How to Start Oil Painting – Part 2: Get to Know Color

Welcome to post number two of how to start oil painting!!

If you are anything like me, you think oil painting sounds fun, but also have heard it’s expensive and difficult. But let me tell you: it’s not!

Me, previous post.

Welcome to the second post in my series of how to start oil painting with NO prior experience!

This post assumes you have already purchased your materials and are ready to start playing with your new toys; let’s get into it!

Please be aware that as an affiliate, I may receive a small commission on purchases made through my links at no extra cost to you.

Start Oil Painting Exercise 1 – Primary Colors

Start Oil Painting - Primary Colors Examples

You probably remember learning about red, yellow, and blue when you were little. These three colors are what all other colors are made up of, which is why I suggest to start with them!

Go ahead and squeeze a bit of each one out onto your palette, space them out like you would chocolate chip cookies, so that when they spread they don’t mix! ; )

Grab a pice of canvas, paper, cardboard, literally anything to paint on – this is just an exercise! You’ll also want a brush and some rags or paper towels handy to wipe excess off your brush when you want to change colors!

If you aren’t loving the texture straight out of the tube, you can mix in a LITTLE bit of Gamsol (thinner), linseed oil (medium), or Liquin (medium). Each of these behave a little bit differently, so check Part 1 for more details on which one you might prefer, but know that Part 3 will have exercises to understand mediums, so don’t stress too much.

If you do decide to add a medium, just use your palette knife to mix it in until it’s incorporated (again…sounding like we are making cookies lol) and then you are good to go!

Now, throw some primary colors on your page and get acquainted with how the paints feel on your brush and your canvas!

Start Oil Painting Exercise 2 – Secondary Colors

Start Oil Painting - Secondary Colors Examples

It’s time to play with mixing your colors! If you need a refresher….

Blue + Red = Violet

Red + Yellow = Orange

Yellow + Blue = Green

You can do this however your soul finds joy – by mixing with your knife on the palette, adding more paint and blending them together straight on your canvas, or somewhere in between!

Doing this exercise will help you understand a few things, such as: how opaque and potent each of your colors are; how they interact and affect each other; and a better understanding of how much of what you need to mix to reach the color you are looking for!

Start Oil Painting Exercise 3 – Tertiary Colors

Start Oil Painting - Tertiary Colors Examples

So, now we’ve blended our primaries into secondaries.

What falls in between each of those are the tertiary colors.

In a box of crayons, these would be called something like: red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-violet.

This is where it gets fun to play with, because you are just finding out what “ingredients” make what color!

With this understanding of how your colors work, you can move on to other things!

Start Oil Painting Exercise 4 – Compliments

Now that you have a basic rundown of colors, let’s go over compliments.

Complimentary colors are colors that are exactly opposite each other on the color wheel – blue & orange, red & green, yellow & purple. To take it a step farther, use tertiary colors: blue-green compliments red-orange, and so on.

Start Oil Painting - Complimentary Colors Examples

Complimentary colors placed next to each other can make each other really stand out and give a nice POP. Think of orange fall leaves against a clear blue sky, or or the Mountain Dew logo.

On the flip side, when two compliments are mixed, they cancel each other out. This means that if your brown is looking a little too red, a touch of green can help balance it out to a more neutral hue.

For this exercise, try painting compliments next to each other. See if those combinations makes you feel any type of way. See if one of them inspires an idea. Just play around and have fun!

Next, try mixing compliments. This process will help you solidify your understanding of color interactions and what you need to do to achieve the colors and effects you want to!

About Black & White

Start Oil Painting - Black and White Examples

So, black and white are interesting, and I’m a nerd so I thought I’d share some trivia.

In the light spectrum, white is the sum of all colors, while black is the absence of colors. But in art, black is a mixture of all of the colors, while white is a total lack of color.

Pretty interesting, if I do say so myself!! Anyways, with that on our minds, it’s easy to remember that if you need to make black, just add your primary colors equally!

Now, take a step back and look what you have accomplished and learned! You are awesome, and I’m proud of you for taking a leap to find a new passion! Until my next post, have some fun experimenting with your new-found knowledge of color as you start oil painting!


Are you interested in purchasing a kit with everything you need to follow along with these exercises? Or “worksheets” pre-made on a painting surface to practice on?

If you love this idea, fill out the form below and I would be happy to get it put together for you!

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See you soon!!


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  1. Great delivery. Great arguments. Keep up the great work.

    1. Thank you so much!

  2. WOW just what I was looking for.

    1. I am so glad! Thanks for reading!!

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