Don’t let confusion about which supplies to get stop you from becoming an oil painter.
Many artists avoid oil painting because finding the right materials can be intimidating at first.
That’s why we’ve compiled this guide for which oil painting supplies are the most important, to help you start painting with the least hassle possible.
1. Oil Paints
The paint that you choose is a huge determining factor in the experience you’ll have.
When so many options are available, it can be tough to decide which oil paint to go with.
Oil paint varies in quality and price, so let’s talk about why that is and what makes artist quality oil paint so worthwhile.
Student-Grade vs. Artist-Grade Paint
Artist-grade paints are professional quality paints with a high ratio of high-quality pigments, with minimal to no fillers.
This way, you know you’re getting paint with the maximum saturation intensity.
Student-grade oil paint is cheaper and often made with less pigment and more fillers.
Winsor & Newton’s affordable Winton line chooses to opt for a high ratio of cheaper pigment over a low ratio of expensive pigments, so they are still considered highly pigmented paints compared to other student lines.
However, one school of thought practiced by courses like Evolve Artist, is that beginners should skip the student-grade oils altogether and make the investment to learn with high-quality paint from the start.
Which Colors Do You Need to Start Oil Painting?
The colors you need to start oil painting include warm and cool versions of red, blue, and yellow, and a tube of titanium-zinc white. This will give you a full range of oil paint colors to mix with.
There are tubes of oil paint available in every color imaginable, but you don’t need to purchase all the paint out there to get started.
You’ll be able to mix what you need from a carefully selected handful of colors.
With a warm and cool version of each of the primary colors, plus a white oil paint, you’ll be able to mix a full range of colors to start painting with.
You can choose any colors you’re drawn to, but a simple warm/cool primary palette example includes:
- Lemon Yellow or Cadmium Yellow Light (Cool yellow)
- Cadmium Yellow Medium (Warm yellow)
- Cadmium Red Light (Warm red)
- Quinacridone Magenta (Cool red)
- Ultramarine Blue (Warm blue)
- Prussian Blue (Cool blue)
- Titanium Zinc-White (Best white for mixing light tones without getting chalky.)
You can add a burnt umber or ivory black to mix darker darks, but you can manage without them for a more limited palette if you’re on a budget.
Oil Paint Starter Sets
Here are some of our favorite oil painting sets to get you started:
- Gamblin’s Artist Oil Colors are vibrant, handmade, professional-grade oils that are on the more affordable side of professional paint. (Read our full review of Gamblin oil paints.)
- Old Holland Classic Oil Colors’ highly pigmented high-end paints have been around since 1664 and were used by the old masters!
- Michael Harding Artist Oil Colors include no fillers in their top-of-the-line oils, so they’re as pigmented as possible.
- Winton is the best affordable student-quality paint, and this starter kit will get you oil painting right away. (Read our full Winton oil paints review.)
If you are still unsure what to get, learn more in-depth info about the best oil paints.
2. Paint Brushes
To start painting, it’s helpful to have at least a small selection of oil paint brushes in different sizes.
You can dedicate a brush to each local color and simply wipe it with a rag or paper towel before mixing the next, so your workflow is not interrupted.
What Types of Paint Brushes Are Best for Oil Painting?
The types of paint brushes that I personally prefer are long-handled natural bristle hog hair paint brushes. They are ideal because of their stiffness and ability to hold their shape while loaded with paint.
My personal favorite is Blick’s Masterstroke Interlocking Bristle Brushes because they are the perfect mix of stiff and flexible to hold enough paint to cover broad areas while still being easily maneuverable.
But there are plenty of other great brushes out there. Check out our review of the best brushes for oil painting for other alternatives.
Paint brushes come in varying shapes and sizes that create distinct types of marks.
The most commonly used brush head types include:
- Flats: A flat brush head is long and rectangular. They hold a lot of paint, and the broad flat sides are perfect for making big, bold marks. The edges can also be used for thinner lines, so they’re extremely versatile.
