Oil Painting – A Beginner’s Perspective

Oil paints the medium of the masters, the medium of choice for the majority professional painters. As a self taught artist oil paints were a medium that I have always been totally and utterly intimidated by. Believing it was only for those were formally introduced to it during their art education. As it was a technical, expense medium that require knowledge, other materials and accessories and a lot of faffing to use and clean up after. So I always believed that it was not a medium to be played around with by the novice, without the guidance of an art teacher, and the setting of an art class or studio. These were my unfounded beliefs about oils picked up over the years by snippets of information, half conversations . So much so it had never occurred to even consider trying oil painting or even research to find out if there was any real truths in my beliefs. In fact it really came down to one thing, more a belief I had about myself than of the oil paints. I believed I was good enough to even give them a go, oil painting was for real artist and I did not have the skill or the talent to put myself in this category. Stupid eh? Its so silly how we let our insecurities hold up back and half the time without even knowing.

Maybe oil painting is to be my mid-life crisis, my little red sports car. As with only a month to go till I turn forty, failure or being completely crap at something no longer feels like a valid reason to not even try.

Plus the confidence to try artistic stuff outside of my comfort zone by everything I have learned through having a go at life drawing and portrait painting. Neither I am good at, but both I am definitely improving with time effort and lots of practise.

In fact it was repeatedly reading and being told that oil paints blend skin tone when portrait painting so much better than acrylic and give you the ability to rework and move the paint even after a night and day has passed that made me put my unfounded belief to one side. Stepping out of another artistic comfort zones and try oils. Finding myself very cross that I hadn’t done this earlier. But better late than never. As already me and oil paints are becoming firm friend.

1st ever attempt the ballet shoes

Ironic subject really as I actually tipped toed around not sure what to do. Faffing with how thin to make the paint, how to thin it, with what how much to use, how to clean my brushes between strokes and colours. It was bizarre to be such a novice at my own familiar easel. In the end I did three main things

  1. I block painted the background and the ballet shoes oils mixed with a small amount of linseed oil
  2. left it for a couple of days
  3. Returned to it and painted the ballet shoes – making the paint a similar thickness to what I am familiar with my old friend acrylic.

And it was a joy. I the paint blended and glided and did exactly what I wanted it to. I was really careful not to over paint and make the colours turned muddy especially as the subject required so many tones of white and pale pink. I was really pleased with my first ever oil painting

What do you think?

My second oil painting was more of a struggle than my first. I had a bit of a battle when I tried to add white foam to a rolling wave, as it kept blending with the colour of the sand underneath. But this was a valuable lesson, highlighting the importance of patience to, not overworking when painting with oils, and being able to recognise when to leave a painting alone and return at a later date to add additional layers.

I have always been an impatient painter, wanting a masterpiece to appear in one sitting, so with a little bit of advice from the wonderful world wide web, I realised the benefit of underpainting/ block painting background colours with acrylics as they dry fast meaning I can move on to the nitty gritty of adding details in oil. Realising oils need more time, more sittings than acrylic I tried painting completely differently. Instead of sitting down to one painting beginning to end as I always have. I am trying out starting a variety of pieces, block painting background, letting that dry then working on detail at different stages. Which makes me think that I will actually be able to realistically produce a collection of paintings. Rather than before paint a piece, sell it and moved on to the next as I have always done. To my surprise I am loving having so much work in progress at one time. every oil painting session is bringing new lesson, inspiring me to try new things and learn more.

My first month playing around with oil paints has been great fun, full of many curves, ups, downs, successes and complete disasters but that is the nature of painting. It has showed me that I may not want to give up the acrylics and replace them with oils, but instead decide which medium would be best depending of the subject of my painting. But that it will definitely be my medium of choice and I carry on down my portrait painting journey. It has inspired me to want to not only paint more, but learn more. To make more of an effort to read about methods and explore the vast amount of podcasts, YouTube videos and social media where there are loads of amazing and experienced artist sharing their hints, tips and knowledge.

The five most important things I learned in my first month of oil painting

  1. I should of tried them years ago and not let misguided, unfounded belief stop me from giving them ago.
  2. The fact that they are slow drying can be a blessing – meaning they can be reworked, changed and moved for a long time after their first application
  3. This same fact of them being slow drying can be a challenge and a frustration as over working means colours can become muddy and therefore can time consuming to avoid this.
  4. They are wonderful for blending skin tones and moving around in search of the likeness in portrait painting
  5. They don’t have to be a replacement for acrylics, and can just be a different option depending what I am trying to achieve in the painting.

Have you ever talked yourself out of trying a certain medium or style only to later find out you wish you hadn’t and realise it actually really suited you?


    1. Thank you Maranda I am glad you like them. My favourite is the ballet shoes too funny as they were the first. I am really enjoying using the oils but finding it very strange how they take so long to dry and getting used to that more time after painting is required for them to dry than I am used to with acrylic.

      Liked by 1 person

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