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19 Oil Painting Exercises for Beginners (Must-Know Tips)


As a beginner looking to learn oil painting skills, painting exercises can greatly enhance your technique and spark your imagination.

Painting exercises like Impasto Impressions, Chiaroscuro Mastery, Scumbling, Alla Prima (Wet on Wet), Glazing, Chiaroscuro, Impasto, and Grisaille, among others, can help beginners like you improve your painting abilities.

These oil painting techniques benefit beginners because they provide a structured method for learning and enhancing their core oil painting skills. 

These activities will help you obtain useful, practical experience, hone your color sense, discover how to add depth and perspective and polish your brushwork. 

In this post, we share 19 easy oil painting exercises to help you develop your skills, build a strong foundation as a painter, and take your painting to the next level.

1. Color mixing mastery

Color mixing mastery

One of the most recommended exercises for beginners is taking a paint chip and matching that color with the paint mix you mixed. This is a great workout since it keeps you engaged in the color-blending process. 

Additionally, because properly matching the intended color can be immensely pleasant, it might increase your confidence. 

Even if you don't quite get the desired color, you still learn a lot about color mixing in a relaxed and pleasurable way. It is important to remember that color mixing is a vital skill for painters. 

Take the time to play with mixing various color ratios, watch how they interact, and, in the process, learn how experimenting with color can give your artwork life and brightness.

2. Underpainting

The underpainting technique is a crucial stage in the oil painting process. It entails applying an initial layer of paint to lay the foundational elements of a painting's composition, values, and occasionally even its color scheme. 

An underpainting method is a useful tool that helps painters build a solid framework for their oil paintings. 

It offers a systematic approach for organizing the composition, values, and occasionally colors, thus enhancing the overall success and impact of the finished piece of art.

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Start with a canvas or other primed surface. 
  • Your artistic objectives for the painting should guide your choice of underpainting.
  • Apply the underpainting layer with brushes, rags, or other tools. 
  • Make an effort to define shapes, values, and fundamental color relationships.
  • Allow the underpainting to dry completely before applying additional coats. This keeps the subsequent wet paint layer from blending in with the underpainting.
  • You can start adding additional paint coats after the underpainting dries. Consider underpainting as a guide when choosing color, value, and detail.

3. Painting from yellow to white

Painting from yellow to white

Since yellow is the lightest color, you must compress all values into a limited range so it can be used instead of black.

How will you benefit from this exercise as a beginner? Accurately organized values are necessary to produce realistic shapes in constrained values. With this activity, you'll learn to recognize even the slightest value variations on a surface.

Any item or image with a complete value range (from black to white) is suitable. 

Choose a subject that fits your present level of sketching ability. In addition, you can choose to use Yellow Ochre rather than Cadmium Yellow. 

The darkest yellow is called yellow ochre. To push yourself, use Lemon Yellow or Cadmium Yellow.

You should note the following: 

  • Simplifying comes first. Use only yellow to fill in the darker values (not simply black). 
  • Next, paint all of the mid-tones.
  • Three values are sufficient to begin a three-dimensional shape.

4. Scumbling exercise

Scumbling exercise

Scumbling is a technique that involves applying very small amounts of paint in a fractured glaze using a stiff-bristled brush. As a result, some of the underpainting is exposed due to its textured appearance.

This is a dry-brush technique that uses little to no extra medium. But unlike glazing, scumbling does not require a uniform coat of paint to cover the entire surface. 

In fact, uneven painting will help you achieve your goal of exposing some surfaces. You can use this technique to add depth to your pieces of art. 

5. Alla prima (wet on wet) challenge

The alla prima technique, also known as wet-on-wet, is the process of smearing wet paint directly onto a wet surface. This tactic necessitates confidence and speed. 

Prepare your painting space and choose a subject that interests you. Next, immediately after mixing your colors, apply them to the canvas while working quickly to capture the main features of your subject. 

This method often produces vibrant and unplanned paintings.

6. Glazing practice

Glazing practice

A glaze is a light-reflecting, thin paint coating. Therefore, glazing involves adding glazes on top of a thick, opaque layer of dried paint.

The standard method uses opaque colors to create a monochromatic underpainting. Then, it progressively adds glazes on top while letting each layer dry in between. It is a process that requires a lot of time due to the slow drying rate of oil paint. 

The time it takes for you to make an oil painting using this technique can range from weeks to years, depending on how many glazes you would like to use.

Remember that white, for instance, is not the best color for glazing since it is so opaque. Therefore, choose paints that are more translucent when glazing. 

The colors merge without mingling pigments when glazes are applied in multiple layers. This produces captivating effects that are excellent for painting portraits.

The fat-over-thin rule must be applied with caution because there are numerous layers of paint. To prevent paint cracking, each additional layer of paint should include more oil than before. 

7. Chiaroscuro exercise

Great contrast between a painting's lighter and darker tones can be achieved through Chiaroscuro, extensively used by Renaissance artists, including Rembrandt and Caravaggio. 

