How to Oil Paint

As I learned how to oil paint, I discovered the special techniques to learn to oil paint that bring out all the wonderful properties of oils. These properties are what make it such an excellent medium to work with.


  • It is creamy
  • It blends beautifully
  • The colors are vibrant
  • It is slow drying
  • It can be applied at all different thicknesses
  • It is forgiving when you make a mistake

I also learned the negative properties of oil paint.

  • It can be frustrating because it dries so slowly
  • The cleanup is messy because of having to use turpenoid
  • The fumes are hard to tolerate for people with breathing problems

I happen to be one of those people with breathing problems from asthma, so I was thrilled when I discovered water-soluble oils. They are similar to traditional oils, but there are no solvents needed for thinning your paint or for clean up.

If you are not familiar with these, I explain more about them at Water Soluble Oils

This painting, “Fall Chickadees” was with oil paints. The creamy texture of the oil and the ease with which it blended made it very easy to accomplish a soft transition from light violet to a very pale yellow.

Of course I chose those colors because they are complementary

I make my own frames, so this one was made with a cherry veneer inner liner and Vermont red cedar for the outer frame.

(The frame is not crooked. It was me taking the picture)

Oil Painting for Beginners

Since I never went to school for art (I was a physical therapist for 40 years), I looked for ways to teach myself. My favorite way to learn was to watch Bob Ross using oil paints with a wet-on-wet method.

I would video tape all his shows and then paint with him, pausing the tape as I needed.

I loved the way he blended clouds and how he created reflections in the water so easily. To this day, I still try to do them the same way.

I had used acrylics prior to this for many years and had actually shied away from oils because of what a neighbor of mine had told me. She painted with oil paints professionally and said that there was a great deal to learn. You always had to be sure to paint fatter (more oily) paints over leaner (less oily paints). You also had to have a good understanding of the drying time of all different colors so colors that had not dried enough to make them leaner than the top colors, would crack.

You can find out more about drying times on my web page, Oil Paint Drying Times

It just seemed be be an awful lot to learn compared to Acrylic paints where you just painted.

Then I watched Bob Ross, and he made everything look so easy. My understanding is that his paints are made specifically to be used without having to worry about fat over lean. Was that exciting news. I could paint and just enjoy myself without concentrating on so much detail.

Here is an example of one of his painting I did.

I took some contact paper and cut an oval to fit the size of the canvas.

I started with the sky using cobalt blue. I kept the blue darker at the top and gradually decreased the amount of blue as I approached the horizon to give it depth. I did this simply by using less of the blue as I moved down so more of the white canvas would show through.

Then, with the same blue I did the opposite for the water. It didn’t matter if I went all the way across with the blue, because some would later be covered with the greens. The blues under the greens would add vibrancy to the greens.

Next, I did the clouds in the sky. I put titanium white over the blue with the corner of a 1 inch bright bristle brush. I made circles to give the clouds shape. Some of the blue showed through which is natural for fluffy clouds.

To blend the clouds, I used a soft blending brush and just swept up from the bottom of each cloud in a semi circular motion to give the clouds movement.

When I added clouds to the water, I used the titanium white but not as distinctly as in the sky. I took a clean dry brush and wiped across the painting to soften the clouds and make them a part of the water.

When doing this you have to be sure to keep your stroke horizontal all the way across. If you don’t, the water will feel like it is running off the edge of the canvas. This in one rule you always follow when doing water, even a meandering stream, unless it is the breaking surf at the seaside.

Next I did all the distant green trees. I just dabbed in greens, yellows and maybe some ochre.

I put two or three of the colors on the brush at the same time so it would give variation to the tree colors. I tried to give the trees varying natural shapes and allowed some of the sky to peek through the tree branches.

With a soft clean flat brush, I pulled the edge of the greens into the water to look like reflections. Then I took another clean dry brush and gently brushed horizontally across the reflections in one continuous stroke, to smooth the reflections out and blend them into the water.

This is the same procedure I followed for all the reflections, always working back to front.

The tree trunks were done with a dark brown like burnt umber and highlighted with the same brown which had a small amount of white in it. The trunks could be done with a narrow brush or a palette knife.

This same combination of color was used to put a little earth around the base of the trees and edge of the water. this was done with the edge of the palette knife.

When everything was finished, I cut across some white on my palette with the edge of the palette knife and gently put a few horizontal line along the edge of the water to create some ripples.

The final procedure was to peel the contact paper off and paint the rest of the two trees that went outside of the oval.

As I got braver, I started doing more oil painting on my own, but I always stuck with the Bob Ross paints. My only problem was that I was finding that I was having a lot more trouble with tolerating the fumes and solvents I had to use with oil paints

Because of the asthma and the breathing problems and allergies associated with it, I was thrilled when I discovered water-soluble oils. If you are not familiar with these, I explain more about them at Water Soluble Oils

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