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Saturday, November 30, 2013

How Do I Begin Painting In Acrylics or Oils?

Where Do I Begin????

Where or how to begin painting is the question that sends many aspiring painter's heads into a tailspin. Aspiring oil and acrylic painters have many, many questions. If you are anything like me, it can be overwhelming, sometimes to the point that it scares you away. You finally took the plunge and bought that kit. You may have bought an acrylics kit or an oil paint kit that has some oil paints and some linseed oil and probably a few brushes and if your lucky a small how to booklet that leaves you with even more questions that you had in the first place. I found myself in that very situation. It's true, I collected paint brushes for years. I'd by them with plans to paint, but then I would get overwhelmed with how to mix the paints, and there the paint brushes sit.

So you are ready to begin painting. Here is what you will need.

OIL Painting
Oil Paints
Linseed Oil
Oil Paint Thinner
*Baby Oil, Murphy's soap or turpentine for clean up
Paper towels or rags
Primed canvas or hardboard
Brush Washer

Acrylic paints
Cup of water for rinsing brushes
Towel or rag to blot brushes
Spray bottle
Primed canvas or hardboard

First of all, let me back up a bit. one very important thing I highly recommend is to learn to draw. It will help you so much in your painting endeavors. Some insight on color theory helps too, but you may learn as you go. Now, what I am going to attempt to do here is shed some light on all of this.

First of all, I'm going to explain the difference between oil paints and Acrylics.


  • Mixes with water or a medium for acrylic-also referred to as medium
  • Dries quickly
  • May be used on multiple surfaces
  • Canvas
  • Crafts
  • Windows (for permanent display)
  • Easy Cleanup
  • Easy on wallet

OIL PAINT                                                                       


  • Must be applied to a primed surface 
  • May be applied straight from the tube or mixed with solvent (thinner) and oil-also referred to as medium
  • Varnish may be added to your 
  • Takes a long time to dry
  • More expensive
  • More cleanup

How do you decide what kind of paint you would like to use? 

This is a matter of personal preference and cost if you are on a limited budget. Typically oil painting supplies are more costly. You may want to give them both a try first. Some artists may disagree with me on this, but I would highly recommend using a low cost paint to begin with. After all, you are learning and experimenting. It's not likely to be a masterpiece at this point.

What are mediums about?

For me, I had one of  those beginner oil painting sets. It only came with Linseed oil. You could easily get into trouble without solvent. It's the whole Fat over Lean thing. Which, in oil painting, if this rule isn't followed, the paint will eventually crack and peel because the top layers dry faster than the bottom layers. Oil paint alone is fat, if you add thinner to it, it makes it leaner, if you add Linseed Oil, it makes it leaner.  Note there are other oils such as Poppy, Safflower, Stand oil, etc. Linseed oil comes in various varieties. I'm not going to get into all that right now, but just stick with Linseed Oil for Oil painting.

Acrylics vs. Oils
For me, although I do occasionally use Acrylics, (my blog background is acrylics) I prefer Oil paint because I like the flexibility. It dries slower allowing me to take my time to perfect my painting. Acrylics tend to dry so fast that I find them hard to work with, especially when it comes to blending and feathering. However, some artists find  Acrylics more suitable for their preference and it works great, especially if you are doing abstract work with drips and runs.

If you want to experiment with Acrylics, I recommend getting a spray bottle to frequently spritz your work with to allow blending and keep the paint from drying so quickly. You can add retarding mediums that slow the drying, but I find they don't do that much for me, maybe give me another 5 minutes.

Also, make sure your brushes are for the proper paint. Watercolor brushes will simply clump together and eventually dissolve if you are using oil paints.

Oil Paint

I'm going to go more into depth about oil painting because that is what I'm most familiar with and it gets a little technical, but if you just get the Fat Over Lean rule down, you can get started.  

                        Here is the simple Fat Over Lean Rule                                   

Thus, the more thinner you add to your paint, the leaner it is. It is recommended that you buy professional thinner, not Mineral Spirits from the hardware store. It doesn't work the same. Also, using straight thinner will cause your paint to be powdery. 75% thinner is the lowest I have used, and I use it very little. This is for your initial layer, called a wash.

