Buying new art supplies is the most fun—and most expensive—part. Don’t think that if you don’t have a lot to spend you can’t still make art. You can! It’s just about being selective and making good choices.
There are a lot of good student grade paints out there for beginners. They’re less expensive and you can buy them in large quantities so you’re free to waste a little paint during your experimentation process.
Everything you need to get started oil painting can be found on our Amazon idea list here.
Here are the topics we’ll discuss in this lesson:
You will need:
- Solvent. Traditional oil paints are oil-based, so they can’t be mixed with water. To clean your brushes and thin your paint, you’ll need a solvent. There are many different solvents on the market, but not all solvents are created equal. See more on this in Safety In Oils.
While paint thinner from a hardware store may seem more cost effective, it’s not designed to work with artist paints and can cause cracking and yellowing. I would advise to stay away from anything at the hardware store. Your solvent is re-usable. You’ll use the same solvent until it gets too muddy. When this happens, let the sediment settle to the bottom of your container then pour off the clean solvent on the top into another container. You can then clean the sediment out of the old container and dispose of it or make your own Torrit Grey—check out this video from Gamblin about recycling that sludge into a nice grey to use in your paintings.
Water miscible oils don’t require solvent, so if you’re going that route, you won’t need to purchase any solvent.
- A container with a tight fitting lid for your solvent (a jelly jar works well or you can purchase a container from the art store). Paint thinners or solvents can “eat” through plastic, so look for a metal or glass container.
There are a ton of mediums out there that you can use to paint with, and we talk about them more in the Student Resource Center. Until you’re more comfortable with painting, use an alkyd medium like Neo Megilp, Galkyd, or Liquin. All of these mediums increase the fluidity of oil colors and speeds their drying time (thin layers will dry within 24 hours). Their viscosity is similar to traditional painting mediums made from linseed stand oil, but it’s better for both you and your painting. You’ll only use a touch of medium with your paint–it should be enough to help the paint move around but not so much that it makes your paint liquidy or too transparent. When you watch the instructional videos later, you’ll see how instructor Cynda Valle uses Neo Megilp with her paints.
- You’ll need a small dish or bowl to pour your medium into (not your solvent–that goes in the bigger container that’s first on this list). You won’t be able to eat off the dish after it’s been used for your medium, so you will want to keep that in mind. You can purchase medium cups that attach to the edge of your palette for around $15 or you can use something disposable like the plastic containers used for take-out food.
Label your containers so you and anyone who might come in contact with them knows what it is and doesn’t try to drink it or pour it down the drain. Solvents cannot be disposed of in the sink—they require special clean up, which we go into in Safety in Oils. If you’re using water miscible oils, you can use any sort of container for your water.
- A rag (or several). This can be an old dishtowel, some paper towels, or you can buy a bag or rags at a hardware store. You’ll end up going through a lot of these.
- A fire can. Although it’s not necessary, it’s a good idea to have a container of sorts for your rags. I use an old tamale pot (purchased at a supermarket for about $14) with a brick on the lid, but you can use anything that’s metal (no plastic!) with a well-fitting lid. Empty paint cans work well and can be purchased from hardware stores for around $3. Oil and solvent-soaked rags can combust without a spark, so you’ll either want to put them in a fire can at the end of your painting session or you can soak them in water and lay them out flat to dry.
- A few brushes. The biggest mistake beginners make is buying brushes that are too small. Big brushes seem intimidating (how will I get any detail?) but you’d be surprised with what you can do with a few nice big brushes.
Image source: art-is-fun.com
For more about brushes, see the Oil Paintbrushes lesson.
- You can paint on many surfaces with oil, but the most traditional is canvas. See the Surfaces lesson for more on that. To start with, buy an 8” x 10” or larger stretched canvas. You can always reuse a canvas by painting over an old painting (again, see the Surfaces lesson to learn more).
- A palette to hold your paints. You can buy a palette or palette paper. See the Palette lesson for more about this.
- An easel. Your easel choice will depend on where you’ll be working and the size of canvas you plan to paint on. A tabletop easel works well if you’re only planning on painting small works and these can be purchased relatively inexpensively. For larger paintings, you’ll want to buy a full-size artist easel.
If you’re working outside a lot, you may want to get a plein air easel.
Even if you’re not working outside a lot, plein air easels are nice because they have built-in storage for your paints/brushes/mediums and fold up into convenient little suitcases for carrying around and storing. See our lesson on Painting En Plein Air With Oils for more information about plein air easels.
And if you’re going crazy, here’s a pro easel (these can be well over $500!):
This easel can be purchased online for $910 (which is the sale price).
You can also look on Craigslist or eBay for an easel, or try building one yourself if you’re handy!
Here’s a homemade tabletop easel from artist/blogger Kristin Maynes:
- Optional items:
- Q-tips. Our instructor Cynda Valle uses q-tips to clean up her paintings. You can use these if you want–if not, then skip it.
- Dropcloth to keep your floors clean.
- Apron to keep your clothes clean.
- Fan for ventilation (if necessary).