It significantly contributes to the dramatic impact of a piece by bringing a subject forward and giving the impression of three dimensions. 

Here is what to do: 

  • Pick a subject with distinct areas of light and shadow. 
  • Block in the dark and light parts first, then progressively add more mid-tones.
  • Pay particular attention to how light and shadow change as you use a variety of values to create a three-dimensional effect that highlights the dance of light.

It is a good idea to start with one light focus, like a lamp, and then work outward while employing this technique.

8. Impasto exploration

Impasto refers to paint applied thickly and boldly with obvious brushstrokes, but it may also refer to more subtle textures produced by more delicate brushstrokes.

You can give your painting more depth by employing the impasto method to add texture to important places. This may improve the appearance of three-dimensionality.

How do you use an impasto technique? Fill your brush to the brim with paint, then apply it freely to the canvas.

Alternatively, the palette knife is a great instrument for applying bold color strokes that the paintbrush cannot match.

You can enhance your paintings in a variety of ways by using the impasto method, including:

  • Depending on the light source, the impasto region of paint will produce areas of actual shadow on the artwork. Depending on your use, this adds another element to your painting and can create depth.
  • From a side perspective, the protruding painted portions will be easier to see.
  • Using the impasto method, you might create the appearance of distance by making close regions more densely built and distant areas more smooth and more supple.
  • You can use directed lines and impasto brushwork to direct the viewer anywhere you choose within the picture. These need not be overt; they could be as basic as undetectable lines in the trees pointing toward your focus point.

Vincent van Gogh is a prominent artist known for his intense impasto style. His brushstrokes were prominent in his paintings and truly a hallmark of his creations.

9. Grisaille exercise

Grisaille exercise

The term refers to the art of monochromatic painting, which uses the colors black, white, and grey to depict light, dark, and shading. Gray is referred to as "gris" in French.

Paintings done on a brown or green scale are called brunaille and verdaille, respectively.

Although this oil painting style is less common today, it was frequently used to depict Renaissance sculptures. While it can be utilized to great advantage in underpainting, it has lost flavor due to the vast array of readily available colors.

Beginners can start with this older technique before experimenting with more daring colors. Select a subject, reduce the color palette to grayscale, and concentrate only on values.

Start by utilizing several grayscale hues to block in the main forms and shapes. This exercise teaches you to use value variations to add dimension and volume before adding color.

10. Blocking in

Blocking in is the preliminary painting step in which you lay down the broad colors and forms on your canvas. Blocking in establishes the overall composition and color harmony without focusing on the tiresome details.

With this method, you can truly sense the direction the painting is taking. To do this, use thinned paint and very large brushes.

Blocking in will produce a simple painting, which you would see if you squinted. From there, you may begin to add details and make any necessary changes.

Usually, when blocking in color, you start with toned-down versions of the primary color. Later in the painting, you can increase the color's saturation as required.

The picture can be overwhelming if you block in the colors with excessive saturation; you would then have to spend the remainder of your painting time trying to tame it.

11. Blending drill

Blending drill

Blending is the process of mixing two or more colors while they are still wet, creating a gradual transition from one color to the next. It is important to keep the paint wet while blending. The color that results from blending two hues is the combination of those hues.

For instance, blending blue and yellow will result in green. Therefore, blending with acrylics can be difficult because the paint dries quickly.

Artists use the blending technique with oil painting because it allows for longer wetness and versatility of the paint.

Here is how to go about it:

  • Select two colors and create a gradient between them. 
  • Apply the first color, then use a gentle brush to smudge and meld it into the second color.
  • Practice controlling the transition to achieve a smooth and even blend, but do not overdo it.

To produce a highly smooth and realistic painting, beginners frequently misuse the technique. However, excessive blending can easily give the painting a highly plastic and overly refined appearance.

Blending is far more effective when used sparingly. It's best not to change the brush strokes or colors.

Even though the painting may appear sloppy up close, all the brushstrokes and fragmented colors will visually blend to produce an illusion of form when viewed from a distance.

12. Oiling out exercise

Oiling out is a method employed in oil painting where the oil dips into the bottom layers of a painting, leaving the top layers lacking vitality.

Due to the varying drying times of the oil paints used (some colors dry faster than others), sinking frequently happens in patches rather than throughout the whole painting.

It is sometimes recommended that artists dip their brushes in linseed oil before putting paint on them, but as a beginner, you should ignore that step.

Here are the steps to follow when oiling out:

  • Choose a painting that has started to dry and has become rather dull. 
  • Dip a clean brush into a thin layer of oil medium and gently apply it to the dried areas.

This will improve the colors and restore the paint's gloss.

13. Timed painting exercise

Setting challenges for oneself, like timed painting, is a fun painting exercise you can engage in. In this activity, you make marks and apply paint for a predetermined time, such as 30 minutes.

The objective is to keep going and persistently work past any potential opposition or pushback, not necessarily to produce a finished work of art that you like.

