14 Easy Oil Painting Ideas for Beginners (Step-By-Step)

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Are you stuck staring down that blank, white canvas?

These easy oil painting ideas for beginners will get your creative juices flowing. With each idea, watch top-notch oil painting tutorials to get inspired and walk you, step-by-step, through each idea. Explore concepts like brushwork, color mixing, and value while trying them out for yourself and improving your oil painting along the way!

And learn to simplify trickier subjects into your own, manageable, easy oil painting ideas, so any ideas you have can be within reach…

What You’ll Need to Get Started With Oil Painting

Supplies

You’ll want a selection of oil paints, oil painting brushes, a painting surface (canvas paper is affordable!), a palette, linseed oil and/or gamsol if you want to thin your paint and paper towels.

oil paint art

Read our article on oil painting supplies for beginners for a more in-depth breakdown.

Next, pick a simple subject from our easy oil painting ideas for beginners that interests you!

TIP: No matter the subject, start with thinner paint, the biggest shapes, and larger paint brushes first. This keeps proportions in check and prevents getting lost in small details too early.

What Is the Easiest Thing to Paint?

If you just started learning how to paint with oils, the easiest thing to paint is going to be any simple still life subject in a controlled environment, with a good, clear lightsource and shadows.

Boxes and spheres are the most typical easy oil painting ideas for beginners. Most foundation oil painting courses start students there. With many new concepts to keep track of while oil painting, you want to remove other obstacles and focus on the painting fundamentals.

To add interest, fruits and vegetables make excellent life painting references and easy oil painting ideas for beginners. They’re essentially boxes and spheres themselves, always on hand and simple enough for your goals as a beginner painter.

oil painting ideas abstract
Painting by Marjorie Hicks @ marjorieshicks on Instagram

Still Life Oil Painting Ideas for Beginners

Easy Oil Painting Ideas: Painting Fruit

Besides its simple form, fruit is also great for learning to truly observe the color.

We all know that a lemon is yellow and an orange is orange. That’s what we call local color.

easy things to paint with oil paints
Painting by Clare Bowen, @ clarebowenartist on Instagram

But when painting lemons, you’ll find that you’re not just going to use one tube of lemon yellow oil paint. Depending on the cool or warm light on your setup, you might add in a warmer cadmium yellow light and a cadmium red light to your mixtures, and use a full range of blues and greens.

Use these easy oil painting ideas for beginners to break through your ideas of what color something is “supposed” to be and train your eyes to observe what colors are really present.

Watch artist Clare Bowen paint and walk you through her approach step-by-step!

Painting Flowers

Watching flower painters on the television as a child is why I’m a painter today. Something is captivating about mimicking the movement of their petals through your brush marks onto canvas.

simple oil paintings
Painting by Clare Bowen, @ clarebowenartist on Instagram

Florals are a little more complex than fruit, but still fall under the category of easy oil painting ideas because they allow for looseness and energy in your painting!

simple oil painting ideas

Don’t worry about reproducing every petal exactly. Simplify and strive for the big shapes and general flow of the petals and leaves rather than for hyper-realism.

TIP: If you often get lost chasing the details, try squinting at your subject to focus on the overall structure, color, and value.

Once again, Clare Bowen has a beautiful tutorial with commentary, this time painting sunflowers.

 She explains that you should map out your composition first in thinner paint before going in with thicker paint.

She paints wet into wet, using a large flat hog bristle brush to create thick and thin lines and suggests looking for the shapes of the negative space around your subject to better define your subject.

Closer to the end, she goes for the smaller details with a rigger brush that is great for fine lines.

oil painting art brush

Note that she often uses an over-handed grip, rather than holding the brush like a pencil. This allows for a variety of brush strokes and more decisive marks.

Other Still Life Painting Ideas for Beginners

You don’t have to be limited to the classic fruit and florals for easy oil painting ideas for beginners. Try picking objects that are special to you!

Put interesting objects together to create a narrative or story within your paintings. Still life oil painting can be anything from dark and moody to fun and playful.

oil paintings easy
Painting by Dottie Lo Bue

Learn to Push Depth and Form in Your Paintings

If you’re having trouble achieving the realistic quality you want in your art, it may be due to not knowing how to use light, shadow, and edge to your advantage on the canvas.

Check out Evolve Artist’s FREE Mini Depth Course, taught by Kevin Murphy, to learn the fundamentals that will help you to practice pushing depth and volume in your work!

