A few notes about oil paints:

Some people are cautious about taking up oil painting because it appears to be a medium which involves a great deal of technical complexity; in actual fact, oils are quite easy to use and the technical difficulties are easy to overcome.

The actual painting process with oils is quite rewarding; of all techniques, oils allow for the greatest range of variety in approach and style.

As with making art in any medium, the quality of the materials you choose really matters. Get the best you can lay your hands on and afford; the fact that you see yourself as a student is a compelling argument AGAINST using Student grade materials - you need all the help you can get.


Let's start with a list of useful paints; any professional grade brand is O.K. and here's a list of the more important brands:

Winsor&Newton professional artists' paint (but not the "Winton" range which is a student grade)

Rowney professional paint is good (but not the "Georgian" range which is for students)

The French Le Franc brand is highly regarded as is the German Schmincke brand. Schmincke make a wonderful line of paints called "Mussini"- these are superb paints.

The Australian-made Art Spectrum is very good; if you prefer to paint on a budget, these paints represent excellent value.

Of the exotic brands I would like to mention Old Holland and Maimeri Puro which in terms of quality are some of the best available at any price.

For the actual colours needed, I would suggest the following selection:

Yellow Ochre (the Art Spectrum Yellow Ochre is particularly attractive)

Burnt Sienna (Le Franc have a particularly attractive version of this colour)

Light Red (this is a rusty red colour where the pigment is iron oxide, look for a light, red shade. The Art Spectrum Light Red is very good.)

Mars Violet (a purple version of the above, sometimes called Caput Mortuum. Look for a deep, purple shade. The Art Spectrum Mars Violet is very good)

Cadmium Yellow (avoid the one that is called Cadmium Yellow Hue- the word "hue" indicates a less expensive substitute which is noticeably inferior to genuine Cadmium Yellow.) Available in a range of shades from pale to deep, the most useful being a bright, mid yellow. Old Holland and Mussini are excellent.

Cadmium Red (as above)

Quinacridone Red (appears under many names, Art Spectrum calls it Permanent Rose, look at the fine print on the tube where it should describe the pigment as Quinacridone, PV 19)

Ultramarine Blue With this colour my personal preference is for Old Holland or Mussini

Viridian (avoid the viridian hue, get the real thing, PG 18 with nothing else added) Old Holland, Sennelier, Winsor&Newton (professional) are excellent. Mussini is the odd one out here, for some reason the colour they call Viridian is an odd pale green colour; instead choose Chromium Oxide Green Brilliant if using Mussini.

Titanium White (good idea to get a larger, family size tube)

Black is not needed at all- good blackish darks can be mixed from Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna or Viridian + Mars Violet.


Oil painting brushes are made from hog's hair and come in 3 main types. The classic style is round, works quite well but can be a bit clumsy. Very useful in the smaller sizes. The flat brushes allow for more varied marks but because the end of the brush is square, the marks are unattractive and unsubtle. My favourite style is the Filbert, which is a flat brush with a rounded end. This brush drives like a Ferrari and the rounded end facilitates delicate work even in the larger sizes. To start, get a couple of #4 and a couple of #8 Filberts. I've found the Holbein brand to be particularly good. At the other end of the scale are the inexpensive discount store brushes which have very little to recommend them.


The choice of palette is a very personal matter. It can be almost anything from a piece of cardboard to a classic kidney-shaped number as seen in the movies. The shape is unimportant; the balance as it sits on the artist's arm is crucial. For a right-handed painter, the palette is held so that it rests on the left lower arm with the thumb sticking out through the thumb-hole. You should be able open your hand without the palette tilting too badly as it sits on your arm. A badly balanced palette becomes very tiresome to hold as it excerts a twisting force on your arm. Unfortunately, palettes appear to be made by people who don't paint themselves and it can take a bit of searching to find one that is nicely balanced.


A handy item that is available in countless sizes and shapes. Some are intended to be used for applying paint to the canvas and are usually small and very flexible. A medium size knife is most useful for ordinary house-keeping on the palette, it's mostly used for moving dollops of paint or mixing paint or sometimes scraping paint off the canvas when making corrections to your painting. Simply choose one that looks cool. You can later (after gaining more practical experience) get a better one if the first choice wasn't quite right.They're cheap enough.


Painting medium: for thinning paint if needed while applying paint. Best used very sparingly, more like lubricating the paint rather than actually thinning it. Most paint manufacturers also make mediums, and most of them are good.

Solvent: for cleaning up, should be of the odourless variety as it is significantly better from both a health and environmental point of view. In the art class I insist on odourless painting materials because it is difficult to maintain good air quality with a whole group of painters in one room. Ditto for painting medium, the Art Spectrum brand Lean Medium works very well and is made with odourless solvent.

You'll need a couple of Dipper cups, usually little tin cups that clip to the edge of the palette. In one of them, one has the painting medium, in the other one, solvent for cleaning brushes while working. It is often a good idea to clean the brush before picking up a different colour from the palette; simply dip the brush in the solvent and wipe on a rag. Choose two separate, single cups instead of the common double cups mounted together (try emptying only one of them, and you'll see why).

To clean brushes after painting; rough clean with solvent and rag, then with soap and water, work it into lather in the palm of your hand and rinse off. When the soap lather no longer changes colour, the brush is as clean as it is going to get.


The traditional painting ground for oils is a primed canvas stretched on a frame. It's lovely to paint on but is expensive and bulky. When working in smaller sizes, my preferred option is to paint on pieces of canvas without stretching them on a frame, actually not that different from painting on pieces of paper. The canvas is sold in rolls or by the yard. It's made from cotton or linen; the cotton being inexpensive and the linen canvas superior in every other respect. The canvas is sold both in primed and unprimed form; go for the primed stuff- saves a lot of work, it is ready to go, no further preparation needed. Unstretched, loose bits of canvas work very well in the smaller (say, 60 cm or less) sizes and will also take up a lot less storage space. I simply cut the canvas into suitable pieces which I clip to a piece of plywood while I paint.

You'll also need rags for rubbing out or making changes to the painting in progress (paper towels are not very good for this, they tend to fall apart), wiping brushes, hands, etc. The rag is one of the painter's most important tools.

It a good idea to wear old clothing to avoid a rapid expansion of your "around the house" or "painting" wardrobe.




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