There are so many oil painting supplies, that artists can use nowadays. Some of them are necessary, but some of them are optional. I will help you to make your own oil painting supply list according to your goals and I hope my recommendations will help you to save some money and encourage you to start painting. It is a mistake to think that you need all the supplies to start painting, don’t let this stop you from doing art. I remember my very first oil painting, that I painted on my laps because I didn’t have a chance to buy an easel. Was it messy and inconvenient? Yes, it was. But who knows, would I have become an artist at all if I hadn’t painted that artwork? I had a strong feeling in my heart, that pushed me to create. And I want you to listen to yours because it’s there for a reason. This article is mostly for beginners, but established artists may find something useful too. I share my knowledge only from my experience, that’s why you can make your adjustments according to your visions. I created two oil painting supply lists: a short list for artists on a budget and a full list of oil painting supplies.
Canvas (pre-primed, stretched canvas or canvas board)
Oil Paints (Palette of 6 paints will be enough)
Paint Solvent, Mediums (Turpentine, Linseed Oil, Retouch Varnish)
Paint Brushes (3 round paint brushes of different sizes will be enough)
Plastic Palette Knife (regular plastic knife)
Plastic or Paper Palette
Jars to hold your solvent and oil medium (a mug or empty plastic cup from yogurt can be used)
Paper or cloth rags (newspapers)
The way to clean your brushes (use Turpentine that you have left)
Canvas (premium quality pre-primed stretched canvas or raw canvas)
Gesso (if you choose raw canvas)
Oil Paints (whole palette that you need)
Paint Solvent, Mediums
Paint Brushes (different sizes and forms)
Metal Palette Knives
Stainless Steel Palette Cups (Paint & Solvent Cups)
Vine Charcoal Stick
Solvent to clean your brushes
There are many surfaces that you can use for oil painting (paper, wood, masonite boards, etc.), but canvas is the most common and the most suitable.
You can find two types of canvases: pre-primed and raw canvases. Also, you can buy a stretched canvas or you can make a canvas yourself. For centuries raw canvases are believed to be the best choice by professional artists. But from my experience, nowadays there are so many pre-primed, stretched canvases of high quality on a market, that it makes them leaders among others. If you choose this type of canvases, you don’t need to worry about any preparations at all, you can focus on creating art. Of course, if you are a professional artist and you enjoy making a canvas yourself or you can’t find the size of a canvas you need, you can see the beauty of this process and time spent won’t matter.
If you choose a raw canvas, you should coat it with Gesso with a big flat brush (two coats should be enough).
For beginners and artists on a budget, I recommend a pre-primed, stretched canvas or a canvas board. There are some affordable stretched canvases in the stores, that you can find. Don’t buy too expensive ones for your first artworks, let yourself experiment and explore the world of oil painting. Canvas boards do not have good archival quality as they tend to bend if not framed, but they are cheap and don’t take up much space in your workspace.
2. Oil Paints
Oil Paint is one of the main things, that you need for painting. There are so many brands and types of oil paints available in the stores nowadays, that you can easily be lost. The most important thing, that you should pay attention to, is the quality of oils. There are two types of qualities of oil paints: student quality and artist quality. The student quality paint is cheaper, but it has noticeably poorer performance because it contains fewer pigments and more fillers. So, when you choose an oil paint, don’t buy the cheapest one.
But you can save some money on the Palette choosing the colors wisely. If you are a beginner, I recommend starting with 6 colors, each one in 40ml tubes, except for white oil paint, that you need always more, so 60ml (and more) of white paint will be preferable. Having just a few colors will teach you how to mix the colors and make your own shades. When you choose oil paints for your palette, give the preference to less opaque colors, they will be easier to mix.
So, here is a starter palette for oil painting:
Titanium White (Titanium-Zinc is less opaque and yellowish than Titanium, because of added Zinc)
3. Paint Solvent and Mediums
Paint solvent is used to break down the oil in the paint. It is a thinner for the oils, it makes them easier to spread. There are different solvents, that you can find, but all of them have different qualities. Poor quality solvent can be bad for your health because you are smelling it while you are working. I recommend Rectified Turpentine (Rectified Spirit of Turpentine), which is made solely from the resin of Pine trees which gives it a clean, pleasant scent.
Mediums are used to alter the state of the paint, such as transparency, consistency, drying time, etc. One of the main mediums is an oil medium. There are many different types of drying oils to use in oil painting, Purified Linseed oil is the most popular. It increases the fluidity of the paint, increase the transparency of it and slow the drying time. All linseed oil variants tend to dry with a slightly yellowish tinge and dry to a high gloss.
Optionally, you can find already mixed mediums for artists, such as J.G. Vibert Painting Medium or Venetien Medium. Each one contains different oils and ingredients, that slows the drying time or do the opposite, make the layers of paint dry faster, change the transparency and the quality of paint. That’s why read carefully about the mediums, that you choose.
