Oil Painting For Beginners - What Equipment Do I Need To Get Started?


Starting oil painting for the first time? Unsure of exactly what equipment is needed to get yourself set up? Our comprehensive blog will guide you through the essentials you will need for oil painting for the first time, as well as a few optional extras that may aid you on your oil painting journey!

Quality Oil Paint 

The first place to start is to get yourself set up with a good quality selection of oil paints. You don't need a large range of colours to get started! Ready-made oil paint is typically made up of two main ingredients - pigment and drying oil. Standard sizes are 37ml or 40ml, but some brands produce larger tubes varying from 60 - 200ml. As a beginner, we recommend starting with a 37ml tube, as this will allow you to get used to working with it and see if the brand of oil paint is working for you until you commit! 

A brand we can't recommend enough for anyone starting their journey in painting is Winsor & Newton Artist Oil Colour Paints. Dating back to 1832 originated by the old masters, Winsor & Newton offers affordable yet quality oil paints that perform well without being too intimidating. 

This oil paint contains linseed oil which is a binding agent which holds the pigment. The benefit of this is that it offers the highest possible pigment for every colour, allowing you to create beautifully bright and vibrant paintings. However, this can cause yellowing over several decades, but if you are just starting out this may not be a cause of concern! With a range of 168 colours to pick from, across both traditional shades and the best lightfast pigments (meaning not prone to discolour when exposed to light), you are spoilt for choice. 

Another brand you could try to send you on your painting journey is Daler Rowney, as their Georgian oils offer quick, reliable and even drying time. They are super easy to work with as a beginner, due to the fact that they can be used either directly from the tube with a brush or knife, or thinned to create a finer glaze. They are also low-odour making them a safer option for starting out!

Oil Painting Sets

As a beginner, an oil painting set may be a useful investment as it's a great way to explore an array of colours and also will typically work out more cost-effective. Having a readily available selection of colours will mean you have enough shades to create limitless paintings and mix shades! We recommend the Winsor & Newton Oil Colour Basic Set, which we currently have a further 20% on when you checkout! This affordable option contains 10 x 21ml tubes varying across the colour spectrum including both black and white to allow you to customise the brightness of your desired shade. 

For those starting their journey but looking for a more comprehensive kit that covers all the bases, we can't recommend the beautifully made Old Holland Classic Oil Set enough. Including 11 x 40ml colours, 3 brushes, 2 bottles of medium, and 2 palette cups you will be ready to get into the zone with this kit. The beauty of it as a travel kit is that comes in an easily transportable box and also contains a wooden palette for you to mix your oils on. It also contains a tin lined drawer, allowing the user to customise how they use their storage! This set currently has 20% off the checkout too!


oil painting for beginners


Oil paints can be handled with any brush, natural or synthetic, long-handled or short. We would recommend starting with hog bristle brushes in the shapes round, flat or filbert shapes - these are the basics that will allow you to customise your strokes. We would recommend investing in at least one of each shape. Filbert brushes are particularly great for beginners, as they are extremely versatile, fitting almost any painting style due to the fact it is a combination of both round and flat brushes. 

It is best to use stiffer brushes if you are looking for brush marks that remain visible on the canvas, while softer hairbrushes are more suited to blended passages of paint. When it comes to handle length, using a longer handle is often associated with oil painting and is a choice for many painters, allowing the painter to see the painting from a greater distance, meaning greater ability to see the whole of the painting as it emerges.  


A Surface To Paint On

Oil paint can be used on canvas, paper, board or panels. As a beginner, we would recommend starting on canvas as this is a great surface for oil painting. Typically it is made of either linen or cotton. Linen is tougher to prime and stretch properly, meaning it provides a smooth and stiff surface which makes a great base for oil painting, making it a good option for beginners. However, those looking for a lower price point, cotton is more affordable than linen and easier to stretch. 

It is important to note that the surface you paint on starting out should always be considered carefully because unlike other artist paint there is a risk of the oils causing the natural fibres of a surface to rot if they are not properly sealed or sized before oil paints are applied to them. If oil from the paint seeps into natural fibres, it can, over time cause issues such as the colour to flake away or create a yellow ring of oil around brush marks. Due to this, we would recommend starting out using a pre - primed surface. Here at Bird & Davis, we have a huge range of pre-primed linens and cottons for you to browse to start your journey. However, something to pay attention to is that acrylic or universally primed surfaces can feel less smooth in texture and more absorbent than oil primed surfaces. If working with an unprimed surface, you will need to apply a primer named Gesso which is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder that creates an optimal surface for oil painting surfaces. 


A Palette 

An essential tool you will need for your oil painting is a palette. You may know of this as a place to lay and mix out your shades, but it can also be referred to as your 'thinking ground' for your creative process. As you progress along your oil painting journey and play with new oil paints, you will find using a palette naturally acts as the place for you to judge the properties of the paint and make decisions. There are palettes available in classic wood, which may be what initially springs to mind when you think of an artist's palette, but you will also find them available in glass or plastic. You can also get disposable palettes, which are a great option for less cleaning and are perfect for on the go! For an easy option, while you learn, we recommend Winsor & Newton's Tear-Off Palette Pads, available in both A3 and A4 sizes. 

Something To Clean Your Brushes - Solvents & Cleaners

It is common practice for oil painters to use solvents such as turpentine, paint thinners and mineral spirits to rinse brushes at the end of their session. This is usually the quickest and most effective way to the most effective way to get even the toughest paint excess off brushes, however solvents are often toxic and aren't suitable for home or shared spaces due to the strong odour and potential hazards they can cause to health and the environment. We would recommend using a low odour alternative such as Zest-It Safe Oil Paint Dilutant and Brush Cleaner which can be used both to dilute your paints and as an effective brush cleaner. Click here to learn more about Zest-It as a safer alternative to solvents and how to use it. 

Once you have rinsed your brush, we would then recommend using ​​The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver, an artist brush cleaner to deeply clean your brushes. This is product gives no harmful odours or fumes and is safe to use in all environments from the home to classrooms! 


oil painting for beginners

Optional Extras


A paint medium is essentially a substance that is added to paint to alter its properties, such as the way the colour appears and behaves - allowing you to customise your paint to perform in the desired way. There are a variety of reasons why you may need to reach for a medium when working with oil paints - this could be for altering drying time, changing the sheen, the texture or how transparent it is. To learn more about mediums and which kind of medium is best for your oil painting, check out our Ultimate Guide To Mediums blog.


An easel is simply used to prop up and support your artwork if you would prefer to paint vertically. It can help you to create a more accurate painting since it allows you to see your artwork on the same plane as it would be hung, so can be helpful for some beginners! It also avoids dirtying the painting through spillages, crumbs or other surface items that could affect the overall quality of your painting. 

Organising Your Workplace 

To ensure you are setting yourself up for success with your oil painting, having a tidy and organised space is key! Get out all the oil paints and supplies you are planning to use for the session such as canvases, oil paintings, your palette, brush cleaners and any handy pots to use for mixing if you find them helpful. Make sure to set up in a well-ventilated area, especially if you are working with mediums or solvents at any time! 

It can be helpful to have any of your previous paintings or anything that is inspiring your current painting visible, as this will give you a chance to see and think about your work. Make sure you are in a room where the lighting allows good visibility on your painting and set up the ambience to make it relaxing for you! This could be music playing softly, a cup of tea or whatever allows you to feel comfortable to get into the zone. 

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