Oil Painting Supplies

There's a lot to know about oil painting supplies, because the layering technique is so important for getting durable results. Tubes of oil paint are only raw ingredients, their being prepared for each layer is what makes an oil painting so durable. At the same time, layering has artistic aspects as well - you use it to build color, structure etc. With the right kind of layering, primer and medium, your painting will last. So will your brushes, with the right care.

Oil painting supplies

Check here for more info on oil painting supplies:

The basics of durability

Oil paint is just a raw ingredient. Bad layering techniques cause problems like peeling, chipping, cracks and paint going brittle. Only when you know how to apply your oil painting supplies, your paintings will be as durable as oil paintings are known to be. But somehow this knowledge disappeared during the 20th century - layering techniques were discarded as oldfashioned. Acrylic gesso, widely used as a primer, is questioned in being a durable carrier for oils - an expert warned me, that after four to five decades, the paint will come off again. It can be mended though, check here for more basic info on materials. I've also written an e-book with lots of information about both classical and modern oil painting supplies.

Oil painting colors

In oil painting, colors are more than just colors. Some are transparent, others are opaque (hiding). Some are made with linseed oil, some with safflour or poppy oil. Here's a page on basic oil painting colors, that are all chemically stable - not all colors are. Some colors dry fast, others take ages. Whites form a special chapter, there are many different whites. Check here for more on white oil paints.

Classical oil painting supplies

In classical oil painting techniques, some materials play a major role: rabbit skin glue for sizing and priming, (cremser- flake- or foundation white) for priming or fast drying underlayers, dammar varnish for varnishing or adding shine, stand oil for adding fatness - click on the terms, to find out more about them. Making your own canvases and painting grounds can create extra authenticity and value, especially when you prepare colored painting grounds.
On this site you'll also find info on imprimature and underpainting techniques. These painting techniques are not just for imitating art from the past - they can be very well put to use for creating new contemporary styles. Click here for some free recipe sheets on primers and underpainting, and here for tips on how to make oil paint.

Free recipe sheets

Free recipe sheets for oil painting techniques

These sheets are a small part of my ebook on oil painting materials - it's a recipe and product list, focused on primers and underpainting. With a minimum of text, it will get you started right away. This site can be used for additional information. It's a free download, only subscriprion is asked for. The products were selected to be least expensive, while still delivering good quality. Like in the supermarket: it's about knowing what ingredients are worth, no matter the shiny package, no matter if they're cheap or expensive. More sheets will follow later on - check back every now and then.

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The online art supplies store

Most important about your oil painting supplies is, that their quality is stable. In your creative process, oil colors, primers and brushes become like building stones - you know them and rely on them. When you buy decent brands, you know that your new tube of alizarine crimson will be exactly the same as the old one. The best spot to buy these art supplies is a big one like http://www.dickblick.com/. They can offer good brands, good prices, sales and free shipping on big orders.

This firm can guarantee quality brand products for the smallest price. You can order online if you want to (there's free shipping on big orders). The only downside: their product range is huge and choosing might be difficult - click here for a selection of oil paints, and here for primers and underpainting products. Recipes you'll find in my free recipe sheets.


Primers are an important issue in choosing your oil painting supplies. They strongly affect the look of your paint. Absorbent primers suck in the paint, making it matte, and allowing you to use thin paint. But you can't build up structure on them - not in the first layers, anyway. You can't move around the paint, to find the right touch either - the surface is stained right away. The first layers dry quickly when your primer is absorbent. Absorbent grounds are often not that flexible, and that makes them less suitable for canvases (they'll crack).

Non-absorbent primers allow you to create structure in your first layers (use cremser- or foundation white for that), and on them you can move around paint without staining the surface below. That gives great opportunity for structure effects (in diffrent colors). On an oil primer, you can't work with too thin paint. Not with egg-tempera either. But oil paint stands on it very nice.

