Updated: Aug 8, 2021
Oil painting is often seen as an intimidating medium to most who are starting out. Oil painting supply requirements are much different from watercolors or acrylics, I know when I started out I had no clue! It seemed like every video or article I read always listed things that were way out of my price range at the time.
Here is everything you need (and don't need) to get started with oil painting. I will list what I use now, and also offer some budget friendly options for the beginner just starting out.
*note: I am not sponsored in any way for any of the products listed nor do I earn any money from making product recommendations, these are just my unfiltered personal opinions.
If you are just starting out and don't want to bother thinking about colors, you can purchase an oil painting kit which will have all the basic colors that you need to get started. If you are on a tight budget and are comfortable with mixing colors, you can always buy your primary colors (Red, Yellow, Blue, White & Black) and mix your own colors.
Links to Introductory Kits:
Sap Green or Viridian Green
Extra Colors That I Like: (Optional)
My Favorite Oil Paint Brands:
Gamblin Artist Oils - Professional quality
Decently budget friendly for the professional artist ranging from $7 to $30 per 37ml tube for more expensive colors.
Gamblin 1980 Oil Paints - Student Grade, Budget Friendly
The main difference between the 1980 set and the artists oils is that in student sets sometimes a "filler" is mixed in with the raw color pigments which makes it so these sets use less pigment per tube than the artist oils. I still use these sparingly in paintings that I sell.
Daler-Rowney Georgian Oil Paints - Cheapest Student Grade Option
You can't get much better than $3.14 a tube at the cheapest and these oil paints are MUCH better quality (and cheaper) than the student grade "basics" sets you can pick up at your local craft stores.
Mediums are what you use to thin the paint and make it easier to mix and work with. There are many different types of mediums out there, some quicken drying time, others will slow the drying time. Below is just what I have used, there are other brands and mediums available, but I am only listing what I have used.
Refined Linseed Oil: (Gamblin) This medium slows paint drying time. I mix it with a little odorless mineral spirits to help speed the drying time. You do not need to use very much of this medium, the smallest 4.2oz bottle that I bought is still only halfway through after more than a year.
Galkyd: Speeds drying time, good for painting in layers, since they will dry more quickly. You can buy Galkyd in a liquid or gel form. I have used both and prefer the gel because it stores much better.
Mineral Spirits: Mineral Spirits speeds drying time and is also used for cleaning brushes, but can be used as a medium to thin paint and can thin oil paint to a watercolor consistency.
Brushes + Pallet Knife:
One thing to note is that the solvents needed to clean oil paint off of brushes are very hard on them, so you will want to pick brushes that are stiff and are meant for oil (or acrylic) paints. These are just some of my favorites, if you are stumped just pick up a starter set and try a bunch of things out.
1 or two larger brushes for blocking in color/blending, 2-3 medium size brushes (you pick the shape) and 1 or 2 detail brushes.
I use a large 2 inch brush and one smaller 1 inch brush for blending and blocking in color on larger paintings. (I just pick these up at my local hardware store).
Mop Brush (also a blender brush): These soft brushes are perfect for blending and painting clouds. These are optional and not needed to start out, but if you want to paint any space type paintings I highly recommend these.
Filbert Brushes: These range in size and are great for softer brush strokes. Usually smaller filberts are difficult to find; Black Swan Filbert brushes in the #1 and #2 size on Jerry's Artarama seem to be the only brand of filbert brush that I can find in a small size.
Fan Brush: Great for those Bob Ross style landscapes and my favorite for blocking in grass. This brush is not necessary for starting out, but they are my favorite for grass/shrubbery.
Round Brush: These are great for the little details, but also come in larger sizes. I mainly use the smaller #0 or #1 size for details.
Detail/Liner Brushes: These are a must for mini paintings & detail work. My favorite small detail/liner brushes are Princeton's Velvetouch Series. They seem to hold their shape well and last through all the abuse oil painting puts brushes through.
Flat Brushes: These square-shaped brushes are good for blocking in color and for getting straight clean lines in your paintings.
Angular Brushes: These brushes are also square shaped but are angled with a sharp tip, great for getting nice clean lines. I also really like Princeton's Velvetouch Series angular shader for mini paintings and small details.
Pallet Knife: You will want at least one to mix up your colors. If you use your brushes to mix your colors they will start fraying very quickly. I also use the angled shape pallet knives to paint mountains with.
Oil paint cannot be cleaned off of brushes with water, like acrylics or watercolor so you will need to use a solvent. Traditionally oil painters used paint thinner, or turpentine to clean their brushes. I strongly recommend against using either of these since they are highly toxic and produce strong fumes. (Not good for painting with in an apartment). I use Odorless Mineral Spirits to clean my brushes.
UPDATE: I finally gave into curiosity and bought a bottle of Gamsol Mineral Spirits (the "artist” brand of mineral spirits) to try from the craft store. I have to say, it has absolutely NO odor (opposed to the hardware brand below that I mention) and It seems to clean brushes better. It actually is not much more expensive and the quality is much better, since you can reuse mineral spirits indefinitely. I picked up a 16.9oz bottle for $15 at the craft store, but you can buy a smaller bottle for as low as $5.19 on https://www.dickblick.com.
I use Odorless Mineral Spirits: Below is what I have used from the hardware store for years. It is available for around $10 for a large can. You can also buy the "artist brand" of mineral spirits, but the hardware store brand works fine for me and you get a larger can for your money. Mineral Spirits can be can re-used for as long as you want and will not expire or go bad.
Side Note: If you get oil paint on your skin/hands, you can use Olive or Baby Oil to remove it.
Container to Wash Brushes:
You can use any jar laying around your house with a lid to store the mineral spirits (I am using an old ice cream container). Since oil paint can be really difficult to clean out of brushes, I added a home made "grate" at the bottom so that when I run my brush across the grate, it will help to scrape off the extra paint pigment on your brush.
You can buy pre-made jars (Mona-Lisa 16oz jar) like this specifically for oil painting or go for a home-made option like I did. (I just cut 2 sheets of chicken wire up to fit the jar).
I use glass picture frames for my pallets which you can get super cheap at the Dollar Tree or you can go down to your local Goodwill and pick up a used picture frame and take out the picture. You can place a sheet of white paper behind the glass and put it back in the frame, or just use the glass out of the frame.
I have found that a glass pallet is by far the easiest to scrape dried paint off of. You just have to be careful not to break them (I have broken a few in my time).
A Paint Scraper:
Pick up a handled razor or putty knife from the hardware store, nothing too fancy just something to scrape off dried paint from your pallet.
Traditionally oil painters paint on canvas, but you can also paint on primed wood or even in your sketchbook if you prime the page with acrylic gesso.
(I used a little basswood wooden slice from Michaels for the painting below).
I say optional because when I started out, I did not have a lot of money so I would paint on the floor and prop up all of my canvases against the wall. Just make sure to tape up some garbage bags or table cloths to the wall if you decide to do this.
Otherwise, you can find easels used online on Ebay, OfferUp, or even Mercari if you get lucky (that is where I found mine).
And.. that's it! Good luck, experiment and have fun! This post took me years of experimentation, so don't worry too much if you don't get it right the first time. Leave me a comment or let me know if you have any questions!