How to Oil Paint on Canvas in 10 Easy Steps: Beginner’s Guide

Campfire Original Oil Painting on Canvas, Forest Landscape In the Night, Hot Bonfire

Oil paints are the preferred artwork materials for many artists. The simple reason for this being that they are timeless and easy to use. Beginners to painting are also likelier to finish and accomplish a given project simply by mixing these beautiful paints with their buttery consistency in the palette cups.

In this brief guide, we will ease the process of how to oil paint so that it gives you an enjoyable as well as a successful painting experience.

10 Step Beginner’s Guide on How to Oil Paint

Close-up of hand painting a picture with a paintbrush using yellow colored paint

Step 1: Gather the Materials You Need

When you have everything you need near you, you will have a more successful and enjoyable painting experience.

Today, oils come in various varieties and the way to oil paint naturally depends upon the kind you choose. The older or traditional varieties need some kind of solvent to clean the brushes and thin down the paints. Conversely, you could opt for water soluble oil paints that can be mixed with a bit of water to modify the pigments. Accordingly, you will need: Brushes (discussed in detail below), water or turpentine solvents, palette cups, palette knives, palette pads or sheets, stretched canvas mounted on an easel or other painting surfaces. You will also need rags or newspapers, kneaded erasers, graphite or charcoal pencils, spray fixatives (if you are drawing with graphite/charcoal), and a mahlstick to rest your painting hand. Depending on the kind of surface you are painting, you may also require a primer like Gesso, since a canvas always absorbs the first layer of paint.

You will need a flat brush, a bright brush, a Filbert and a round brush. Brushes are numbered, and for beginners learning how to oil paint, the best choices include #2 Round, and Filberts, Flats and brights that range from #4 to #8.

The surface you choose for painting will depend on whether yours is a formal or an informal project. Using graphite or charcoal for sketching is not recommended to beginners since these materials mix with the oil paint and dull them.

Step 2: Choose a Quiet and Safe Place to Sit to Paint

Next you will need a quiet place with plenty of fresh air and light to work in. Do not sit too close to the window where there may be a chance of getting your supplies wet or dry in the harsh sun.

Step 3: Start Your Painting Adventure With Sketching

To begin with, you need to learn sketching. To start the sketch, plan your image first. Always dedicate the first 20-30 minutes to the sketching process. This is an essential part of oil painting. Keep the sketch simple and allow yourself to make mistakes. You do not have to create a Masterpiece in the very first attempt. However, you should be dedicated to the process. You can even set aside a couple of hours daily or weekly for the painting. You could start with simple shapes or even objects that you see around the house. Landscapes are other simple paintings to start with. You could start with one or two trees and then progress to coloring larger foliages in various shades of green. Alternatively, you could copy a drawing from a book, a greeting card or even from the great masters.

Step 4: Set Goals

Oil painting is very much like going on a journey. You need to know your destination but also where you are from time to time. Therefore, assess your image every now and then and assess if your images are looking three-dimensional, how their textures and colors are etc. When you set such goals from the very beginning, you can improve your painting considerably over time.

Step 5: Painting Directly

Some artists also like to paint directly using the oil paints without using pencil or charcoal sketching. If this is the case, make sure to use very light color thinned with some solvent. This also helps the paint dry more quickly. Take stock of the image drawn from time to time, so you can make necessary corrections using darker paint. If you notice any mistakes, simply paint over on the initial lines. Use a rag or paper napkins to wipe off marks.

Step 6: Underpainting – The First Coat

Underpainting means applying the first coat of oil paint to establish the basic colors of the image. Start by using the paint in the largest area of the picture in the form of a backwash, keeping the sketch layout intact. Again assess the oil painting from time to time to see your progress.

Step 7: Correcting Mistakes

Step back and observe the painting and try to envision how it would look once you add the light and dark shades. Remember: if you are not happy with the underpainting, this is the best time to make changes. Never try and correct the painting using solvents, this will only lead to a mess. For thicker and larger mistakes, scrape off using the palette knives. Let the scraped surface dry before painting over it.

Step 8: Applying the Oil Paint in Layers

Another important point when learning how to oil paint is to get the layering of lights and darks. As the initial paint coats dry, they start getting heavier and thicker and you will, consequently, need to work slower. Add a variety of colors, brush strokes and detailing to the image. Leave some areas untouched on the canvas but make others richer, more complex and denser. This will add complexity to your artwork.

Step 9: Decide When to Finish

It can be difficult to decide when an oil painting is actually finished, so it is best to evaluate the work and stand back to take a gander. View the painting from a distance and even turn the painting upside down. This trick helps you focus on shapes in the painting and also assess dead areas if any. You can also always turn to your friends or family for an opinion. Once the painting is complete, you can have it framed. Do not forget to sign it. Use a small brush to do so and practice it on rough paper before doing it on the painting.

Step 10: Take Good Care of the Painting

Never hang the oil painting near direct sunlight or even near an air vent. This can cause the paint to crack up and dry. Hang the painting in a solid and sturdy manner to prevent it from falling down.

These are the 10 basic steps you need to follow when learning how to oil paint. For more inspiration, read this beginner’s guide on oil painting techniques.