Thursday, March 7, 2013

Basic Oil Paint Colors to Paint Anything!

 If you've been thinking of trying your hand at oil painting, you may have hesitated because of the price of artist oil paints. There are so many beautiful colors, but the good news is that you don't have to buy them all. With a few basic colors, you can mix any color you want! Here are eight basic colors... add some white and that's all you'll need to paint just about anything!

If you are buying oil paints for the first time, I suggest that you do not buy "student grade" paints because they don't have enough pigment and you will not be happy with them. You will eventually purchase "artist grade" paints to replace the "student grade" colors. Make it easy on yourself and buy the better paints first.

Some artists prefer a particular brand of paint, but two reasonably priced brands are Gamblin and Winsor Newton. Winton is Winsor Newton's "student grade" and as I said, spend a little more to get artist grade paints!

All the images in this post are from Artist Supply Warehouse's website.
They have good prices and lots of sales so it is a good place to order paints.
You may also like Dick Blick or Jerry's Artarama.

Every artist needs two versions of each primary color: red, yellow, and blue... a cool one and a warm one. The prices listed are for 37 ml tubes of paints. Some are Winsor Newton and others are Gamblin, both of which happen to be on sale currently at ASW.

My basic reds are Cadmium Red Light, a warm orange red, and Alizarin Crimson, a more bluish red.

Cadmium Red  $19.16
Alizarin Crimson $8.90

Basic blues are Ultramarine Blue and Phthalo Blue (a.k.a. Winsor Blue in the Winsor Newton Line). Ultramarine combines with white to make a beautiful warm blue sky. Thalo is a cooler blue which makes a lovely turquoise, but be careful... this color is very strong! 

Ultramarine Blue (Gamblin) $8.96

Phthalo Blue (Gamblin) $8.96

The basic yellows are Cadmium Yellow Light, a warm orange-y yellow, and Yellow Ochre, a cool greenish yellow. Both combine beautifully with Ultramarine Blue to make greens for trees and grass so there's no need to purchase a tube of green paint. Of course, you can add a little white to make a lighter green or you can vary the percentages of yellow and blue to get the green you want. Other interesting greens can be made by mixing either yellow with Phthalo too.
Yellow Ochre $6.47
Cadmium Yellow (Light) $19.16

Add to those six primary colors a couple of neutral browns and you can make almost any color you'll ever need. Burnt Sienna mixes with the reds to make wonderful wood tones.

Burnt Sienna $6.47
Burnt umber combined with Ultramarine Blue makes a great black so don't buy a tube of black paint. Add white to the mixture and you get shades of gray.
Burnt Umber $6.47
You will need to purchase white paint. Consider buying a larger tube since you'll use lots of white to mix with other colors. I like Titanium White which is more opaque. I also buy large tubes of Permalba brand white. I love the buttery texture of Permalba and it is more transparent so it makes a beautiful sky. If you do an underpainting of pink, Permalba allows a bit of that color to show through for a pretty blue sky with touches of pink!
Three 150 ml tubes of Permalba White $22.94

Amazingly, you can even combine a few of these basic colors to get beautiful skin tones... a little cad red, cad yellow, burnt sienna, and a good bit of white. Play around with the percentages until you get the tone you want.

I have a few other colors of oil paints in my box but frankly, I don't use them much. These are the ones I reach for, time and time again. As you can see, none of these colors is terribly expensive except for the two cadmium colors.

If you've always wanted to paint, please read my earlier post "Do You Wish You Could Paint?" I truly believe anyone can learn to paint. Like playing a musical instrument, painting takes practice, and lessons really help to improve your skills. I've been painting for seven years now... still learning and growing as an artist. I always thought painting required talent and I was reluctant to try it... but I can paint and so can you! Begin with the basic paints that I've listed above.

I'm linking this post to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday because P is for Paints! When you visit her blog, be sure to look at the beautiful signs Jenny paints! If you are an artist, I hope you'll add a comment and share your favorite oil colors too!

Jenny Matlock


  1. You bring back so many memories with showcasing these paints. I remember when my mom was pregnant with my brother...she started painting with something similar years ago. What fun!

  2. Good info! I have only used acrylics but may get the nerve to try oils one of these days!
    Thanks for stopping by my P post!!

  3. Great information...

    It is so neat when you mix Paint colors to get the Perfect shade...

    Very Productive Post for the letter P...