11 Tools You Need to Get Started in Oil Painting

Inspired by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Raphael? Who isn't? While most of us will never paint like these titans, it's an awesome challenge to learn how to oil paint like the masters .

On the other hand, oil painting supplies don't come cheap. Here's the lowdown on what you really need.

1. Paint


You'll need oil paint, obviously. But what type, and what colors? First of all, make sure you're buying oil paint and not water-soluble oil paint. (The latter is a great product, but not what we're talking about here!) Then, look for these shades:


  • Titanium White
  • Ivory Black
  • Cadmium Red
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow

Not Vital, but Nice to Have

A smaller tube of Phthalo Blue is helpful, but it's a fairly powerful color, so you probably won't need a large tube. A couple of greens, such as Viridian, and some nice, earthy browns such as Burnt Sienna, Burnt Ochre, Raw Sienna and Raw Ochre are also good to have.

2. Brushes

You don't need to break the bank and buy every single type of brush when you're just getting started with oil paint. Once you start painting, you'll quickly learn what shapes and sizes of brush you like best. Just grab a few round brushes in small, medium and large sizes for now.

3. Turpentine or Mineral Spirits

With oil paint, you don't clean your brushes in water; instead, you use a paint thinning solution. While "turpentine" is a catchall phrase for this substance, mixtures of odorless mineral spirits are a common substitute.

4. A Jar for Cleaning Brushes

This is how you'll store your thinning solution and clean your brushes as you go. A jar with a coil inside (sometimes called "silicoil") is ideal. You can fill it with your turpentine or mineral spirit mixture, and gently rub the bristles of the brush against the coil to remove excess paint. Look for one at your art supply store.

5. Linseed Oil or Oil Medium

Many beginners get confused about the difference between linseed oil (or oil media such as galkyd medium) and turpentine or mineral spirits. Like the mineral spirits, linseed oil will dilute oil paint. However, it's a softer solution that you can use to thin out your paints without losing their texture. You'll use linseed oil almost as you would use water to thin watercolor paint.

6. Newsprint or Rags

You gotta dry off those brushes after you clean them! Cloths are great for this, but depending on how frequently you're changing colors, you may get more mileage out of a good 'ol newspaper.

7. Palette

You don't need to be a bearded European artist to use a palette. Really, it's just the term for the surface upon which you mix your paint. It can be a large piece of glass or ceramic, or even a disposable book of palette pages sold at art supply stores.

Be sure that it's large enough for what you're doing, though. You want plenty of room to mix colors and "spread out" on the palette without feeling crowded. A good rule of thumb is to have a palette space that is about half the size of your finished canvas.

8. Painting Surface


When you're ready to paint in oil, you'll need something to paint on. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't have to be canvas (though you can stretch your own canvases for oil or acrylic painting — an affordable and customizable option). As long as you prime your surface with gesso, you can actually use just about anything.

9. Pencils

Some painters prefer to do their "sketch" in paint directly on the work surface, but others prefer pencil for mapping out shapes. Because oil paint is opaque, you can use a soft, broad-tipped pencil such as a charcoal pencil and then paint right over it with no harm done.

10. Easel

Many, but not all artists, prefer to paint with an easel. It's not required, but it may help you from hunching while you paint. If you're just getting started, try to find one secondhand or an inexpensive tabletop option. The real deal can be expensive, so make sure this hobby sticks before investing.

11. Painting Clothes

It's inevitable that you'll get spotted with paint at some time or another. So don't wear anything that you don't want to start looking "artistic" when you are painting with oils! You've been warned.

Learn More Now

Discover more about the necessary tools and different techniques in our class Paint & Palette Essentials: A Beginner's Guide to Oil Painting .

Meet your instructor, fine artist and author Jay Senetchko. You'll start with a careful introduction to basic oil palettes, learning about the properties and colors of paint, various mediums and more. Next, Jay helps you start your first study as you block in the basic forms of your still life and develop the values.

November 13, 2018
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11 Tools You Need to Get Started in Oil Painting