Oil Painting Supplies List

Simplify the overwhelming amount of choices with this list

When you first decide to try oil painting, the choice of art supplies available can be overwhelming and confusing. Simplify the process of getting started with this list of all the supplies you need to start painting with traditional oils.

Oil Paint Colors to Start

Bluebell woods oil painting
photography by Linda Lyon / Getty Images

All the different colors of paint on offer are very seductive, but start with a few essential colors, get to know each well, and you'll learn about color mixing more quickly. Start with these colors:

  • Cadmium red (medium) or naphthol red
  • Phthalo blue
  • Cadmium yellow (medium)
  • Phthalo green
  • Burnt umber
  • Titanium white (opaque)
  • Zinc white (transparent) and
  • Payne's grey

There isn't a black on the list; mixtures of the other colors will give more interesting dark colors for shadows. Be careful with cadmiums and getting it on your skin as cadmium pigments are poisonous. If it worries you, pick a hue version.

Paint Brushes

Paints and paint brushes in an artists studio
Alistair Berg / Getty Images

It's tempting, but truly you don't need loads of brushes in all the different sizes and shapes. You'll develop a preference for particular sizes and shape, as well as type of hair. To start, I recommend getting just two sizes of filbert brush, with stiff hairs, such as an 8 and 12. A filbert is a versatile brush shape that gives a range of strokes, from wide to narrow, depending how you're holding it. (Note: Brush sizes are not standardized, so a size 10 in one brand won't necessarily be the same size as a 10 in another brand. Check the width if this is stated.)

While oil paint will stay wet and workable on a brush for some time, you will at some stage need to clean them. Fewer brushes equals less cleaning!

Palette Knife

Detail of an artist holding a palette and a painting knife
Jonathan Gelber / Getty Images

Using a palette knife instead of a brush to mix colors on a palette means you don't end up with a very mucky brush to clean and it also wastes less paint. It's also also easier to mix colors together well. And, when a painting goes horribly wrong, you can use a palette knife to scrape the wet paint off a canvas.

Paint Palette

Paint Tube, Palette
Topic Images Inc. / Getty Images

A palette is used to hold a bit of each paint color squeezed out of the tube, with an area in the center for mixing colors. You need to decide whether you want a palette you hold in your hand or place on a table, and whether it's wooden, white, or transparent (glass). Holding a palette takes a little getting used to, but there's nothing stopping you putting it flat on a tabletop. If you need to clean up completely after each session, a disposable paper palette may be more practical.

If you're left-handed, look for a wood palette that's either designed for lefties, hasn't been chamfered (the thumbhole edges smoothed), or has a rubbery thumb insert so it doesn't matter which hand you hold it in.

Oil Mediums for Oil Painting

Close-Up Of Colors On Palette Against White Background
Timur Alexandrov / EyeEm / Getty Images

Oil mediums are mixed in with oil paint to modify the way it handles, for instance to make it thinner or more dilute. Refined linseed oil is the most commonly used medium, but it's worth giving a range of oils a try, even as a beginner, as each has slightly different properties.

Solvents for Oil Painting

A row of oil paint tubes
Caspar Benson / Getty Images

Solvent is used to thin oil paint (creating the "lean" paint in fat over lean) and to clean brushes easily. If you do use solvents with your oil painting, ensure your painting space is well ventilated, even if it is a low-odor variety. You don't have to use solvents, you can oil paint without it and use only oil medium to thin your paint and clean your brushes (but you'll need more patience because the paint doesn't "dissolve" in oil like it does in solvent).

Because solvent evaporates quickly, it means the oil paint will dry more quickly than when you're using an oil medium. It also "dissolves" the paint easily, which makes rinsing paint out of a brush faster.

Alkyd Quick-Drying Mediums

Oil painting impasto or texture mediums
Photo © 2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

If you find yourself wishing your oil paint would dry faster, then using alkyd mediums will help. These are compatible with oil paint, and do the same job as oil mediums and solvents, but are formulated to dry much more quickly. Some are formulated as gels or texture paste, to give more body to oil paint.

Medium Containers

Oil paint supplies
Yagi Studio / Getty Images

You'll need a container for whatever medium and/or solvent you're using, and probably another for rinsing your brush clean. An empty jam jar will do the trick, though do remember the issues of solvents and studio ventilation. One option clips onto the edge of your palette and holds a small amount of medium.

Canvas Paper for Practicing

Woman holds paintbbrush mixing colours on art palette
moodboard / Getty Images

You're not going to paint a masterpiece every time you pick up your brush. Sometimes you need to play and practice. If you do this on paper rather than a canvas it's not only cheaper but storage is less of a problem too. You can use a sketchbook, but the oil from the paint will soak through. Either paint primer on the paper first (most acrylic primers are suitable for oil paint, but do check), or buy a pad of canvas paper.

Painting Canvas

Brushes and oil paint, messy spectrum of colours
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

Buying canvas that's already stretched and primed gives you more time for painting. Buy a few different sizes and shapes. Long and thin are great for landscapes.

Rags or Paper Towel

Blank art canvas in mess artist's studio
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

You'll need something for wiping excess paint off a brush, and for getting most of the paint out before you wash it. Use a roll of paper towel, but an old shirt or sheet torn into rags also works. Avoid anything that's got moisturizer or cleanser in it as you don't want to be adding anything to your paint.

An Apron

Paint smocks
Copyright Jeff Seltzer Photography / Getty Images

Oil paint can be a pain to get out of fabric, so wear a heavy-duty apron to protect your clothes.

Fingerless Gloves

Cold hands
Nichola Sarah / Getty Images

Fingerless gloves help keep your hands warm while still leaving your fingertips free to get a good grip on a brush or pencil. The pair I use a pair are made from a stretchy cotton/lycra mix for a snug fit, so I find they don't obstruct movement or get in the way. They're made by Creative Comforts and come only in a rather bright green, though this does make them easy to find!

An Easel

Blank canvas on easel and paint in artist studio.
Dougal Waters / Getty Images

Easels come in various designs but my favorite is a floor-standing, h-frame easel because it's very sturdy. If space is limited, consider table-top version.

Drawing Board

Businessman drawing on drafting table in office
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

When painting on paper, you'll need a rigid drawing board or panel to put behind the sheet of paper. Pick one that's larger than you think you might need, as it's very annoying suddenly discovering it's too small.

Bulldog Clips

Bulldog clips
Mary Crosby / Getty Images

Sturdy bulldog clips (or large binder clips) are the easiest way to keep a piece of paper on a board. I generally use two at the top and one on the sides (sometimes only one side, if the piece of paper is small).

Retouching Varnish

Falling colorful drops of paint
Yulia Reznikov / Getty Images

An oil painting shouldn't be varnished until it's totally dry, at least six months after you've finished painting it. To protect it as it dries, you can apply a retouching varnish

Final Varnish

Paint patterns
Jonathan Knowles / Getty Images

When you're certain an oil painting is completely dry, give it final layer of protection by varnishing it

Varnishing Brush

High Angle View Of Paintbrush Against White Background
Donal Husni / EyeEm / Getty Images

A dedicated varnishing brush has long soft hairs, helping you to apply varnish thinly and evenly. They don't cost very much and certainly make the job much easier!

Water-Soluble Oil Paints

Mixing oil paints on a palette
Frank Cezus / Getty Images

As well as traditional oil paints, there's also the option of water-miscible or water-soluble oil paints. As the name suggests, these oil paints are formulated to thin and clean up with water. You can mix them with traditional oil paints, but then they lose their water-soluble properties