The Complete Guide to Oil Painting

Oil Painting Materials

As painters, we always have that passion for trying other mediums of art that may define our thoughts and imaginations, while fully enhancing our creativity in creating a beautiful art piece.

Centuries have passed, and there’s still that one type of art medium that’s been widely used by many different artists, both beginners, and professionals, around and the world and by the rest of humanity’s history, and that is Oil Painting.

Oil Painting – the medium of the master painters


It’s known to many artists of today and is well respected as the medium the master painters used centuries ago.  It breathes life into every painting in a way that no other medium can compete with, as well as being a medium that will stand the test of time when preserved well.

Oil painting is an amazing medium of art that has yet to be known by everyone, that’s why today, we’re going to discuss the beauty of transcending your art with Oil Painting, and basically everything that you should know about the medium!

What is Oil painting?


Oil painting, in which coloured pigments are suspended in oil, was first used in Northern Europe for panel paintings in the 13th century and much later in Italy. Oil paint dries slowly, can be mixed on canvas, thinned to transparency, or textured.

This flexibility has made it a favourite medium for artists for centuries. Initially, the artists made their own; Premixed paints in sealable containers and were only commercially available in the 1840s.

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Using oil paints in contemporary times


Bella’s Art Studio has been using Oil Painting as one of its most excellent mediums in making contemporary artworks that respect the traditions of painting, however also fit into the trends of modern society.

Australian Artist Bella offers paintings for sale, which are composed in a combination of “traditional and contemporary art styles”. To create a magnificent art piece, Bella’s Art Studio founder, Isabella Karolewicz, has been using different art styles such as “Oil Painting” since it really defines her art most excitingly.

She states;

I spent many years developing my artistic technique using the principles of oil painting.  It was so important to learn the foundations of painting through this medium which gave me the ability to transform and begin using different mediums.  Even though I may use acrylic paints in an abstract way, I always have the principles of traditional painting in the back of my mind, making it easier to transition to new mediums and painting styles.

Even though oil painting is quite a traditional medium to work with, it still has a great importance to the artists of contemporary society.

Australian Artist

The Basics of Oil Painting

Learning oil painting can take many years.  Here are some points outlining the basics of oil painting.

How to blend Oil Paint

The kind of incredible blends you can get with oil paint isn’t possible with other conventional means. Every brushstroke that you will make with oil painting should stand out perfectly with the least amount of effort, and with it, the colours will blend evenly and perfectly.

Due to the excellent blends, oil painting can achieve realistic lighting and texture that is not possible with anything else. High flexibility with medium oil paint can be mixed with many types of solvents and substrates that help you achieve unmatched versatility.

You can control each characteristic of the oil painting using a kind of support. Crucial factors such as texture, saturation, drying time, flow rate, mixing, etc. can be manipulated using certain mixing mediums.  No other medium such as watercolours and acrylics can achieve this level of control like oil paints.

Colour Mixing


To give you an idea of how colour mixing works for oil painting, this is a list provided by Australian artist Isabella.  This list includes her favourite oil painting colours that she uses in all her paintings;

  • Titanium White
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Magenta
  • Cadmium Red
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Quinacridone Maroon
  • Viridian
  • Cerulean Blue
  • French Ultramarine
  • Phthalo Blue
  •  Raw Sienna
  • Vandyke Brown
  • Burnt Umber
  • Raw Umber
  • Ivory Black

The difference between ‘Opaque’ and ‘Transparent’ Colours

Opaque oil colours compared to transparent

In the following list of colours, the word ‘Opaque’ refers to paint being a solid colour and not translucent or transparent. So when you use these paints they cover the underlying surface completely. Compared to ‘transparent’ paints, when you use this type of paint, you can see the surface colour underneath, making them good to use for ‘glazes’ or ‘tinting’.

Sometimes oil paints have ‘unusual’ names, so here we have compiled a list of which colour oil paints relate to the generalised colours.


Oil Painting Mediums

These are some characteristics of oil painting that distinguish it from other conventional mediums. These mediums for oil painting include diluents and thinners such as; “turpentine and mineral spirits,” as well as linseed oils and beeswax medium. All of these features provide immense control, freedom, and versatility that remains unmatched to this day. The two most important mediums that you will need to start with oils are;

  • Mineral Turpentine –Used to rinse and clean brushes.  A solvent that when mixed with oil paints, thins out the paint.  
  • Linseed Oil – Reduces the consistency of the paint and really slows down the drying of the paint.

Oil Painting Materials

Here’s the list that you should keep in mind before starting your venture with oil painting.

  1. Oil paints of your choosing. Australian Artist Bella’s personal favourite brands are;
    Art Spectrum 
    Winsor & Newton Winton Oils 
  2. Painting brushes
  3. Turpentine (AKA paint thinner used to clean brushes)
  4. Cloth – used to dry brushes.
  5. Linseed oil
  6. A pencil – Used to outline the initial drawing of your painting.
  7. A painter’s palette
  8. Comfortable, messy clothes
  9. A painter’s easel
  10. Gloves – To put on whilst cleaning/washing up after oil paints

The overall process of ‘Building Layers’

There are many different ways to use oil paint.  However, building layers is a technique often used that was inspired by the master painters of the past.

Make sure the first coat is applied lean. For this purpose, the paint must be diluted with “oil”.  The oil in the top layer will be absorbed by the lean layer underneath it, and it will be fixed in the many pores during drying. This will produce excellent adhesion between the two layers.

The principle of “fat over lean” also guarantees the absorption of tension between the different paint layers. A painting is exposed continuously to movement, on the one hand, by the flexibility of the ground, like a stretched canvas, and by fluctuations in temperature and humidity, on the other. Therefore, to ensure the durability of the paint, it is essential that all layers of paint can absorb these movements.