I added Retouch Varnish to the list of mediums, even though it is not a medium technically. Let me explain why. Retouch Varnish is incredibly useful in multi-layered painting. As you know, artists have to dry each paint layer before applying the next one, to prevent the painting from cracking and let it be well preserved for years. Before painting over a completely dried surface, you can apply a thin layer of Retouching Varnish, it will improve the adhesion between the layers. Also, Retouching Varnish can solve the issue of dull, sunken passages of colors, if you apply a thin layer of the Varnish. And finally, you can use Retouch Varnish as a Temporary Protective Varnish for paintings that were recently completed, already touch-dry. A proper Final Varnish (such as Dammar Varnish) should be applied only after the drying time of the painting (18-24 months) has passed.
For beginners, I recommend starting with Rectified Turpentine, Purified Linseed oil and Retouch Varnish.
4. Paint Brushes
Paint Brushes come in different shapes and sizes. Also, some of them are cheaper like synthetic brushes, others are more expensive, such as natural ones. Of course, when you are a beginner, you don’t want to spend too much on paint brushes, as you are still learning. But you should remember that cheap brushes tend to lose their shape faster. That’s why you might spend even more buying cheap brushes, because of the necessity of replacing the old ones. I would recommend starting with quality synthetic brushes, some brands make them no worse than natural ones, their prices are not so high and they will last longer than cheap synthetic.
The best sizes and shapes depend on your painting style and goals. Brands of paint brushes are so different, that’s why the sizes can vary from one another. But in general, there are small, medium and large sizes. For beginners, three brushes will be enough, I recommend to have one small brush, one medium and one large brushes. There are different shapes of paint brushes: round, filbert and flat. Each one has a different purpose. Flat and filbert brushes are good for obtaining different kinds of brushstrokes, thanks to their versatility. Round brushes are perfect for working on details. Also, there are fan brushes. They are good for blending, but be careful with them.
You will need a palette, on which you can hold and mix oil paints. There are different types of palettes nowadays, which can be cheaper or more expensive. They can be made of wood, glass, plastic or paper. One of the best is considered to be airtight palettes. They keep the paint wet for a few days and make easier to transport the paint on the surface. Many artists use glass palettes, they are very sleek and make cleanup easy.
As a beginner, you can use disposable plastic or paper palettes. They are significantly cheaper and convenient. Also, you can be very creative, and make a palette by yourself. I used to make a palette even from a plastic cup from yogurt, by cutting the edges and making it like a plate.
6. Palette Knives
You can use palette knives not just for mixing colors on your palette, but also for applying textured strokes of paint, while you are using an impasto technique. The palette knife should be firm yet flexible. Of course, if you just start oil painting for the first time, you can try affordable plastic knives for mixing colors. Also, you can try a regular disposable plastic knife from the kitchen for mixing oil paints. But if you want to try painting with a palette knife, I recommend using metal palette knives. They are of high quality but cost a little bit more.
An Easel is an optional painting supply, especially for beginners. Of course, it makes the painting more convenient and easier, when you have your canvas propped up on an easel. But if you can’t afford it now, don’t worry about it. If a canvas is not big, you can try to paint horizontally on a table, or hold it on your laps, while the back of the canvas is leaned against the table. In this case, you need to cover your table or laps with paper towels or newspapers. If you are planning to paint a big artwork, you can simply place it on the floor, leaning against the wall.
8. Painting Accessories
Here are some accessories which you need for oil painting:
Stainless Steel Palette Cups (Paint & Solvent Cups). You can use jars to hold your solvent and oil medium. Also, a mug or empty plastic cups from yogurt can be used. All these options are cheap and not worse than professional palette cups.
A charcoal pencil. If you are a beginner, I recommend sketching out the picture on a canvas before you start to paint with oils. A charcoal pencil works better than graphite one on the texture of a canvas. The sketching will help you to outline the drawing so you can imagine the future painting. If you are a professional artist, you can do preliminary sketches in the paint with a paint brush.
Paper or cloth towels. You will need some towels for wiping any excess paint from your brushes or cleaning your brushes and hands. You can use just simple rags, that you can find in your house. Also, newspapers can be useful, if you working on a floor or without an easel.
9. The way to clean your brushes
The final step is to clean your brushes after painting. I recommend to clean your paint brushes at the end of the day, so this way the paint left on a brush won’t dry fully and it won’t make the cleaning your brush difficult. You can clean your paint brush with a bar of regular soap and water. But if it’s not enough, you can use Turpentine left or you can purchase a professional solvent in a store for cleaning your paint brushes.
I hope this article was helpful. If you are interested in learning more, please take a look at my online art classes. I will be happy to help you with any painting problems that you have.