Mastering Art: How Oil Painting Is Done

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 14 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Oil painting is a cherished art form that allows you to unleash your creativity and bring vibrant colors to life. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refine your skills, this step-by-step guide will take you through the process of mastering oil painting techniques. From understanding the materials to creating depth in your artwork, you’ll find everything you need to embark on your artistic journey.

Before diving into the intricacies of oil painting, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the materials. From high-quality brushes to the finest pigments, having the right tools can make all the difference in creating a masterpiece. The step-by-step process will guide you through each stage of oil painting, including color mixing, creating textures, blending shades, and applying layers. By following these techniques, you’ll be able to unlock the secrets of oil painting and express your unique artistic vision.

Key Takeaways:

  • Oil painting is a captivating art form that allows for self-expression through vibrant colors and textures.
  • Understanding the materials and tools is crucial for achieving success in oil painting.
  • The step-by-step process includes color mixing, creating textures, blending shades, and applying layers.
  • Mastering oil painting techniques takes practice, experimentation, and a willingness to learn.
  • Embark on your creative journey and discover the joy of creating depth in your oil paintings.

Types of Oil Paints

When it comes to oil painting, the choice of paint can greatly impact the outcome of your artwork. There are various types of oil paints available, each offering different finishes and properties. Understanding these options will allow you to explore and experiment with your artistic expressions.

Matte Oil Paints

Matte oil paints have a non-reflective finish, producing a subtle, velvety effect. They are ideal for creating a soft and understated look in your paintings. Matte oil paints absorb light instead of reflecting it, resulting in a muted appearance that can be perfect for certain subjects or to enhance the mood of your artwork.

Semi-Gloss Oil Paints

If you prefer a more luminous finish, semi-gloss oil paints are a great choice. These paints have a slight sheen that adds depth and vibrancy to your paintings. The reflective quality of semi-gloss paints can beautifully highlight different areas of your artwork, intensifying colors and creating a captivating visual impact.

Transparent and Opaque Oil Paints

Oil paints can be categorized as either transparent or opaque. Transparent oil paints allow light to pass through them, creating a sense of depth and luminosity. They are excellent for glazing techniques and building up layers to achieve transparent effects. On the other hand, opaque oil paints are solid and block light from passing through. These paints are perfect for creating bold, solid shapes and applying thick layers of paint.

Oil Varnishes for Preserving Colors

Preserving the colors of your oil paintings is essential for ensuring their longevity. Applying oil varnishes over finished artworks not only enhances the appearance but also protects the painted surface from dust, dirt, and UV damage. Varnishes provide a glossy finish that brings out the vibrancy of the colors, making your paintings appear more vibrant and professional.

Now that you know the different types of oil paints available, you can select the ones that best suit your artistic vision. Whether you prefer a matte or semi-gloss finish, transparent or opaque effects, or want to ensure the longevity of your artwork with oil varnishes, exploring these options will open up new possibilities for your oil painting journey.

Essential Tools and Supplies

To begin your oil painting journey, you will need a few essential tools and supplies. These items will provide you with a solid foundation for your oil painting practice and help you create beautiful works of art.

Oil Brushes

Oil brushes are an indispensable tool for oil painting. It’s essential to have a variety of brushes in different sizes and shapes to achieve different effects and work on various details. Natural bristle brushes are commonly used for oil painting, as they hold the paint well and allow for smooth application.

Canvas Boards or Surfaces

Canvas boards or other suitable surfaces are necessary for oil painting. They provide a sturdy and stable base for your artwork. Canvas is the most popular choice, but you can also explore other surfaces like wood panels or paper, depending on your preference.

Palette Knives

Palette knives are versatile tools used for color mixing and creating interesting textures in oil painting. They allow you to blend colors directly on your palette, apply paint with precision, and create unique effects on your canvas.

See also
Shelf Life of Oil Paint: Usage & Storage Tips

Solvent Cleaner

A solvent cleaner is essential for cleaning your brushes and maintaining their quality. It helps remove excess paint and ensures that your brushes stay in good condition. Make sure to choose a solvent cleaner suitable for oil paint.

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is widely used in oil painting to enhance the flow and transparency of the paint. It is also used as a medium for thinning paint or extending the drying time. Linseed oil can be mixed directly with the paint to achieve different effects.

Having these essential oil painting tools and supplies will set you on the right path to creating stunning oil paintings. Experiment with different brushes, surfaces, and techniques to unlock your creativity and bring your artistic visions to life.