And third, there's the semi-absorbent ground - acrylic gesso, or a traditional half-oil ground. Egg tempera holds on to it, but the surface will be closed within one or two layers. Here you'll find recipes for it.

Priming issues

Acrylic gesso is used in bulk, for priming oil canvases - but acrylics are not a really good ground for oils. Oils tend to loosen from acrylic gesso, in time. One can mend it by adding caseine - click here for recipes


Traditional oil primers were usually made of cremser- or leadwhite. The pigment of lead white is extremely poisonous, but as a paint it can be handled, if careful. Lead white pigment is no longer available in the oil painting supplies retail, but cremser white paint can still be bought - as 'foundation white' from w&n, or as flake- or cremser white by Old Holland paints.

Lead white oil paint (cremser- or foundation white) is a great primer for oils, but it has very long drying times (6 months...). New oil painting primers have been developed, but they do involve alkyds - alkyds produce a 'fake' dryness, and primer should be thoroughly dry. An option might be, to use acrylic-caseine gesso or a half-oil ground, let it dry as it should, and then paint a first layer with just foundation white (and a bit of alkyd), that will be dry in one or two days. You can order it at Blick Art Materials. Absorbent kaolin grounds dry even faster (you can make them with hide-glue and marble powder). There are things to consider when using a kaolin ground on canvas - with the wrong recipe this ground is too brittle (and may crack). It shouldn't be put on thick either. Click here for more on painting grounds for canvases, and here for painting boards.

Kinds of oil paint

Most oil paints are OK, but some are better than others. First of all: never mix chinese oil paints with western ones, because they're made of different kinds of oil. Chinese paints are made of tung-oil, and Western ones are made with linseed- or poppy oil. Mixing them is not a good idea because they have a totally different drying process. Chinese oil paints are good, just not to be mixed with western oil paints. The less expensive ones can look cheaper, but sometimes that's just what you need for an authentic look. Click here to read more on oil paint. Here you'll find a page on economy-quality oil paint colors, and here for more on oil paint color names. And, important: oil paint is just a raw ingredient - it needs to be used and layered correctly, to keep your painting from cracking and peeling. Click here for more about the oil painting basics.

Pigment or: what's in the tube?

When a paint is called 'hue' it's usually an imitation of an older (classical but more poisonous or expensive) pigment, which on itself doesn't have to be bad. But a 'hue' is also often mixed from different pigments. While you advance, try to use only single-pigmented oil paints, because they give by far the best mixing results. Oil paint colors sometimes indicate a pigment, but you don't know untill you check the pigment number on the tube. (pb102 means:pigment blue, number 102). The number indicates the actual chemical substance of the pigment, its 'nickname' plus additional info on toxicity, lightfastness etc. you can look up in big painting bible: "the artist's handbook" by Ralph Meyer. It used to ba available at Blicks, along with all other oil painting supplies - now you can still get this book at Amazon's. But first take a search in your online secondhand bookstores - good chances you'll find a used copy.


In chemically manufactured oil paint additives are used, to make every color have the same buttery consistancy. All pigments have their own character - not just the color, also the way they smear, their transparancy ets. If you would like to use the characteristics of a pigment, consider making your own oil paint. If you want to buy good ready-made paints: old holland paints are known to be the most authentic - they have no additives and authentic pigments. Schmincke or Winsor and Newton are good alternatives too - they have very good colors. But for the simple earth colors, black and white, you might just as well take the house brand of your art supplies store.

Painting mediums

Tubes of oil paint are raw ingredients. Before painting them, you prepare them: only in the first layer, you use it pure. Succeeding layers have to be a little fatter than the previous ones (fat over lean). To make oil paint fatter, you use a painting medium. The simplest, home made medium is: stand oil and dammar varnish, mixed 1 on 1. You'll find dammar varnish in any oil painting supplies store - fluid, or as bits and lumps of dry resin. You can easily dissolve the dry resin in real turpentine. Put the pieces of dammar in a panty-sock, hanging in a jar of turps.


