A beginner’s guide to materials

I am often asked by beginners in my portrait painting classes for a list of basic materials to bring to the class. What do you need to begin an oil painting?

Beginners Guide To Materials

Oil Paint.

 A basic set of student quality or professional quality oil paints.

Student quality paints are great for starting off with without spending a great deal of money. I normally recommend Daler-Rowney/Georgian or Winton student quality paint sets with at least eight colours.

Student quality paints do have lower pigment content because of the use of fillers and additives to stretch the paint. Hues are used (synthetic pigments) instead of expensive pigments like Cadmium and Cobalt. This means that more paint is needed to get good coverage and the colours available are more limited.  As a student progresses and /or they want a bigger variation in colour/they are able to spend a little more I recommend moving onto Professional quality oil paints. I use Winsor and Newton artists’ oil colour, a good quality all round paint offering a large selection of colours (119) with a good mixing properties. Artists quality paints are richer and more vibrant in colour, have higher quality ingredients, a higher tinting strength and offer greater coverage. Basically you will use less paint than student quality to do the same job.


I use synthetic soft brushes suitable for both acrylic and oil paints. If I am painting a large painting I will use larger brushes. For a typical beginner canvas of 20’’ x 16’’ I would use a large flat brush 10/12 for background, Filberts 5/6/7 for the face and round1/2/3for fine detail. Sometimes a wallet of brushes offering a variety of sizes can be bought quite cheaply.


Oil paintings need to be painted onto something. Supports for oil paintings need to be solid, durable and stable. Primed canvas boards or Primed cotton/linen canvases for oils from any good art shop are suitable.

Refined Linseed Oil.

Refined linseed oil is a popular, all purpose pale to light yellow oil which dries within three to five days. I mix refined Linseed Oil with Zest It (oil paint dilutant and brush cleaner) to make my own medium.

Zest it oil paint dilutant and brush cleaner.

To clean brushes and to mix with linseed oil to create a medium. I use Zest It as a replacement for turpentine - it’s more environmentally friendly, non-flammable, pleasant smell and biodegradable.

Medium containers.

Small metal dippers that can be bought in any art shop or small glass containers (I use ramekins) I use two, one for the brush cleaning solvent and one for the painting medium. Don’t use anything plastic as plastic is porous to solvents.

Paper Palette.

I find that the larger sizes are easier to mix colours on, there is simply more room for manoeuvre. They don’t need cleaning after each session and can be thrown away or alternatively I recommend each paper is kept from one session to the next as a colour reference and notes of mixtures.

Kitchen Roll

I use large rolls of this to clean brushes between colours and to blot off any mistakes.

See my next blog for the three basic rules for oil painting.

Date Published:

November 30, 2016


Portrait Painting Tips

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