The more oil a layer of paint contains, the more elastic it will be when dry. Of course, it depends on the artist how many layers are applied when building a painting. However, with more oil added, it means the painting will take longer to dry. Be careful not to mix too much oil into the paints, as it may dry with a ‘yellowish tint’. It’s advisable to dilute the paint with turpentine and linseed oil mixed together for the first coat. The more solvent, the thinner the paint layer.  


If you would like to learn more about the process of oil painting, Bella is working on a course to release to the artists who follow her.  Sign up to her mailing list to be the first to know! 


FAQs about Oil Painting


Why use oil paints?

The main advantages of oil paints are the flexibility and depth of colour compared to other mediums such as acrylics. They can be applied in different ways, from beautiful enamels diluted with oil to dense and thick fillings. Because they are slow to dry, artists can continue to paint much longer than other types of paint.

Is oil painting more complicated?

Painting is difficult! … Oil painting is no more difficult than painting with another medium. So, if you enjoy immersing yourself in watercolour, pastel or acrylic, you should expect the same level of difficulty in oils. Oil paints may just be a little more of a hassle to clean up after. As the brushes and surfaces used need to be cleaned thoroughly.

Is oil painting toxic?

Most oil paints are not toxic, but it would be best to take precaution. Oil paint is a pigment and oil, and most dyes are perfectly safe. There are, of course, toxic substances, such as white lead, and cobalt. 

If you’re asking about Cadmium, then you’re probably wondering if it’s safe or not. Well, Cadmium itself is a heavy metal and is toxic, but cadmium pigments are not classified as hazardous for use according to the EC classification. The level of soluble cadmium in pigments is so low that danger warnings are not necessary and do not represent a higher risk after ingestion or inhalation than other types of pigments.

Overall, it would be a good idea to keep oil paints off your skin.  Even when you are cleaning your brushes, keep in mind that turpentine is not the greatest substance to be washing your hands in, therefore we would recommend you wear gloves for washing up.

Does oil painting require a lot of material?

Oil paintings are considered to require a little more materials than other mediums. For example, if you wanted to do watercolour painting, all you would need is some paper, watercolours, water and brushes. Which makes watercolours a great medium to travel with! 

However with oil painting, you need to make sure you are in a suitable environment where there is decent air circulation. Instead of using water to clean your brushes, you will need turpentine. Instead of painting on paper you will need a stretched canvas or canvas mounted on a board. You most likely also need other mixing mediums as well.

Oil Painting for Beginners

A budding footballer should not expect to throw the ball like Neymar; instead, you must first learn to dribble. Likewise, an aspiring painter should not invest too much money and time in painting on large canvases, instead you start with something small and try a simple oil painting until you get better over time!

Start with a small canvas and test its features and surfaces. You may prefer canvas that is more harsh, or more soft and smooth. It will also help you to feel the colours of your palette.

Oil Painting Tips for Beginners

Here are some tips to help you get through the basics of oil painting

• Begin sketching the fine line of the oil painting puzzle.
• Tone your canvas with a tint colour such as ‘Raw Umber’. 
• Begin with thick layers slowly building up to thicker layers.
• Use dry brushes to create a texture. 
• Work on an already dry canvas. 
• Invest funds on professional painting materials rather than canvas initially. 
• Vary and explore the colours to generate more interest.

Visit an Oil Painting gallery

Oil painting galleries offer a lot of grand painting designs made with oil and paint as one medium. Visiting these types of galleries will help you define your art and give you the right motivation to continue or to pursue this type of artistic venture.

There’s one studio/gallery in Australia that provides top-quality oil painting exhibits at its best, and that is Bella’s Art Studio. With their collection of Bella’s majestic art pieces that are mostly crafted with the use of acrylic and oil paintings, you’ll definitely feel motivated to continue your passion and to pursue your dreams as an artist.  Bella also offers oil paintings for sale online.

Daylesford Artists painting hanging on wall

Oil Painting Basic Techniques

If you are eager to get started right away, here are some basic oil painting technique to get you started; 

1. Hold the brush correctly.
2. Master the orientation of your brush. 
3. Vary your pressure. 
4. Take advantage of the power of the medium to paint.
5. Keep your colours pure. 
6. Use mixtures of two colours, if possible. 
7. Do not mix in excess. 
8. Don’t skimp on the paint.
9. Try the brush wet-on-wet versus dry.
10. Don’t forget the spatula.

Oil Painting Tutorials

If you want to learn to paint in oil, here are some of the oil painting techniques that you could gather inspiration from. You really don’t have to use all these techniques in all of your paintings, but it is essential to know them at least. Bella’s Art Studio is the right place to start. Australian artist Bella is currently working on an oil painting course to teach fellow artists about the traditional techniques of oil painting. Sign up below to join!



Oil painting is a very complicated business, and even professionals sometimes have problems with it. This is why we encourage you to continue experimenting with the tools, techniques, and colours. Find what works for you, what inspires you, and if you’re finally inspired to work on a piece with the use of oil painting, go for it!

A big part of being an artist is observing the world through an artist’s eye, always looking for beautiful scenes, new light, and unique themes to paint. Take this painting by Bella below as an example.  This beautiful oil painting called ‘Twin Flame” was inspired by the tragic 2019/2020 Australian Bush Fires.

Australian Bushfire painting

On that note, it’s time to pack a sketchbook, and take your camera with you where ever you go to photograph what catches your eye and gather inspiration for your next oil painting. Knowing how to paint is one thing, know WHAT to paint is a whole other discussion!

Bella's Art Studio