Are solvents dangerous? 

But they can be used safely. Solvents are what I would call a necessary evil unless you paint straight from the tube which is tough and expensive for a beginner. Believe it or not,  I am an environmentally conscious person, I do not like chemicals,  I use them as little as possible

Here are a few simple rules for using solvent
1. Work in a ventilated area. Just cracking a window for a bit helps. 
2. Do not use around heat, fire, flames, (hot lamps) etc.
3. Protect your hands from absorbing solvent. Use special gloves for artists if your hands will be in contact with solvent. 
4. Do not leave solvent laden materials lying around. Remove them to a safe area such as the outside garbage. 

*Note that solvents do dissipate quickly.

 So leaving your window cracked for just a little while makes a world of difference. It can be dangerous to inhale the chemicals so please make sure you have proper ventillation or wear a mask. You may opt for Natural Turpenoid or odorless thinner such as this.

What kind of paint should I use? 

Again, that is a matter of preference: Also, if you take a course, they will have a supply list with recommended colors and other supplies. 

I recommend buying a low cost paint for beginners as you are learning how the paint glides, how to make your brush work for you, mixing colors. Keep in mind you will make mistakes and that is okay. It's part of learning, so don't splurge on expensive paints until you start to master your techniques. I highly recommend SOHO oil Paint from Jerry's Artarama. Here is a link:
I do not get paid for recommending any products, but these are what worked for me. You may want to compare to your local art and hobby store or other online suppliers such as Rex Art, Dick Blick and Mister art.  I have found SOHO paints extremely affordable and my personal experience was fantastic. Later, you may want to look into Grumbacher, Gamlin, Lukas, Winsor and Newton, or whatever works. You may find that you end up buying a certain brand because another manufacturer doesn't carry the color you need  


Make sure your brushes are for the type of paint you will be using. Some oil painting brushes have bit of a hard coating to preserve their shape. These may need rinsed in turpentine before you begin. Again, you may want to buy less expensive ones (not necessarily the cheapest) to start with, but they may shed hairs or not last long. I will get into types of brushes in another discussion. 


This can be a big debate among artists when it comes to care for brushes after oil painting. 
For acrylics you may rinse in water then wash with dish soap or Murphy's Oil soap. When painting in acrylics, you will need to keep your brushes rinsed in between colors to prevent the color from drying and caking on them.

The photo above is a brush washer. They come in many shapes and sizes. You can use turpentine in this, but I use baby oil in mine. It rinses the paint right out and I just dry off the oil on a towel. This can be a big debate among artist, but it works for me and I'm using less and reducing solvent exposure. When I am finished, I love cleaning my brushes real good in Murphy's Oil Soap. You can turn them upside down to dry, to keep from damaging the bristles, but you may cause water to accumulate in the ferrule. In this instance, you may choose to lay them on a soft cloth on their side to dry. 

Whatever you do, clean your brushes as soon as you are finished, or the paint will dry on them and they will be ruined. 


Whatever canvas you decide to paint on, make sure it is primed or your paint will not adhere properly. Solvents in the oil paints will eat through the material unless you prime it first. You can buy pre primed canvases yourself, or buy and stretch your own then prime with Gesso which is a process for another discussion. For beginners, I suggested getting the Fredrix Canvas pad pictured below. You can tape it to another canvas to get the real canvas bounce feel or a piece of plywood. This is a great alternative for practice and learning.

Order an online or DVD course, or take a class. It will help you tremendously. 
You will get so many tips you will be amazed. I'm including a link to some you tube videos that are a big help. You also may want to check out Darrell Crow at He is wonderful. He is a good speaker, easy to follow and you will learn a lot of basics from him. Also, here are some of his You Tube Videos: Also, Wilson Bickford does some nice how to's. Just click this link to see: Wilson Bickford on You Tube. One last source is Jerry's Artarama, they have some free video lessons as well. Again, just click on this link to see their lessons:, and if you sign up with Artist Network, you can get a free guide to Painting for Beginners here:

Lastly, I will highly recommend joining websites such as and
You can find almost any topic, discussion or answer you need between these two sites. 

Happy Painting. Please leave a comment if you found this article helpful. 

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