When you’re new to oil painting, there’s a lot of trial and error in the learning process. However, there are some common mistakes that you can learn about now, so you save your materials! Here are a few common mistakes oil painting beginners make and what you can do to avoid them.
Going in with Thick Paint too Quickly
Oil paintings with texture can look amazing, but don’t put the paint down too thickly or quickly. Artists that create thick paintings don’t start out painting with thick globs of paint. The key is starting with thin layers. Each successive layer of paint is built up thicker and thicker until the surface is as thick as the artist wants.
Painting too thick in the beginning will end up with you fighting the paint, and it will be difficult to get the subtlety you want. If you feel you’ve added too much paint, just take a palette knife and scrape it down. Scraping the paint away allows you to start over and repaint the area.
Using too Much White and Black
As oil painting beginners, it can be easy to think that to make lighter colors you add white, and for darker colors, you add black. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Oil painting beginners tend to overuse white and black which can lead to pasty and muddy colors, respectively.
White and black are necessary in order to mix thousands of colors. However, you only want to use them as needed. Try and only reach for these two colors when you really need them. When you use white to lighten, it causes your paint to lose intensity and shift slightly cooler. If you don’t pay attention to the undertone of the black, it can ruin the color you’re trying to deepen.
To avoid lifeless or muddy colors, mix colors together to get the hue first. For example, if you’re using ultramarine blue, using a paler hue such as cerulean can lighten the hue. Utilizing a color wheel is great for this. Then, you can add small amounts of white to lighten if needed. Instead of black, try using burnt umber as it will darken colors more gradually and harmoniously. If you’d like to still utilize black, make sure to pay attention to its undertones and what you mix it with (for example, don’t mix a cool-toned black with a warmed-toned paint to make a shadow).
Using Too Small a Brush
When you first begin to oil paint, it can be hard not to be intimidated. When you’re feeling intimidated, you might gravitate towards smaller brushes. It can seem much less intimidating when you’re using a smaller brush! Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest mistakes oil painter beginners make.
Using smaller brushes to begin painting can lead to a couple of problems. First, it adds considerable time to finish your painting. Secondly, when you paint with small brushes, you miss larger relationships. When beginning your painting, instead of reaching for a smaller brush, be brave and reach for a larger one instead. Once you start with larger brushes, you can transition to medium size brushes and end with small brushes. This will help you paint easier since in the beginning you want to add in blocks of color and then eventually finish with the details.
Focusing on the Details
Speaking of details, lots of beginners make this mistake when learning oil painting. When painting, it can be difficult not to get bogged down with wonderful details of a still life, a landscape, or whatever you’re painting. But not everything needs a ton of details, and if you focus on the details in the beginning, your painting will look overworked. Remember that items farther away will have less detail, and items up close will have more.
Not Using Mediums
Paint is naturally viscous in texture. It can be great, but sometimes it can feel like it doesn’t spread far on the surface. If you’re sitting scrubbing at your painting, trying to stretch the paint, start using painting mediums instead. Painting mediums can change the working properties of the paint to your liking and can make oil paint feel easier to handle.
If you want to make the paint more fluid, add some linseed oil to your paint. This medium is a good choice for artists who want a more fluid, slower drying paint to work with. If you prefer working with thick, textured paint, adding cold wax might be more up your alley. It thickens oil paint so you can build some serious texture on the canvas.
Using Too Much Solvent
Solvent thins oil colors and is great to use in the first layers of an oil painting as it speeds up the drying process. If you use too much solvent throughout the painting process, it can make the colors appear chalky and dull.
To fix, you can take an all-purpose medium like thickened linseed oil, dilute it with 50% mineral spirits, and rub it gently and sparingly into the dull areas until the painting has a sheen. This is called “oiling out.” The best way to fix it, though, is through prevention. So be mindful of the amount of solvent you’re using, especially on later layers of paint.
The Joys of Oil Painting
As oil painting beginners, part of the joy is making mistakes and learning from them. Making a mistake can be frustrating, but it’s how we grow as artists!
Sharing my passion for painting is something I love doing. If you’d like to own an oil painting without having to paint one yourself, check out and purchase one of my paintings! And of course, if you have a question about one of my pieces, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for supporting your local Colorado artists!