Oil Painting Tips : Useful Work Habits that Make Painting Easier for You

Want some oil painting tips that will really make a difference? As a painter, I have found that sometimes a seemingly minor change in my work habits can have a real positive impact on my paintings. On this page I've gathered together some oil painting tips that, if you put them into practice, really will help you become a better and more efficient painter.

Oil Painting Tips

  1. Organize your oil paints in the same order every time you paint

    Knowing where to locate the color you want every time saves you time and energy, because you do not have to hunt around for the paint you need. This will help you become more effective at

  2. Make an initial drawing with charcoal pencil

    A preliminary sketch or drawing on the canvas saves you a lot of struggling later. Mixing the right colors is hard enough, so if you do not want to struggle with the drawing at the same time, getting the basic drawing lines down at the start really helps.

    Use charcoal and spray it with fixative, or you can use a water-soluble colored pencil instead. Make sure that the charcoal pencil does not leave sharp strong marks; if that happens, use a soft tissue to smooth it.

  3. Tone your canvas first

    If you do not mind dealing with having to cover an entire canvas of starchy white, then you can skip this trick. In my years of painting in oil, however, I have not had good luck with painting on a plain white canvas. When you tone your canvases with diluted paints, you give your painting a base tone to work from. It makes it easier to determine value and color relationships. Some artists, however, swear that painting on white canvases makes the color look cleaner. Give it a try and decide what works best for you.

  4. Start with big brushes, then end with small brushes

    I learned the old proverb years ago: start with a broom, end with a needle. It's an exaggerated way of presenting a tried and true strategy for oil painting brushwork. Use large brushes to lay down bold and decisive strokes, and then focus in on the medium and small masses with smaller brushes. Using smaller brushes on large areas tends to produce weak and timid brush strokes.

  5. Clean your brushes often

    Cleaning your brushes often will help keep your colors from becoming muddy. You can dip your brush into either your solvent or for cleaning. You also can wipe it thoroughly clean with a towel.

    Caution: When you clean with solvents, the left-over cleaner will tend to break down and thin the next color mix.

    If you have many brushes of various sizes, you can use one for each different color. The result is a clean color palette and this will be reflected in your painting. I heard of one oil painter who teaches his students to paint with 36 different brushes—one for each of the colors on their palette. You don't need to go to that extreme, but it is a good idea to reserve some brushes for light colors and some for dark colors.

  6. Wipe the residual oil paints from your brushes before cleaning them with solvents

    This is a much better way to clean brushes than dipping your brushes loaded with paints into the solvent container.

    This is not an easy tip to keep in mind, however. Many times I catch myself using my solvents to clean brushes that I haven't wiped, and I end up muddying the solvent.

  7. Use separate solvents for thinning out the paint and for cleaning

    By keeping your thinner separate from your cleaner, you won't end up using muddy solvents to thin out your oil paints (and muddy the colors). Just make sure that you clean out the residue at the bottom of the container you use for your thinner.

  8. Wipe out or scratch out wrong brush strokes or colors

    Oil painting is not like house painting. You do not simply cover up the mistake by keeping dabbing more paint onto the same spot and hope that it will look better. Better to scratch off the problem area, mix the right color with the right tone, and start again.

  9. Clean your palette often

    Your palette may start to get muddy as paint for an extended period of time. Cleaning it often will ensure that you have the space you need to mix colors without running them together and ending up with a muddy mess. Clean your palette by scraping it off with a painting knife or a razor blade.

The more you paint, the more you will develop your own unique processes for creating art. Good work habits help. I certainly hope the above painting tips will help you as much as they have helped me.

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