- Filberts: Filberts are flat too, but the top of the head is rounded rather than square. This softens the types of marks they make, making them suitable for subtle blending work.
- Brights: Bright brush heads are flat too, but shorter and more squared than traditional flat heads. They are often used for short, bold strokes.
- Rounds: Round brushes are more dimensional with a long, rounded head that usually ends in a point. You can use the point to make fine lines or the body of the brush to achieve broader marks.
- Fans: Fan brushes are flat, thin brushes that are fanned out in a wide arc. They can be used to softly blend or make distinct, streak-like marks.
Long-handled paint brushes are ideal for painting at home or in your studio.
Many beginner painters assume that holding your brush close to the brush head will give you more controlled marks, but the opposite is true.
Moving your grip further back on the brush handle will allow you to make more confident and accurate strokes.
The longer handles also force you to stand back further from your painting, so you don’t get too caught up in the details and can work with the whole painting in mind.
Short-handled ones can still be useful, especially for painting on the go. If you’re planning to plein air paint, they take up less space when transporting your supplies.
3. Palette Knives
Palette knives are dull blades used for color mixing and come in various shapes and sizes.
They are easily wiped clean and can be used to mix small or large amounts of paint quickly. Using them prevents you from contaminating your other colors with dirty brushes (I’m so guilty of this!).
Palette knives can also be used directly for painting, though!
You can apply your colors right to the canvas, thinly or thickly, creating smooth or textured applications and some extremely sharp edges.
And, if you put some brush strokes down that aren’t working out, you can use a palette knife to remove the paint by scraping down to the surface to start again.
Try this set if you’d like to see what kind of marks you can make with the different shapes of palette knives available.
The mixing palette is where each painting begins.
Because of this, you’ll want a palette with plenty of working space to mix colors.
You can use any surface that won’t absorb your paint. Many oil painters use a glass palette because it’s easy to scrape off excess paint. (Just be careful not to drop these!)
The easiest option is palette paper, because you don’t have to deal with a lengthy clean-up process.
It can be especially useful for painting classes, where there isn’t much time afterward to clean up.
Read more reviews on the best oil paint palettes.
5. Painting Surface
There are many different painting surfaces that you can use for oil painting; each has unique qualities.
The most common oil painting surfaces are stretched canvases, wooden panels, and canvas paper.
Canvas is stretched over a framework of wooden stretcher bars and then stapled, so it remains tight.
It has a noticeable texture/weave that grips paint well and is usually primed with white gesso for oil painting.
You can buy them pre-made and pre-primed from art supply stores at almost any canvas size. Alternatively, you can make your own canvases, although it takes some practice and instruction.
When you push your brush or palette knife against the surface to apply paint, there is some give to it, and then the canvas will bounce back slightly as you move away from it again.
The drawback to stretched canvas is that it’s possible to tear it if you work particularly roughly.
Wooden panels offer a more rigid painting surface. They need to be sealed and primed with gesso before painting them with oils to protect the wood and prevent it from soaking up and absorbing the oils.
Multiple layers of gesso primer are recommended for the best results. You can also sand the panel between each layer of gesso to make a super smooth and sleek surface that your paint will glide across.
Cradled wooden panels have supports on the back to prevent the wood from buckling and warping. They also create a wider profile that looks great when hung up to be displayed.
Canvas paper is a cheaper, low-stress, and less bulky alternative to other painting surfaces.
It’s a thick paper that has a canvas-like texture to it. It can be taped or clipped to a board to work on to allow a rigid surface and can be cut down to size if necessary.
Canvas paper is an excellent option for beginners because it allows you to practice as much as you want, without worrying about the pressure of potentially wasting a canvas.
If you want more information on canvases, check out our review of the best canvases for oil painting.
Solvent is a paint thinner that is useful for thinning paint from the tube.
It can be used for making thin washes for underpaintings or cleaning your brushes in the middle of the oil painting process.
