What Colors Do I Need to Start Painting with Oils?

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Question: What Colors Do I Need to Start Painting with Oils?

"I really want to start painting in oil - it has been a dream of mine for as along as I remember. What kind of oil paint should I purchase for starters? What kind of white? I am ready to spend as much as it is required for quality materials." -- Masha


I believe the most important thing when learning to paint is a willingness to just try and see what happens.

At worst you've used up a bit of paint and time. You learn the most about to paint by using the materials, through hands-on experience.

Start with a basic set of colors. If you want to mix all your colors, I'd buy two reds, two blues, two yellows, and a white. Why two of each? Because you want to buy a warm and cool version of each (read more about warm and cool colors). Having six primary colors rather than just three gives you a larger range of colors from mixing. Otherwise, take a look at the list of suggested colors I've compiled for acrylic painters. Look for a "mixing white" or "neutral white", or flake white or titanium white, which are the faster-drying whites.

If you can afford it, I would buy one of the cheaper artist's colors rather than students because they tend to give superior results when color mixing. But you must mentally be willing to use the paint, not be hesitant to pile it on thickly to see how that works, to scrape the paint off, to mix colors together to see what results you get.

We all dream about painting masterpieces, but the first step is playing with the paints to see what they do (rather than reading about what other people say they do).

Keep your mediums to a minimum initially. I would say some linseed oil for thinning down the paint, and for cleaning your brushes because it's relatively cheap and easily available.

A lot of people use turps or mineral spirits for thinning the paint because it dries (evaporates) quickly, and for cleaning their brushes, but you don't have to use this; oil will also clean paint out of your brushes too. For further information, read oil painting solvents and oil painting mediums.

The one painting 'rule' you need for oil painting is the Fat Over Lean principle. Start trying to implement this right from the beginning, as it's essential for preventing layers of oil paint from cracking by having top layers drying before the bottom layers do.