As artists, we frequently focus too much on the final product of our paintings. However, our worries about how we or others will receive it can often hamper our creative process.

Don't stress about being flawless; instead, embrace spontaneity and develop your ability to trust your artistic intuition as you perform this painting exercise.

You create a sense of urgency by setting a timer and working within a fixed deadline, encouraging you to take action more swiftly. You improve speed, decision-making ability, and canvas brushwork proficiency.

14. Gradient wash practice

Gradient practice is a key exercise and skill for novice oil painters to master in order to obtain smooth and sharp edges.

By learning this method, you'll be able to produce seamless color transitions in your artwork, giving it gorgeous skies, sunsets, and atmospheric effects.

To start, practice your brushstrokes by painting basic squares. Pay close attention to utilizing three brushstrokes to fill in the square.

You can move on to practicing gradients once you have mastered this fundamental ability.

Start by applying two colors in a gradient wash. There are several steps to follow while practicing painting a gradient wash with two colors:

  • First, use an easel or paper towel to support your paper so it is tilted at a 45-degree angle. This perspective aids in flawless color blending. 
  • Use a palette knife to combine your palette's starting, middle, and finishing colors.
  • Next, start at the top of the page and slowly, side-to-side, glide lower. Apply the first color progressively downward with your brush, covering roughly one-third of the portion.
  • Next, add your in-between color to the wash's edge, letting the colors combine as you go. As you push downward, the color in between will gradually appear.
  • Add your final color to the wash's edge as you reach the two-third mark, letting the colors blend once more. Push downward to bring the gradient to a smooth end.

Gradient practice might be difficult, but it's a useful exercise for honing your brush techniques and enhancing the realism of your paintings. Try your best to make the gradients as smooth as you can.

15. Upside-down painting exercise

Turning an image upside down and then painting it from that position will challenge you. Start with a simple subject, like a vase or a candle, then work your way up to more challenging ones, like a chair or even a person. 

You can even try drawing from life and flipping the thing in your thoughts if you want an even greater challenge.

This exercise challenges you to let go of preconceived ideas and concentrate on accurately portraying shapes, values, and relationships.

By flipping the reference image, you can develop your ability to see abstract shapes instead of identifiable objects, which will help you appreciate form and composition better.

Set aside opinions about capturing tones as you begin this exercise and instead focus on the contour of the item.

16. Palette knife experimentation

Palette knife experimentation

Another practical exercise for beginners is to practice using a palette knife instead of brushes. This is due to the assumption that drawing abilities translate to painting, which poses one of the most fundamental issues.

Beginners tend to concentrate on sketching concepts before becoming overwhelmed by worries peculiar to oil paints, such as the notion that the medium isn't dry media and that, in most cases, color can organize an image better than line.

Using a palette knife encourages you to put aside concepts of accuracy and line to concentrate on how color and shape may push and pull each other to create an image.

Work on a surface that is at least 9 by 13 inches since a bigger area could inspire you to draw bolder and larger marks.

17. Limited palette challenge

When starting oil painting, it's most effective to limit your palette. For instance, combining cadmium orange and ultramarine blue is often best.

Working with two colors that are in opposition to one another, like blue and orange, compels you to concentrate on value rather than intensity or chroma.

You can observe how few colors are required to generate every other hue if you add one more tube to your palette, such as cadmium yellow light (a pale yellow) or alizarin crimson (a magenta color).

The variety of greens that are sold in stores can be created using yellows and blues. Making your colors is a nice exercise.

Create a color blending chart by arranging colors in a grid. Mix the colors equally for each square until the chart is filled with every possible color combination.

18. Still life practice

Still life practice

Still life is a classic drawing exercise that entails arranging a simple composition of inanimate objects with a light source. This exercise will help you better understand the difficulties of representing form and give your artwork a sense of depth and dimension.

For this exercise, consider the following tips:

  • Play around with different arrangements of 1 to 5 items. Beginning with fewer items and basic shapes is advised.
  • When first learning to draw, avoid using reflective or translucent objects (like glass).
  • After roughing out the composition, alter the lighting before drawing it again.

Repeat this process several times to thoroughly understand how light and shadow function.

19. Plein Air painting

Plein Air painting

What could be more motivating than nature and the great outdoors? Locate the ideal location close by where you can set up an easel and start painting.

Purchase a plein air easel, wait for favorable conditions, and then take your painting outside. It can be difficult to capture the light before it changes, so practice working quickly.

Smaller panels are excellent for swiftly capturing scenes.

Takeaway: Master the art of oil painting with effective exercises for beginners

We have compiled a list of 19 fantastic oil painting exercises and techniques for beginners in this blog post so you can hone your skills.

Integrating these tried-and-true oil painting techniques into your practice routine can help you advance your artistic talents and hone your technique, as well as your grasp of color and composition and your confidence in your abilities.

Are you ready to start your painting practices? Order our high-quality painting brush set  today to get started.