Oil painting is considered by many to be the supreme discipline of fine art. On the one hand, paintings predominate in many important art museums and collections, and on the other hand, oil paintings are now traded on the art market at horrendous prices. The following pages describe the subject from various perspectives.
Introduction to the subject of oil painting
Oil paint stinks! It is greasy and leaves nasty stains. Basically, oil paint is a very impractical painting material. Compared to oil painting, watercolor painting is much “cleaner”: you can paint and clean everything with water, the pictures on paper are much easier to store, the painting possibilities for material experiments are basically more diverse – at least for beginners. Nevertheless, oil painting is considered the non-plus-ultra of art history….
What a mess…
Whoever approaches the subject of oil painting – painting with oil paint, should keep the “external”, material-related difficulties in mind. Paint only in a room (studio) that can be well ventilated! You should never paint in your own apartment, unless you can close the doors to the bedrooms and living rooms really tight. Always put a pad under your oil painting workspace! Oil paint is extremely difficult to remove from carpets, tablecloths, pillows, and so on. The same applies to work clothes: put on old work clothes in advance: Painter’s smock, old trousers – even the shoes are usually ruined once a few splashes of oil paint have soaked into the leather.
The first basic equipment
If you have now prepared a suitable environment, comes the next obstacle: getting started in oil painting is relatively expensive. However, this is hardly different with watercolor painting. This is because you first need some basic equipment: in addition to the easel, this includes the oil paint tubes, some brushes, some solvents and the painting support, i.e. a canvas or suitable wooden panel. That quickly adds up to a few hundred euros, depending on how ambitious you start out.
Easel or not?
An easel is initially the largest financial item. However, you can get an academy easel for around 80 euros. Alternatively, you can make the first steps by painting lying on the table (for this purpose, a cheap PVC tablecloth, which you can get in drugstores). A really good, stable Altelier easel is not only expensive, but also takes up a lot of space. Otherwise, you can also get a field easel, which of course you can also use indoors. Since the legs can usually be pushed in, you can also set up these easels on tables and clamp a picture support.
Shades of the basic equipment
For the colors, it is usually enough to first get 5-6 tubes of oil paints. I would recommend the following colors as a starter set:
- White (you usually need a lot of this).
- (Light) Ochre (basic color, which you often need for mixing)
- Cyan blue
- Cadmium yellow (you need a lot of this if you want to paint green tones)
- Chromium dioxide green or permanent green (you usually need little of this because you mix it with yellow)
- Ivory black (rarely needed, can be little) – a dark tone often lends itself instead: Prussian blue or Vandyck brown
Oil paint beginner sets
Almost all manufacturers offer “oil paints in sets”, so-called beginner oil paint sets. These are good as gifts, because they offer the appropriate storage box – but from a painting point of view, this is often ineffective, because – as mentioned before – you use certain colors much more than others. In addition, these paint box sets usually contain shades that you usually never need: Basically, the following applies: you can mix all colors from the basic colors.
Brushes for beginners
Let’s first assume that you buy a ready primed canvas to start with. Then you don’t need a priming brush, just the painting brushes. Since oil paint must be cleaned with solvents, only certain types of brushes are really suitable. On the brushes are usually appropriate labeling, for which material they are suitable. The super expensive (and good) red sable brushes used for watercolor painting are out of place for oil painting.
Oil painting brushes
Basically, you can distinguish between hair brushes (with a fine tapered brush tip) and bristle brushes (which form a broad side at the end). Hair brushes are usually suitable for smaller, finer painting, while the bristle brushes ehen used for gestural fast painting. To make it illustrative: Dürer painted more with a hair brush, van Gogh more with bristle brushes.
The beginner’s set includes at least three brushes: one fine (brush size 3 – 6), one medium (brush size 7 – 10) and one wide (brush size 12 – 18). However, you should keep in mind that this is first for self-discovery or material exploration. Once you have decided on a particular type of brush and a preferred width, you usually need about 4 – 6 brushes: one for each color. Therefore, painters often hold several brushes with different color tips in their hands, which they also use to hold their palette.
The painting palette
The most important thing in oil painting is mixing the paint. For this, one usually uses a color palette. It is usually made of wood (or plastic) with an oval opening on one side with which to hold it. Advanced painters then often go over to having a (often rollable) painting table that has a glass or plastic plate on top. There you can then mix the colors over a very large area. Those who paint very large formats mix the colors in cups. So start collecting yogurt cups.
How the colors are arranged on the color palette is basically irrelevant. However, there are certain combinations that have proven to be suitable. For example, many painters place white in the center because it is basically needed for all color tones. Then, around the outside, the primary colors are arranged in the order of the rainbow:
If you use black on the palette, you have to be very careful with it, otherwise the colors will “gray out” very quickly. Basically, it is recommended to paint with white on the inside and black on the outside.
However, this arrangement is nowhere set in stone. On the contrary, it basically depends on the subject of the painting. Thus, the color palette of a portrait painter looks completely different from that of a landscape painter.
Painting the first oil painting
Basically, with all artistic techniques: first try around and get to know the material and tools. But many people have high expectations of an oil painting: it has to be super. Often, it is precisely because of this inner pressure that one loses the fun in the matter. Of course: the material and the canvas cost money, but of course it should be fun in the first place.
Whoever starts to paint the first oil painting should keep in mind: the colors that you use and the first canvas, together cost maybe 8 – 12 USD (you don’t use all the colors immediately). That’s about the cost of going to the movies. So if you mess up the first painting, you just save yourself the next trip to the movie theater – and you’re done.
Excessive respect for oil painting, the fray in details often lead to dissatisfaction with the first oil painting – and that spoils the desire to continue. Therefore: freshly to the work, with desire and mood. Practice makes perfect, and the first oil painting must naturally be a disaster.
Have fun with oil painting.