Essential Oil Painting Tips for Beginners

Van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, were all legendary painters, they share world-famous status as some of the greatest of all time and they also share the same medium: oil. Like many great painters of the last 400 hundred years, oil paint was the primary method of the art. It has created the majority of history’s master works and is hanging on the walls of the greatest museums in the world. It is for this reason, that many beginners find using oil paints daunting and overwhelming. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Though we have never put brush to canvas, at Workman’s Friend we celebrate those people who do and for that reason we have a few tips to help the transition to oil painting easier. So, before you set-up your easel, read on.

It’s all in the hand

If you’ve ever taken a painting class, one of the first things the teacher will instruct you to do is hold the paintbrush in the right position. There are many different grips an artist can use while painting. Yet, there is one fail-safe method that every artist should master. Hold your brush as far back as you can. Place your hands on the end of the brush. This will provide you with the most fluidity and sensitivity with your strokes.

The fatter the better

“Fat over lean” is an expression you’ll often hear in the painting world and it is perhaps the most important rule of oil painting. Fat paint refers to the quantity of oil in your paint. By adding more to your paint you are making it fatter. In contrast, adding solvent to your oil paint makes it leaner. The fatter the paint the slower it dries. The layers of paint on top must dry more slowly than the ones below. If this doesn’t happen, then the paint will start to crack as it slowly dries.  Therefore, when you start your canvas use very lean paint then with every successive layer make it consistently thicker by adding more oil.

Don’t get heavy handed

Avoid putting too much pressure on your brush when working with oil paints. As you explore the art of painting through a medium like oil, you will learn what adding weight to your brush will do to your strokes. Usually, the greater the pressure, the more your paints will blend and create ridges to either side of your brush strokes. Remember, often the force of brush to canvas can make all the difference between a work of art and a disaster. Don’t be afraid to experiment. 

Simple is best

There is a tendency with beginner painters to add as many colors as possible to their canvas. More color does not necessarily mean a prettier picture. In fact, it often results in just the opposite. Try using red, yellow, white and blue in your first few pictures. If you decide you want to mix your colors make sure you do so only as much as necessary before applying the stroke. Overmixing can often result in a flat and dreary lump of paint. Using a limited palette will help you focus on your technique and the picture you are trying to create.

It’s also imperative that you don’t hold back on the quantity of paint you use. There will be times when you want a thin wash and others where a thick stroke of color is best. Make sure that you’re using enough paint to create the type of stroke you need. A true artist never holds back on paint at the expense of their painting.    

Use your knife

We mean use your palette knife. To a beginner, this tool is only a trowel that you use to mix paint, but it can do so much more. A palette knife can be used to make unique strokes especially if you’re looking to create texture in your scene such as trees. It is also very handy when using the scraping technique. Instead of adding more paint to your canvas, why not consider taking some off? Your palette knife is an excellent tool to create effects your paintbrush only dreams of doing!

One final stroke

If the challenge of painting with oil is something that fascinates you, then take the leap and start exploring this historical medium. The tips listed above are designed to help you get started. Remember, painting is a life-long learning process. Yes, the great painters of the world such as Renoir and Van Gogh were extremely gifted artists. Yet, they had to refine their skills and learn about oil paint. Give yourself the time you need to experiment and explore with oil paint. As soon you do, the possibilities could be endless.             


Workman’s Friend Barrier Skin Cream is a light-weight and odorless hand cream perfect for all oil painters and arts and crafts. A simple application of our moisturizing, non-greasy formula means your hands won’t be slippery when holding your paintbrush. When it’s time to clean-up a simple wipe and you’re done. Check out our website at

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