Oil Painting Basics for Beginners

Hey beginners, don’t be intimidated by oil painting — especially when you have the fundamentals right here for you! Here we talk about one of the cornerstones of oil painting: brushes. What kinds there are, how to use them and how to take care of them.

Jump into this overview of some of the basic know-how you’ll need, including recommended brushes for oil painting and tips for cleaning them. Enjoy!

Brushes For Oil Painting

Brushes come in a variety of styles. Eventually, you’ll determine your own favorite brushes to use. Until then, you’ll probably want to experiment with a few different brush types and sizes.

Here are some basic brush descriptions, though the length of the bristles often varies from brand to brand:

  • Round: round with a pointed tip
  • Flat: flat with squared ends
  • Bright: flat with shorter bristles than flat brushes
  • Filbert: flat with rounded ends
  • Fan: flat and shaped like a fan — You can cut some of the bristles out of your fan brush in a ragged pattern to make a very rough scraggly mark

There are hog, sable, fitch, and squirrel bristle brushes in a variety of brands, from Nos. 2 to 10, but there are also synthetics, flats, brights and filberts in several equivalent sizes that mimic the look, feel and lift of natural bristle brushes.

Synthetic mongoose brushes can be sized differently from bristle brushes, with a No. 14 being about 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) wide. The Winsor & Newton Monarch Nos. 0 and 2 are good for small branches and tree limbs, as are the Nos. 0 and 2 filberts. Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II No. 1 rounds can be used for even tinier details and, of course, your signature!

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

You’ll need odorless mineral spirits (OMS), a rag and tissues or paper towels.

It’s especially important to clean your brush between values, and often different colors of the same value, if you don’t want your colors to mix. If you’ve been applying a light-value color and need to add a darker value, simply wipe the brush with a tissue.

However, if you want to add light value over dark, the brush needs more thorough cleaning. Wipe the brush, then wash in OMS by rubbing it over the coil in a silicoil brush cleaning tank. Wipe the OMS off the brush firmly with a tissue before picking up the light-colored paint.

A rule of thumb is to change brushes when you need a different size or shape, not because your brush isn’t clean enough. Normally artists use about three or four brushes during a painting session, and many clean as they go.

If you grab a different brush instead of cleaning the one in your hand, by the end of a painting session you may be too tired to clean them properly and may be tempted to leave them to be cleaned later on. Fair warning, you can ruin brushes that way. So think on cleaning as you go if you aren’t into end-of-paint-session cleanup.

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