How to Use Oil Paints

Things You'll Need

  • Oil-paint set
  • Turpentine
  • Sable brushes
  • Canvas
  • Porcelain palette

Painting has been around for centuries,with the earliest examples dating back about 30,000 years. Early oil paints consisted of organic pigments mixed with vegetable or flax seed oils. Early Italian artists even used olive oil for a short while, but the drying time was excessive, so the method became obsolete. The introduction of oil painting is responsible for a multitude of famous paintings, like the famous "The Last Supper." Today, oil paints mainly consist of oil from the calendula plant and ironweed. In 1841, the paint tube was introduced, which made painting a more transportable art, with artists able to paint anywhere and at any time. But as versatile as oil painting has become, so has its complexity grown. Large varieties of oil-paint colors, supplies, and mediums can leave a new painter very confused. Once you learn the basics,though, oil painting can be a very rewarding art form.

Look for a beginners' set that has a variety of colors. They will last a long time, and will very rarely have to be replaced. You can add to your color palette once you get the hang of this type of painting.

Choose a brand of turpentine to use in thinning your paint. Sometimes the tubes of paint are too thick for your particular idea or project. This is where turpentine comes in. When added to a color, it can decrease opacity, ultimately creating a thinner and more see-through effect.

Purchase good brushes. Do not buy cheap! Brushes are the most important part of your painting kit. Sable brushes are recommended more than any other type, due to their high quality. Cheaper brushes won't last, and may even affect your work.

Clean your brushes well. Your brushes will always be ready for use if you clean them properly in between sessions. Soak your brushes in turpentine and allow to dry on a paper towel. Then be sure to put them back at your workspace.

Use a porcelain palette. This type of palette is easily cleaned, great for mixing, and usually has a wide area to spread your colors.

Purchase a comfortable easel. An easel should always be adjusted at a workable height and placed in a well-lit area.

Get some canvas. Oil painting should always be done on canvas. It is never a good idea to paint on any other type of medium.

Get painting! Once you have all of your oil painting items in order, you can begin your first piece of artwork.

Practice mixing your paints with the turpentine, as well as mixing the colors on your palette to create new ones. Practice your brush strokes, and develop your very own oil painting techniques. Most importantly, have fun!


  • You will rarely find greens in an oil-paint tube set. Greens and other absent colors are usually made by mixing two or more basic colors. In most cases, oil paint is darkened or lightened by adding another color.


  • Remember that oil paint can stain and be a nightmare to remove from clothing and carpeting. Always wear a smock or old clothing, as well as working in an area appropriate for a possible paint spill.

About the Author

Jonae Fredericks started writing in 2007. She also has a background as a licensed cosmetologist and certified skin-care specialist. Jonae Fredericks is a certified paraeducator, presently working in the public education system.