In the past, many people used turpentine or mineral spirits as their paint thinner, which is very toxic when oil painting and produces fumes.
Even odorless mineral spirits are not truly odorless or fume-less and must only be used in well-ventilated areas.
But, some options are better and safer than others…
The safest solvent available is Gamblin’s artist-grade version of odorless mineral spirits called Gamsol.
It is formulated to be less toxic and to have less fumes than turpentine or mineral spirits that you can find in hardware stores.
It still requires good ventilation but will give you fewer headaches and be safer to use long-term! For this reason, most art schools now only allow Gamsol to be used in their studios.
Making the Most Out of Your Solvent
They can’t be poured down the drain for environmental and safety reasons.
And you would be throwing away perfectly good solvent! It can be recycled and reused again and again.
Simply let the dirty solvent sit in a jar, undisturbed for a few days.
All the paint particles will settle to the bottom of the jar, and you’ll be left with a clear, clean solvent on top.
Even though Gamsol is more expensive than other types of solvent, it will last ages if you do this, so the extra cost won’t be a problem.
Oil Painting mediums are a material you mix into your paint to change its consistency, flow, or drying time.
Learn more about how different oil mediums can be used to change drying times in our in-depth article on oil paint drying time.
Linseed oil is the most commonly used oil medium. Linseed oil is also the most widely used in the production of oil paint.
You can also mix linseed oil with Gamsol to make a faster-drying, thinner medium that improves the flow of your paint with less oil.
Easels are useful because they allow you more workspace on your table and allow you to see your paintings upright as you work.
While you can start oil painting without an easel, the benefit is you’ll be able to see your oil paintings at the angle they’re meant to be displayed at from start to finish, instead of horizontally on a flat surface.
You’ll also be able to easily step back and look at your painting from a distance to see if the image is working overall.
Easels for Home or the Studio
Sturdy, adjustable wooden H-Frame Easels are great for the home studio.
They let you work on a nice range of sizes and adjust the height and angle to your needs.
A tabletop easel like this one can be convenient if you wish to work solely on small paintings and don’t have space for a large easel.
Easels for Plein Air Painting
When you go out to paint in the wild, you need a lightweight and easy-to-carry easel to trek to those perfect oil painting spots without hassle.
Metal folding easels are easy to set up and come with a convenient carrying case that you can throw over your shoulder to keep your hands free.
Read our reviews on some of the best plein air easels.
Oil paint can make the most beautiful paintings and the most frustrating messes, so wearing an apron is definitely worth it to protect your clothes.
And nitrile gloves are helpful to combat mess too!
But if you get paint on your clothes or furniture, a tube of Kiss Off Stain Remover is a great backup to save the day.
10. Brush Cleaning Materials
Lastly, brush cleaning materials are some simple but essential supplies to have while oil painting.
Cleaning brushes properly will ensure they last longer and stay in good shape so your mark-making doesn’t suffer.
To clean your brushes, you can use a brush cleaner like Masters Brush Cleaner that conditions and restores them.
But all you really need is baby oil or safflower oil in a brush cleaning tank and some paper towels to remove the paint residue and keep your brushes clean.
Silicoil’s brush cleaning tank is the gentlest on your brushes. You can pour your cleaning oil into it and gently brush them against the springy coil to make sure everything is removed.
Then, use an oil-based soap, like fels naptha, and water to remove the leftover oil.
Dry your brushes with paper towels, and then you’re good to go for next time with happy, clean brushes.
If you want a more detailed run through read our step-by-step guide on how to clean oil paint brushes.
What To Do With Your New Oil Painting Supplies
Finding the right oil painting supplies can be time-consuming, but now you know what you need to get started!
And, if you want to learn more and get some helpful exercises to do with your new materials, check out Evolve Artist’s free Oil Painting for Beginner’s mini course.
They’ll show you how to handle a brush, guide you through mixing with your palette knives, and how to get started painting.