Color Mixing Basics

Color mixing is a fundamental skill in oil painting. By understanding the primary and secondary colors, as well as the color wheel, you can achieve the perfect hues for your artwork.

Primary colors, which include red, blue, and yellow, are the building blocks of all other colors. These colors cannot be created by mixing other colors together.

Secondary colors, on the other hand, are created by mixing two primary colors. They include green (a mix of blue and yellow), purple (a mix of red and blue), and orange (a mix of red and yellow).

The color wheel is a tool that organizes colors in a circular format, depicting their relationships and helping artists choose complementary colors for their paintings. Experimenting with different combinations of pigments will allow you to create a wide range of tints, tones, and shades.

To create tints, simply mix a color with white. This will lighten the hue and create a softer, pastel-like shade. Tones, on the other hand, are created by mixing a color with gray, resulting in a muted and less vibrant version of the original hue. Shades are achieved by mixing a color with black, producing deeper and darker variations of the original color.

“Color mixing is like a beautiful dance between pigments, unlocking endless possibilities for artistic expression.”

Familiarize yourself with color interactions by practicing mixing swatches. This will help you develop a keen sense of how different colors work together and allow you to create harmonious compositions in your paintings.

Mixing Primary and Secondary Colors

Color Primary Colors
Purple Red + Blue
Green Blue + Yellow
Orange Red + Yellow

Experimenting with different ratios and intensities of primary and secondary colors will allow you to create a wide range of shades and tones. As you become more confident in your color mixing skills, you’ll be able to create unique and captivating artwork.

Creating Textures with Oil Paint

Creating textures is an essential aspect of oil painting. It allows you to add depth and dimension to your artwork, bringing it to life. By building layers, experimenting with brush strokes, and incorporating palette knives, you can achieve unique and captivating textures that enhance the visual appeal of your paintings.

One technique for creating textures is to build layers of paint on your canvas. As you apply successive layers, the texture becomes more pronounced, adding richness and complexity to your artwork. This layering technique allows you to create realistic textures, such as the roughness of tree bark or the smoothness of flowing water.

Brush strokes also play a crucial role in creating textures. The way you manipulate your brush can produce various effects, from soft and smooth to bold and expressive. Experiment with different brush sizes and shapes to achieve the desired texture. For example, using a small round brush can create fine details, while a larger flat brush can produce broader strokes with more visible texture.

Palette knives are another valuable tool for creating textures in oil painting. These versatile tools allow you to apply thick layers of paint and manipulate it on the canvas. You can use the edge of the palette knife to create sharp, defined lines or the flat side to add texture and dimension. Palette knives provide a unique opportunity for creative expression and can result in bold and striking textures.

Impasto Painting

“Impasto is a technique that involves applying thick layers of paint to the canvas. By using a palette knife or a thick brush, you can create three-dimensional textures that stand out from the surface. This technique adds a tactile quality to your artwork, making it visually and physically engaging.”

Impasto painting is especially effective for creating textures in oil paintings. It allows you to sculpt the paint on the canvas, building up texture and adding a sense of movement. The thick layers of paint catch the light and create shadows, giving your artwork a dynamic and tactile appearance.

Remember to experiment with different brush strokes, layers, and palette knife techniques to explore the vast possibilities of creating textures with oil paint. Each stroke you make contributes to the overall texture and visual impact of your artwork. Embrace the versatility and expressiveness of oil painting as you bring your artistic vision to life.

Techniques for Blending Colors

In oil painting, blending colors is an essential skill that allows you to achieve smooth transitions and create harmonious compositions. By using various techniques, you can seamlessly merge different hues to add depth and dimension to your artwork.

To blend colors effectively, consider incorporating the following techniques:

  1. Soft Brush Blending: Using a soft brush, gently stroke and blend adjacent colors together. This technique works well for creating subtle gradations and smooth transitions between different shades.
  2. Palette Knife Techniques: Palette knives can be used to mix colors directly on the canvas, resulting in unique textures and vibrant blends. Experiment with different strokes and pressure to achieve the desired effect.
  3. Layering Shades: By layering multiple shades of the same color or complementary colors, you can create depth and complexity in your artwork. Start with lighter shades and gradually build up darker layers.
  4. Color Mixing Techniques: Understanding color theory and experimenting with different color mixes will enhance your blending skills. Try mixing primary colors to create secondary colors and explore various combinations to achieve the desired tones and hues.
See also
Unveiling What Makes Oil Painting Unique & Timeless

By practicing these techniques and experimenting with different color combinations, you will develop a mastery of blending in oil painting, allowing you to create visually captivating and harmonious artworks.

