Dos and Don’ts for Oil Painting

There’s a lot of advice to be given about oil painting from a number of different sources. Sometimes things can get a little confusing.

To simplify some of the basic rules for oil painting, check this list of Do’s and Don’ts, to know exactly what you should and shouldn’t be doing while painting.


• Do spend money on quality brushes made of natural materials. Brushes aren’t the thing to skimp on.

• Do wear loose, comfortable clothing that is okay to get messy. It doesn’t matter how careful you are—you will eventually get paint on your clothes, and if you’ve ever gotten salad dressing on clothing before, you know that oils don’t come out (let alone oil paint!).

• Do buy an easel that can be adjusted so that it’s comfortable to paint at for hours on end. Easels are expensive so you might want to start with something used and imperfect at first, but once you know you want to do oil painting for the long haul, invest in a good easel.

• Do varnish your painting. You’ll have to wait a long time for your painting to be dry (it could take months or even years), but finishing it with a varnish is important if you want it to last. Varnishing protects it from environmental hazards like smoke and dust.

• Do mix your own colors. Buying ready-made colors may be tempting, but mixing your own will almost always produce a more desirable result. Have warm and cool versions of the primary colors, white and black, but make your own secondary colors.

• Do try all the different styles of oil painting. You may have a favorite, but attempting new styles will help you learn and grow as an artist.


• Don’t work in areas that aren’t well ventilated. Some paints are toxic, and turpentine is highly toxic. Overexposure to the fumes from turpentine will give you serious health problems and can even be deadly.

• Don’t let paint dry in your brushes. While painting, you can wipe them roughly with paper to remove paint and change colors, but once you’re done for the day, clean them thoroughly with turpentine and let them dry. You want your brushes to last a long time, so take care of them.

• Don’t leave your paints uncovered when you’re not using them. You may think that since oils take a while to dry that you can leave them out on the palette, but you shouldn’t. There are a lot of interesting methods for storing oil paints. One popular choice is covering your palette and freezing them. Another is using a glass palette and store them underwater. Sounds crazy, but it works!

• Don’t let your painting dry in the dark. Of course at nighttime this is a bit unavoidable, but during the day, make sure your paintings are in well lit, sunny areas. If not, oils tend to rise to the top and create a yellow glaze over your painting.

Following these do’s and don’ts will save you the hassle of learning things the hard way.

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