Landscape Oil Paintings

Landscape painting is a great way to practice different techniques for brush work and textures. You can loosen up and work more expressively.

easy oil painting flowers
Painting by Martin Campos, @ camposmartin030 on Instagram

You can work in a detailed and realistic style or as abstractly as you want, and it will still be recognizable as a landscape, so you can’t lose here.

oil painting ideas
Art by Dottie Lo Bue
TIP: Take photos of places you go that would make great inspiration to draw from for more easy oil painting ideas!

Paint Clouds With Oils

As far as easy oil painting ideas for beginners go, oil paint is perfect for painting clouds. You can easily blend the paint into the surrounding sky for subtlety and achieve full, fluffy clouds and airy wispiness.

Work wet-on-wet and play with softening your edges or go for rich impasto with a palette knife!

oil on canvas art
Painting by Chris Long, @ long_painter on Instagram

(Note how there is no use of titanium white straight from the tube in Chris Long’s clouds.)

Paint a Sunset With Oils

Sunsets are practically art already themselves, so they’re naturally a popular subject when coming up with easy oil painting ideas for beginners.

Have fun with color, saturation, and wild brush strokes across the sky. Don’t worry if you don’t have the world’s best drawing or painting skills.

 Sunsets are about different colors blending together and flowing from one to the next on the canvas, spanning across blues, pinks, purples, yellows, and oranges. You can make them as vibrant or as muted as you’d like and use a mixture of paint brushes and palette knives.

Chris Long, paints sunsets with gorgeous colors and textures:

easy oil painting for beginners
Painting by Chris Long, @ long_painter on Instagram

Ocean Oil Painting Ideas for Beginners

The ocean is another beloved landscape subject and is full of easy oil painting ideas for beginners because there are so many different types of ocean paintings.

simple oil painting for beginners
Paintings by Sachi Yoshimoto, @ sachiyoshimotoart on Instagram

You could focus on the water itself, shifting from blues to greens (or from ultramarine blue to phthalo blue!) and play with transparency.

 Or paint a beautiful sky reflected in waves swirling and crashing on the beach.

TIP: When painting sea foam, it might be tempting to reach for a tube of titanium white and call it a day, but reserve your whitest whites for the lightest highlights only! This will let the brightest highlights pop on your canvas.

Paint en Plein Air With Oil Paints

Put the previous landscape-themed easy oil painting ideas for beginners together and go out and paint a landscape en plein air! Find open fields, rolling hills, or even go to the sea for art inspiration.

oil paint paintings
Art by Dottie Lo Bue

While photographs are wonderful resources, working from life has some unique advantages. Photos tend to compress colors and distance and add contrast.

Working from life, you can practice observing landscape as it really is and translate it directly to the canvas. You also get to enjoy nature and fresh air!

TIP: Create an atmosphere by blurring things in the background with a soft brush or rag.

Artist Michael Chamberlain does a great job of showing his plein air process in this informative demonstration.

Challenges of Plein Air Painting

  1. Light changes quickly, so you have to work fast and be decisive.
  2. You have to carry your supplies with you and be careful to take everything when you leave.
  3. You might be exposed to sun, heat, wind, bugs, etc. so come prepared!
  4. Oil paint is slow drying, so it will be wet still when transporting it home.

What Do You Need to Plein Air Paint?

To plein air paint, you’ll need supplies that are lightweight and easy to transport to your dream painting spot.

Bring several small canvas panels or boards to paint on so you can work on multiple sketches in one session.

Aluminum plein air easels fold up to fit into a convenient carrying case with a strap that you can throw over your shoulder.

oil canvas board

Having so many views to paint can be overwhelming when choosing a composition. (Especially if you’re indecisive like me!) Carrying a viewfinder can help you decide between your plein air oil painting ideas and how to fit them onto your surface.

beginner oil painting tutorial

TIP: Bring a tube of burnt umber or burnt sienna acrylic paint along to start the first layers of your paintings since it dries much faster than slow drying oil.

Also useful is an airtight box to put your palette in afterward, so you can keep your paint for next time.

Look online for local plein air groups or paint with other friends for motivation, encouragement, and support!

Turning Plein Air Sketches Into Completed Paintings

Try taking your small paintings back home to reference for future paintings that you can work on for a more extended period.

things to oil paint
Painting by Clare Bowen, @ clarebowenartist on Instagram

Maybe you’d like to use a glazing technique or want to work on a larger canvas than you could drag around. With your prior oil sketching, you’ll be able to capture the energy from working plein air and bring it back with you.

Easy Abstract Oil Painting Ideas

Abstract painting can take endless forms, and there are many techniques and easy oil painting ideas for beginners or advanced painters. Abstraction can be sparse and minimal or chaotic with energetic marks.

oil painting drawing
Painting by Olga Favreau, @ olgafavreau on Instagram.