Applying Layers to a Painting

Applying layers is an essential technique in oil painting that allows you to create depth, complexity, and captivating textures in your artwork. By gradually building layers of paint, you can achieve stunning visual effects and enhance the overall impact of your painting.

When applying layers in oil painting, it’s important to start with a thin layer of paint and gradually add more as you progress. This technique, known as thin to thick layers, ensures proper adhesion and prevents cracking or peeling.

Allowing each layer to dry before adding the next is crucial to prevent colors from blending and muddying. The drying time of oil paint can vary depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, and the thickness of the paint applied. It’s best to refer to the specific drying times indicated by the oil paint manufacturer.

One of the fascinating aspects of applying layers is letting the underlying layers show through, creating intriguing textures and visual interest. By strategically revealing glimpses of previous layers, you can add depth and complexity to your painting.

To build up intensity in certain areas, you can apply thicker layers of paint or use glazing techniques. Glazing involves applying transparent or translucent layers of color over dry underlying layers, allowing the colors to interact and create luminosity.

Remember, experimentation is key when applying layers in oil painting. It’s an opportunity to explore different layering techniques, brush strokes, and color combinations to achieve the desired effect. Take your time, observe the interplay between layers, and allow your creative instincts to guide you.

In the table below, you can find a summary of the key points to keep in mind when applying layers in oil painting:

Key Points
Start with a thin layer of paint
Gradually add more layers to create depth
Allow each layer to dry before adding the next
Let underlying layers show through for interesting textures
Build up intensity in certain areas with thicker layers or glazing

Applying layers is a technique that can take your oil paintings to the next level. Embrace the process, experiment with various layering techniques, and watch as your artwork comes to life with depth, complexity, and visual richness.

Finishing Your Painting with Varnish

After dedicating your time and effort to create a stunning oil painting, it’s crucial to ensure its long-term preservation. Applying varnish serves as the final step in protecting your masterpiece and enhancing its overall aesthetic appeal.

Varnishing oil paintings provides a protective coat that safeguards your artwork against potential damage from dust, dirt, and harmful UV rays. Additionally, varnish helps to preserve the vividness and integrity of the colors, ensuring that your painting retains its original beauty over time.

When it comes to varnish application, it’s important to follow a few essential steps to achieve optimal results:

  1. Choose the right varnish: Select a varnish that is suitable for your specific painting surface and desired finish. There are various types of varnishes available, including matte, satin, and glossy options.
  2. Apply thin layers evenly: Begin by applying thin coats of varnish using a soft brush, ensuring smooth and even coverage. Avoid applying excessive amounts of varnish, as this can lead to uneven drying and potential issues with the final appearance.
  3. Allow each layer to dry: Be patient and allow each layer of varnish to dry completely before applying additional coats. This will prevent any smudging or unwanted blending of the varnish layers, ensuring a professional-looking finish.

It’s worth noting that the drying time of varnish may vary depending on the specific product and environmental conditions. Therefore, always refer to the instructions provided by the manufacturer for accurate drying times.

To provide you with a visual reference, here’s an example of how the varnish application process might look:

Step Description Image
1 Choose the right varnish
2 Apply thin layers evenly
3 Allow each layer to dry

By following these steps, you can ensure that your oil painting is beautifully finished with a protective coat of varnish. This final touch not only adds a professional and polished look to your artwork but also helps to preserve its colors and longevity for years to come.

Working on Different Surfaces

While canvas is the most common surface for oil paintings, you can explore different materials to create unique artworks. Wood boards, paper, stone slabs, and other surfaces can provide interesting textures and effects. When painting on non-canvas surfaces, it’s important to use a gesso primer to prepare the surface and ensure proper adhesion of the oil paint.

Exploring Surfaces Beyond Canvas

When it comes to oil painting, the surface you choose can greatly impact the final result. While canvas boards are widely used and readily available, there are other options to explore. Painting on wood boards, for example, can give your artwork a rustic and natural feel. Paper surfaces, on the other hand, offer a unique texture and can be more affordable for experimenting with different techniques. Stone slabs provide a distinct surface for creating oil paintings with an earthy and organic look.