Liquin is an alkyd oil painting medium. It makes your paint dry very fast. If you want to do layers, and work on a painting for a number of days in a row, you can hardly do without it (unless you're very clever using absorbent primer on board, egg tempera underpainting etc.). Liquin improves the flow of your paint, whithout making it too liquid (it won't drip). The downside is: it gives every paint the same texture and consistency - a lardy, greasy halfshine. For brilliant shine, better add dammar varnish. Try not to add more than 10% of medium to your paint, for durability reasons (I've seen glazes with lots of liquin chip off after a few years). Before adding liquin, make sure your paint has the right level of fatness for painting fat over lean - it doesn't make your paint fatter. Liquin is available at the online art supplies store as well.

Canvases, painting boards, oil painting pads

Choosing between a Canvas or a painting board is a matter of taste - and practical deliberation. If you like working big (more than 50 x 70 cm), use a canvas. They're light and won't warp as much as a board. If you like your painting to be thin, then consider a painting board. But, thicker painting boards are less warpy. Strongly absorbent grounds need a non-flexible carrier - a painting board.


Canvases and painting boards are available as ready-made oil painting supplies, but you can also make them yourself. Universally primed means: primed with acrylic gesso. This ground is half-absorbent, and it's said to be good for oil paint, but some experts have doubts on it. The oils and acrylic gesso only form a mechanical bond, and one acknowledged expert thinks it will loosen in time - maybe 40 or 50 years, but still. You can use the ready-made universally primed canvases and painting boards - you can help their durability by giving them an extra layer of gesso, wit 50% of caseine added to it. The oil paint attaches itself firmly to the caseine, and the caseine helps the gesso becoming more elastic. You can also make your own canvases. For study-purposes, oil painting pads are OK. When your work turned out good, you can still mount it on MDF. Other paper isn't suitable for painting with oils. The oil will eat up the paper in less then 30 years time.

Oil paint brushes

Oil painting brushes are best to be made of natural hairs. Synthetic brushes are cheaper and they look great, but the oil ruins them in no time. Click here for more information on oil painting brushes. Cleaning can be done with zest-it, then water and soft soap. Cleaning while you work is best done with turpentine. Only start cleaning your brushes with water and soap when you're done for the day - they need to dry before using them again.

Turpentines and thinners

For cleaning, eco-products were developed, like zest-it or odor-free turps. But for thinning the paint itself, it's better not to use these cleaning agents - they leave chemical traces in your paint, that can make your paintlayers chemically unstable. Take mineral turpentine for that thinning your paint, or rectified turpentine. Mineral turpentine is a remake (made of crude oil), but it's good as a paint thinner. Rectified turpentine has a better smell though, it's a more traditional stuff. Pure denatured alcohol is actually the best paint thinner available, because it totally disappears out of your paint - but it's more expensive. It also evaporates out of your paint, while you're still working with it. Alcohol can be saved for making oil paint, and you can use it in the ultimate attempt to clean good brushes that went hard with oil paint.

Venetian turpentine is not really a cleaner or thinner - it's a fat-containing turpenoid, it can be used as a painting medium.

Oil painting supplies: brushes

Some more on boards and canvases

Oil paint is a flexible material, so it's suitable for working on canvas. Canvases are light-weight and very suitable if you want to make big paintings. The structure of the fabric has a pleasing effect - it sort of 'fusses' your perception, which hides little mistake. painting boards are handy because you save the work of stretching. Painting boards are also necessary for some primers - some primers are so brittle that they need a carrier that is solid stiff. For structure, you can glue fabric on it. But there are ready made canvases and painting boards available as oil painting supplies. Do read the section on primers first, before you decide which one to buy.

If you want to have big canvases, it's worth the effort to stretch the canvas yourself, on a ready-bought wooden canvas-frame.

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