This is the third post of “Module 0: Getting ready” for participants of my online program, “The making of a great painting: Learning how to learn from masters”.
What do you need to start painting in oils?
If you don’t have an easel, you will need to find one suitable for oil painting. There are some very cheap options now, which work well as temporary solutions; I give a link to one example in an online store, but there are usually more in any local art supplies store. If you are not sure yet about the future of your painting practice, I recommend using one of these cheaper options to start with. Otherwise, it’s hard to give meaningful advice without knowing your situation and budget.
There is a variety of options here, but, at least for the initial set-up, I recommend buying a block of disposable grey paper palettes. I use this one, but there are plenty of other options. Just make sure the paper is gray (not white).
Thinning medium and brush cleaner
You will need some thinning medium for oil paints. Traditionally, it’s turpentine, but — unless you have a dedicated and well-ventilated studio space and don’t mind strong smells — it’s better to use odorless mineral spirits instead (like this one, for example).
You will also need some brush cleaning medium (although some people prefer to use their own shampoo for that), and some plastic containers like this.
In principle, one can create any color with a combination of seven pigments:
Titanium white (you will need a large tube)
Warm yellow: Cadmium yellow
Cold yellow: Cadmium yellow lemon
Warm red: Cadmium red (light)
Cold red: Alizarin Crimson or Permanent rose
Warm (red-shade) blue: French Ultramarine
Cold (green-shade) Blue: Cerulean blue, Prussian blue, or Phthalo Blue (Green shade)
For this program, you might also need black and a couple of “earth colors”. Unless you are familiar with earth colors, I recommend Terra Rosa and Transparent Gold Ochre (Winsor & Newton) (or any other version of transparent yellow ochre).
It’s always easier to use paints which don’t need any additional medium (that is, they are smooth and flexible enough to handle right out of the tube). All in all, I find Winsor & Newton’s artist-grade paints have a very good quality/price ratio.
You will need several brushes of different sizes, from 2 to 12 (at least, depending on the size of your painting). I use mainly Grumbacher Oil and Acrylic brushes of various sizes, but it’s better to choose what appeals to you in a brick-and-mortar art supplies store (the brush should feel right to your touch). Get the best brushes you can afford — there are few more frustrating things in life than dealing with bad brushes!
You will also need a good supply of paper towels to wipe brushes, a sturdy palette knife to mix paints, and some safe place to store your paintings: they will take a long time to dry!