See also
Unlocking the Cost: Why Are Oil Paintings So Pricey?

When working on these non-canvas surfaces, it’s important to prepare the surface beforehand. This is where gesso primer comes in. Applying a layer of gesso primes the surface, creating a smooth and absorbent base for the oil paint to adhere to. It helps prevent the paint from seeping into the material and ensures better adhesion, resulting in a longer-lasting artwork.

Benefits of Painting on Different Surfaces

Exploring different surfaces in your oil painting practice opens up a world of possibilities. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Texture: Each surface has its own unique texture, which can add depth and character to your artwork.
  • Effect: Painting on wood boards, for example, can create a vintage or rustic effect, while paper surfaces can give a delicate and translucent appearance to your paintings.
  • Experimentation: Trying out different surfaces allows you to experiment with various techniques, brushstrokes, and effects.
  • Creativity: Working on unconventional surfaces pushes you out of your comfort zone and encourages creative thinking and problem-solving.

“Painting on different surfaces adds an extra layer of creativity to your artwork. It challenges you to adapt your techniques and unlock new possibilities.”

Whether you choose to stick with traditional canvas or venture into wood, paper, or stone, experimenting with different surfaces can help you develop your unique artistic style and create captivating oil paintings.


As you reach the end of this guide, it’s clear that mastering oil painting techniques is a journey that requires dedicated time and practice. By immersing yourself in the world of oil painting and embracing the continuous process of learning and experimentation, you have the potential to become a skilled oil painter.

Throughout this guide, we’ve explored essential tools, color mixing basics, creating textures, blending colors, applying layers, finishing with varnish, and working on different surfaces. These foundational elements, combined with your passion and perseverance, will pave the way for your artistic growth.

Remember, becoming an accomplished oil painter is not a destination but a continuous pursuit. Embrace every brushstroke and every painting as an opportunity to push your limits and expand your horizons. Learn from the great artists who came before you, immerse yourself in the vibrant world of oil painting, and above all, never stop practicing.


How do I start oil painting?

To start oil painting, you will need essential tools such as oil brushes in different sizes and shapes, canvas boards or other appropriate surfaces, palette knives for color mixing and creating textures, solvent cleaner for cleanup, and linseed oil for canvas protection. Familiarize yourself with the basic techniques and materials needed, and begin experimenting with different colors and textures.

What are the different types of oil paints?

Oil paints come in various types and finishes, including matte and semi-gloss. They can also be transparent or opaque, offering different possibilities for experimentation. Additionally, oil varnishes can be applied over finished paintings to preserve their colors.

How do I mix colors in oil painting?

To mix colors in oil painting, start by understanding the primary and secondary colors, as well as the color wheel. By experimenting with different combinations of pigments, you can create various tints, tones, and shades. Practice mixing swatches to develop a sense of how colors work together.

How do I create textures with oil paint?

Creating textures in oil painting involves building layers and using different brush strokes and palette knives. Experiment with thick layers of paint, impasto techniques, and various brush movements to create unique textures and effects.

What techniques can I use to blend colors in oil painting?

Blending colors in oil painting requires using a soft brush for blending, palette knife techniques for texture, layering shades to create depth, and experimenting with different color mixes. These techniques will help you achieve smooth transitions and harmonious compositions.

How do I apply layers in oil painting?

Applying layers in oil painting involves starting with a thin layer of paint and gradually building up more layers to create depth and complexity. Allow each layer to dry before adding the next and let underlying layers show through to create interesting textures. Building up intensity in certain areas can enhance the overall impact of your painting.

How do I finish my oil painting with varnish?

To finish your oil painting, apply varnish suitable for your surface in thin, even layers. Allow each layer to dry before adding more. Varnish helps protect against dust, dirt, and UV rays while providing a uniform and glossy finish to your artwork.

Can I paint on surfaces other than canvas?

Yes, while canvas is the most common surface for oil paintings, you can explore different materials such as wood boards, paper, stone slabs, and more to create unique artworks. When painting on non-canvas surfaces, it’s important to use a gesso primer to prepare the surface and ensure proper adhesion of the oil paint.

How can I master oil painting techniques?

Mastering oil painting techniques takes time and practice. By continuously practicing, experimenting with different tools, materials, and techniques, and learning from experienced artists, you can advance your skills and become a skilled oil painter.