny brush that’s only for outlining and very very small details. It has a 10/0 on it. Not sure if that’s a size or not. But you can see how small it is in the picture. Just use your judgement. The really big round brush I use for mixing background colors and the fan shaped brush is used for mixing smaller spaces.
4) Canvas

This is the back of a plastic wrapped canvas board or panel. Most oil painters use canvases stretched over wood frames so that there is more give (it wiggles more when you paint on it). But for my illustration painting ways, I like to get right up in there and do tiny little details. So for this, I use a canvas panel. It’s a piece of canvas stretched and glued to a board. This makes it feel like you’re painting on a hard surface, just like you’re drawing on paper. However, it’s not as professional looking but that’s what frames are for!
Some canvases don’t come gessoed (a white substance that looks like paint). Gesso protects your surface, can give it texture if you want it, and gives the paint something to grip to. If your canvas is not gessoed, buy a bottle of it and use a palette knife to “paint” it on as thin or thick, smooth or textured, as you want. Wait for it to dry before using oils.
I buy my panels at Utrecht because they offer a huge selection of sizes.
And that’s about it for materials. If you have any questions or anything to add please feel free to comment.
Next part will be a step by step on my process of using these materials to make painting.
Much Love,
Fair Rabbit
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