Whichever side you lean toward, you can play with color, shape, composition, and expressive mark-making techniques.

oil painting idea
Painting by Kate Burns, @  kate_burns_london on Instagram

Stick with brushes and a palette knife, or go outside the box and use other tools like squeegees or cake-piping bags to make unexpected marks and textures! Painter’s tape is a useful tool to make sharp lines and edges too.

  • Try painting abstractly with a thought, feeling, or theme in mind, and see what colors and marks you gravitate toward!

Use Oil Painting Sticks

Oil painting sticks are great for expressive marks, and if you like the feel and look of drawing techniques and want to try oil sketching.

oil painting ideas for beginners step by step
Painting by Petra Schott, @ petra.schott.art on Instagram

Petra Schott, an incredible abstract artist, and expressive mark-maker use oil sticks along with her oil paints to make colorful fields of varied marks.

Oil sticks are compressed pigment and oils that make up oil-soluble sticks that can be used alone or with oil paints and medium. You can add drawn marks to layers of your paintings with them.

oil painting inspiration

Just peel off the film on the oil sticks before you work with them!

Painting Animals

 Try painting your favorite animals, or use your pets as a muse! It may seem challenging, but just remember to simplify and go for the biggest shapes first, just as you would when painting anything else.

oil paintings images for beginners
Painting by Dottie Lo Bue

You don’t have to paint each strand of fur or feather. Some well-placed brush strokes suggest detail without painstakingly using the tiniest brush in the world. Sometimes less is more!

canvas oil painting ideas for beginners
Painting by Marjorie Hicks,  @ marjorieshicks on Instagram

Try Different Oil Painting Techniques

Now that you have ideas for what to paint, play with different oil painting approaches! You never know; you might find a technique that becomes a new favorite.

Alla Prima

Alla Prima is a wet-on-wet painting technique. Tackle the easy oil painting ideas for beginners and finish a painting in one session. Paint directly without worrying about layers and drying in between.

Scumbling

Scumbling is a dry brush technique that uses less oil and opaque paint on later layers of an oil painting. It’s often used to add the lightest highlights.

Glazing

Glazing utilizes thin layers of transparent oil paint over previously dried layers. It can shift, and depth, and unify colors.

Because previous layers must be dry, this technique takes longer and isn’t suited for quickly finishing the easy oil painting ideas for beginners.

Easy Oil Painting Ideas: Create Texture With the Impasto Technique

oil painting ideas on canvas
Painting by Yuliya Zaborovets. @ julie_z_art on Instagram

If you appreciate thicker paint and lucious oil paintings, the impasto technique is for you. Use paint straight from the tube or try liquin impasto medium to extend your paint further.

Palette knives are useful for scooping as much paint as you need and spread it across your canvas as if you’re sculpting.

Oil Portrait Tutorials

Portraits are often a challenge for beginners, leaving many newbies wondering, “Why is oil painting so hard!?” but the only way to master portraits is to start. And practice!

Here’s how you can make painting portraits a lot easier…

For some easy oil painting ideas for beginners to portraiture, you can start by painting monochrome portraits, focusing on only the values. Try working from photos or do a self-portrait from a mirror. This way, you can take your time, unlike with a live model.

And remember once again to simplify your subject into BIG SHAPES and planes first!

TIP: When mixing skin tones, always observe and don’t go into your painting with preconceived ideas of what skin should look like. Never just use a color from a tube that is labeled “flesh”.

There are infinite colors within skin tones of all shades, affected by light and shadow, so use your palette to reflect that!

If you’re nervous about tackling portraiture alone, try New Master’s Academy’s Portrait Painting for Beginner’s course and explore their extensive portrait oil painting tutorial list.

Learn From Painters You Admire

One of the best ways to learn is to watch other artists work through their portrait painting process. Nicolás Uribe holds live painting sessions weekly on “Our Painted Lives”, where you can watch his process in real-time and paint along.

It’s helpful to see decision-making happening because all painting is, for both beginners and masters, is a series of decisions! Everyone approaches their art differently, so watch as many artists paint as you can.

Need More Guidance for Oil Painting?

Did you enjoy this list of easy oil painting ideas?

Go on and experience capturing a sunset or making a flower last forever! You can paint at any level of experience and start building your confidence by practicing your skills in brushwork, color, and more.

If you feel like you need some more guidance in getting your painting ideas onto the canvas at the level you want as an ar tist, try Evolve Artist’s Free Pro Art Skills Mini Course.

It’ll help you figure out what skills you need to work on and enhance any of these easy oil painting ideas for beginners to the next level.

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easy oil painting ideas for beginners

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