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4 best oil painting ideas for beginners

Oil painting can seem like a daunting task, especially for beginners who have only experienced the use of acrylic paint. Oil paints, however, are a wonderful medium that have a lot of potential when used right. They glide along the surface of your paper or canvas, and are much easier to blend than acrylic paints. Also, unlike acrylic paints, they are more slow drying, so you can make changes a long time after you have laid down those first layers of oil paint. To help you overcome this fear, we are giving you the 4 best oil painting ideas for beginners. We will also include some oil painting tips as well. 

What you will need

There are some items in this list which you will not need. However, they are very helpful and will improve the quality at which you will be able to paint, and will make the oil painting process a more enjoyable painting experience. Bear in mind that we have included affiliate links below, and we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

  • Oil paints – Choosing the right oil paints can be a hassle, especially when you are a beginner. There are many different types of the same color, such as yellow ochre and cadmium yellow. So what you should do is just get the main primary colors, black, white, and maybe a few other variations of colors. The best way to do this is to get a beginner oil paint set, which includes all of these. As you get better, you will realize what colors you use most, and can buy them separately after. To save you time, we have linked a great paint set below that will get you started.
  • Paint brush – This is a necessary tool if you want to start oil painting, as it would be difficult to do so without it! There are many different types of paint brushes, such as natural or synthetic. They also come in many different sizes and shapes for different painting styles. To make the process of choosing a paint brush easier, we have included the perfect beginner paint brush set below.
  • Palette knife – This is a very useful tool when trying to create different textures easily. This can include wood on trees, mountain textures, or even smooth textures, such as in water. A very versatile tool, the palette knife can save a lot of time and create looks that an ordinary paintbrush cannot. There are many different types of palette knives, so we have included a beginner set for you to use below.
  • Paint thinner – This is a great tool for speeding up the drying times, as it creates a thinner layer when mixed with your oil paints. It is also perfect for cleaning brushes when using different colors. Unless you are using water-soluble oil paints, you cannot simply use water to wash off the oil paints like acrylic paints. We have included a great artist grade paint solvent by Gamblin below, so that you can get started right away.


This is one of the most classic, yet easy to follow, painting ideas. The painting technique involved is not too complex, and can be replicated easily. Even though they are easy to produce for beginners, do not underestimate the beauty of them. Professional artists spend years cultivating their landscape paintings and skills to produce aesthetic, mesmerizing pieces of art. 

To start, choose an image or scene that you think looks good. You can either take this image off of the internet, or even take your own picture. If there are too many things for you to paint in that particular image, try to choose a picture with less objects, so that you can easily practice them over time. The subject matter should be simple enough to paint, but difficult enough to challenge you.

As a beginner oil painter, you can get away with just painting easy scenes, but over time, you should try to move to more technically challenging backgrounds so that you can improve your skills. Landscapes are absolutely perfect for canvas painting, as there are so many different size options. However, we recommend that you don’t go below A3 in size, as landscapes require more space to paint than our other oil painting ideas.

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Portraits are a great way to learn about structure and proportions, although it can be quite frustrating for a beginner artist. However, when done correctly, it can be the most satisfying experience. With faces, the placement and sizes of features is key, which is why it is recommended that you sketch out the face before you paint. For beginners, we recommend that you draw a grid on both your reference and your painting surface to create a similar resemblance. When you build up confidence, you can start to draw freehand.

Once the sketch has been completed, identify the lightest and darkest values, and then work out the rest of the color values from there. Use a mix of colors to create the hues. To create the skin tone base, mix all the primary colors (red, blue and yellow) to create a brown color and after, identify the hue of that color. For example, squint your eyes and see if the color is more yellow or red. Maybe due to the lighting, it’s a slightly cooler blue color. Once you have established this, add some white if the color is a highlight, or a very, very little bit of black if the color is darker. You can always add more later. 

Instead of complete blacks, you should try to use very dark colors as much as you can. For example, mix complementary colors such as purple and yellow, blue and orange, or red and green. This will add a more interesting look to your paintings, instead of just a plain black. Similarly, try not to use pure white as much as possible, but only for the brightest highlights. Instead, try to use very light colors.

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This idea is a very interesting one, as there is simply so much variety, and you will never run out of creative juice for this. For example, you can paint a koala one day, and a leopard the other. The best thing about this is the large variety of color combinations you can use, and the different shapes and textures, from long and hairy to short and scaly. To create a specific texture, you can use a mixture of different brush strokes and palette knives to vary the look. 

Much like the portraits, the proportions matter a lot, as different animals and species have different anatomical structures, such as their bone structure, muscle shape and face shape. We suggest sketching out the outline of the animal, and then proceeding to paint the base colors. Try to look at the form of the animal, and what sticks out, depending on the position and perspective of the animal. To create an effective focal point, make that feature stand out. For example, the eyes, teeth or skin.

Lastly, make sure to create layers to your painting. Bear in mind that oil paints have a slow drying time. So if you try to paint your piece within one layer, all the values and colors will blend together and look messy. So make sure that after you have applied one layer, let it dry before moving onto the next. This will help to create strong contrasts and give your painting an overall finished look.

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This style of painting is the most subjective and can be very strange for most, which is why many people shy away from it. However, it can actually be the most fun, and where you get to be the most creative. Because there is no specific set of rules or instructions, it is perfect for beginners, and can let you be as artistic as you want. 

Abstract art is all about emotions and feelings, so do exactly that. Learn how to create different moods and atmospheres through not only brush strokes, but other techniques as well, such as using palette knives or even your hands and fingers. You can be neat or you can be messy. It’s completely up to you.

You might be thinking that creating abstract art is useless and accomplishes nothing, but the opposite is true. You learn different, unique techniques that you can apply to your regular art, and you learn how to let go and be more free with your art. This is something that separates amateur artists from professional artists. Professional artists aren’t afraid to make mistakes, so have a go yourself and see the benefits.

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As you can see, there are many different topics and ideas that you can use for yourself when oil painting. It really is a very versatile medium that more beginner artists need to experience. As well as the medium, you can transfer these ideas into your own art pieces, so if you see an idea on here that you wouldn’t normally go for, now is the time to go for it. We have linked all the products you need at the beginning of the article so that you have a complete oil painting set that you can use to get started.

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