- Soap for cleaning your brushes (dish soap works fine).
- Paint! See our recommendation list of colors just below.
Colors To Buy; Student Versus Artist Grade Paint
- Titanium White
- Cadmium Red Light
- Quinacridone Red
- Manganese Blue Hue
- Ultramarine Blue
- Permanent Green Light
- Phtalo Green
- Cadmium Yellow Medium
- Transparent Red Earth
We have chosen to go with a warm and cool tone of each color (except for yellow, but more on that later), plus basic Titanium White and Transparent Red Earth. You can purchase these paints in student grade quality for about $3-5 per tube, $7-10 per tube for artist grade, and the price goes up from there for expensive, quality paints. While quality is an important factor to consider when purchasing paints, we want you to have access to a wider range of colors and therefore suggest starting out with student grade paints in order to facilitate that. If you have the money to purchase these colors in artist grade formulas, then, by all means, go for it!
Shopping at DickBlick.com, these paints are about $7 for a 37 ml tube, depending on brand. Here are some brands to try:
Try the buddy system: find a friend who is also interested in painting! You can chip in together and split the cost or have money to buy more paint colors. Oil paints last a really long time and the only color you’ll need to buy with some frequency is white—all the other colors will last you years.
What’s The Difference Between Student Grade And Artist Grade Paint?
A lot of beginning painters are nervous to buy good quality paints because they’re afraid of wasting them, but good quality paints can really change your work for the better. Artist or professional grade paints are higher in pigment load (more pigment = better color, not so much filler). It’s like the difference between a fast food hamburger and making a burger yourself. The one from the fast food restaurant, though cheap, is full of filler while the one you make yourself is made from fresh, wholesome ingredients). Artist grade paints have more color variety (more to choose from) and less shift in color (some pigments are “fugitive” meaning they may fade over time). One of the biggest differences between Student and Artist grade paints is how they mix with white. Artist colors, because of their high pigment load, will retain their vibrancy when mixed with white while Student grade colors tend to dull out when mixed with white. See a demonstration of that here:
Some of the more expensive colors like cadmium red will only be available as hues in Student grade paints. A hue means that it is an imitation color and not the real thing, so you won’t get the color saturation with a hue that you would with the actual pigment. (Learn more about what these mean in our Basic Color Theory lesson.)
That being said, there are still some very good student grade paints on the market right now because of advances in technology that allow paint manufacturers to replicate traditional pigments with less expensive ingredients. Try Gamblin’s 1980 series paints, Grumbacher Academy, Sennelier Etude, or Utrecht oil paints.
Exercise One: Scavenger Hunt
Have your own scavenger hunt! Review our Traditional Oils Recommendation List and WMO Recommendation List so you have a reminder of items you might scavenge. How many of these items can you find already in your house? Instead of buying rags, find an old beach towel or t-shirt that can be used. Before you buy a plastic storage bin, try using a carry-on suitcase that only gets used once a year when you go on holiday or clean out a cardboard box in your garage. Many retired people have tried oil painting in the past and given up on it—search garage and estate sales for oil paints. Squeeze the tube to see if the paint still has some give to it. If the tube is stiff, air may have gotten into the tube and dried up the paint. If the tube still has a bit of “squish” to it then the paint is still good. When you get home, if they seem very oily, that’s okay—just squeeze out the excess oil and the paint is still good.
If you have access to a woodshop and are comfortable with building things, find some scrap wood and search Google for instructions on how to build your own easel. Making art does not have to break the bank!
We’ve written a lesson on Painting on a Budget if you need some ideas on how to keep your cost down and your creativity high!
Exercise Two: Budget
Come up with a budget. You’ll need to consider your personal budget before determining what supplies you can afford when shopping at your local art store or online.
If you want to use it, we’ve created a simple Excel budget workbook for you to download and use in figuring out your personal art budget:
You’ll notice our Traditional Oil Starter Budget came to $159.80 and the Full Budget was $234.70. Click on the tab at the bottom of the worksheet to see the other budget (see tabs circled in red in the screenshot below).
We have come up with our budgets by finding the recommended items at online retailers. For better bargains, try going to thrift stores, garage and yard sales, or purchase supplies with a friend or two so everyone can share in the cost and materials (and experience!) together.
As indicated on the Worksheet, enter the supplies you need under ‘Enter Quantity’ in Column G, and the Price per item in the adjacent column H. The Worksheet automatically computes your budget. See the screenshot below that shows you how to change the currency from US dollars to your currency, after highlighting Columns H and I.
Exercise Three: Recommendation List And Let’s Go Shopping
Now that you know what you need to buy, it’s time to go shopping. Download and print our Traditional Oils Recommendation List or WMO Recommendation List so you have it handy when you do your shopping. You may choose to go to an art store near you or do your shopping online.
Key Lesson Learnings: You’ve learned about the painting supplies for your chosen medium, the difference between artist and student grade paint, then budgeted and purchased the supplies you need to continue your studies. Great start!
Next Lesson: Oil Palettes