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Top 10 Oil Painting Tips

Written by: Catalogs.com Editorial Staff

February 22, 2012
Filed Under Hobbies 

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One of the top ten oil painting tipsContributed by Tim Brugger, Catalogs.com Top 10 Guru

Oh, the Masters make it look soooo easy.

You throw a little oil paint on the palette, toss a few bits onto a canvas and voila! Art. Oy, if only it were that easy. Like anything else worth doing, it just takes a little practice. But also like anything else worth doing, practicing correctly will not only ensure you become proficient sooner; you’ll avoid developing some nasty habits.

So let’s get started, shall we? Here are the top ten oil painting tips for newbies; and maybe a reminder or two for the more experienced artiste.


10. Begin at the Beginning: Setting Up The Palette

One of the top ten oil painting tips

Remember that really bad McDonald’s commercial for some nasty burger that said something about “…the cool stays cool, and the hot stays hot,” or some such nonsense? The same concept applies to your palette. Keep your cool oil paint colors like blue, green and purple in their rightful place. Same goes with warm colors; red, orange and yellow along with white, and all of them should be kept away from the edges. Oh, and when you’re squeezing colors onto your palette, squeeze and roll them up from the bottom.

9. Getting Ready for the Next Session

One of the top ten oil painting tips

Wow! You’ve poured your figurative heart and soul onto the canvas and you are wiped. Sipping a glass of wine is about the most exertion you can possibly withstand right now. Before sitting down with the wine, take said wine glass back over to the palette, set it down within arms reach and proceed to wipe down the palette removing any and all color or even the film left by colors. Even the slightest residue or film left on the palette will muddy the waters, or in this case the paint, the next time you’re ready to Picasso.

8. Dilute the Colors

One of the top ten oil painting tips

There are very few instances when oil colors should be used directly from the tube; they’re just too much. Diluting your colors correctly will leave you the vivid richness you’re looking for without overpowering your work. You’ll want to do a bit of experimenting, so slowly work some pure solvent (never oil) into your oil base paint and dab a bit here and there. You’ll know when you’re done.

7. Drawing on the Canvas

One of the top ten oil painting tips

A lot of painters, oil or otherwise, like to sketch out their soon-to-be-masterpiece as a guide. Good thinking, but don’t use charcoal or pencil to do it. You’d think with the thickness of oil paint it wouldn’t be a problem, but it is. The lead from a pencil or charcoal used for drawing will dirty your paint. And hey, you’ve worked too hard to have something like that dull the perfect colors. Use ink with a light touch instead.

6. Too Much Color!

One of the top ten oil painting tips

For many, half the fun of oil painting are the rich, beautiful colors they’re able to bring to the canvas. All the various hues and tones are what make the final product yours, and absolutely no one else’s. But there’s thing in oil painting called “mud” and as you might imagine, it ain’t good. Mud comes about for many reasons; dirty palettes being used again, dirty brushers, etc. One of the more common ways to get mudified (yeah, I just made that up, but it kind of works) is to use more than 2 oils, unless one of the oils is white. In other words, once you start throwing 3 oil paints together you’re likely to end up with little more than a mud pie.

5. Mixing Colors

One of the top ten oil painting tips

Ooh, now we’re getting to the fun stuff; mixing up a bunch of oil paint and see what happens! Now that’s fine, but let’s try and take a bit more methodical approach to one of the more important oil painting tips. Decide, in advance, exactly which colors you intend on combining for that perfect hue. Then, starting with the lightest take your palette knife and scoop an appropriate amount. Next, grab a scoop of the other color you intend on using add to the first and mix to your heart’s content. But mix in the one spot, you don’t want your new creation to run rampant like the plague; more of a controlled chaos is what we’re going for here.

4. Test Your Colors First

One of the top ten oil painting tips

Here’s a little trick to test your colors before tossing them, ala Jackson Pollock, onto your ready canvas. Grab 10 or 12 thick, construction paper like sheets. Now mix one or two colors (never more than 3, unless one of them is white) and apply to the thick paper. Note the color and approximate ratios used above your color test. These can be used endlessly as either a means of re-creating that same beautiful color, or as the basis for something just a little bit different. Tack ‘em up or hang in your studio for future reference; you’ll save a lot of time, anguish and oil paints.

3. Picking The Right Brush

One of the top ten oil painting tips

You’d think the more intricate, detailed work you’re considering for your canvas requires a more intricate, detailed brush; I mean that’s just common sense. But this art so right there you know we can’t rely entirely on common sense, at least not for oil painting. More than likely the right oil paint brush for the area you’re working is the one that looks just a little too big for the job. Small, detail-oriented brushes should be left for touch-up work only. And be careful not to overdo that. It’s way to common and one of the most frustrating experiences you’ll ever have as an artist.

2. Cleaning Up After an Oops

One of the top ten oil painting tips

It happens; we all know it happens. It looked great in your mind’s eye, but seeing it on canvas just isn’t working. Getting rid of an oops isn’t difficult if you do it in sequence, and you do it immediately. Take a palette knife and simply scrape the unwanted paint off. Now, this will leave a residue of sorts but it’s easily painted over after you wipe it off a rag dipped in solvent. Then, just let the canvas dry and you’re ready to nail it!

1. Be Yourself!

One of the top ten oil painting tips

After all these other great ideas, NOW you want me to be myself? Yeah, that’s right. These oil painting tips will help you get the basics; the baby steps before you start running. But you know what, there are a lot of right ways to run, and as long as you get from Point A to Point B in time, who cares how you got there? Painting is about expressing yourself, not what you’ve seen or the books you’ve read. Mastering techniques and oil painting tips is a given; after that it’s time to run wild like only you can.



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