2 Useful Oil Painting Books to Have for Beginners

One of the things I really dislike reviewing are non-fiction books. I’m really bad at figuring out how to go about rating them since I’m usually learning something new (so they’re all good right?) and they’re so wordy! I know, this probably sounds crazy to someone who likes reading but if it’s something that doesn’t interest me much, words can be scary. Fortunately, art books are usually filled with many many pictures (hehe, I know I’m a cheating dork)

 : But yes, today I wanted to talk about two oil painting books I’ve come across recently. They are The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist by Bill Creevy and The Oil Painter’s Handbook by Marylin Scott.

I felt I could really talk about them since I used one for a class and, while not a good painter, I know enough to say X book is helpful because of 123 in this department. The second book (white one), I found at the library while checking out a huge stack of books. Just as I was about to step out the doors, I found myself called by this book, which had been on display, and after browsing through it I knew I had to check it out!

Now then, I feel like these two books particularly compliment one another and are helpful in their own right. The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist talks about everything that a beginning oil painter might need to know: the types of oil paints and their properties, oil sticks, paint mediums, varnishes, supports, grounds, brushes and how to care for them, and other tools one might use. It’s all very wordy and just looking at it makes me dizzy but it’s all very useful information. 

After this material introduction we do get some information on painting techniques and if I’m being honest, I didn’t read everything in the book. Mostly I just look at the step-by-step pictures and read the captions underneath. If I find something particularly interesting or want to try out one of the techniques, then I go ahead and read the whole page or section.

Aside from tools and techniques, one of the hardest things in painting for me when I started (it’s still a problem actually…) was color mixing. My teacher would just point at a color and say things like ‘oh this has blue’ or ‘there’s a bit of red in here’ and I’d just be dumbfounded. Another teacher of mine also had us just fill a canvas panel with different mixtures of paint with labels like ‘ultramarine blue + cadmium yellow’ so we’d know what colors we mixed.

But I was always so afraid! What if I wasted the paint (paint is expensive!) or I just couldn’t get things right? I knew the basic primary and secondary color stuff but what happens when you use lemon yellow versus cadmium yellow?

That’s where The Oil Painter’s Handbook comes into play. There are almost 30 pages just dedicated to color and I really appreciated that. Just recently I tried to recreate a painting/portrait I did a few months back of my classmate but just couldn’t get her skintone right! There’s no teacher I can ask and I don’t really want to waste my paint. I could look it up on the internet but electronics are a general distraction for me and if I’m going to paint (or do anything productive really), I need to stay away.

 :

And this book is so visual I just really enjoy it! It shows you what happens to colors when white is added, how to choose a palette, it talks about certain colors that just can’t be made by mixing, and it has tables of mixing greens, browns, oranges, purples. But my favorite is the section where it has how to mix different skin tones and what colors to use as highlights and shadows.

Another thing one of my teachers was very particular about was the color black. He would always tell us not to use it straight from the bottle and to mix our own blacks because it would give our paintings more life. Why? Because not all blacks are the same. I was originally skeptical about this. Of course all blacks are the same…except they’re not. In this book it does briefly cover how to mix blacks, which I thought was super helpful.

It took me FOREVER to finally be able to make a black by myself. I just couldn’t do it


By themselves, I do think these books are useful, however, incomplete to a certain degree. The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist is very text heavy and doesn’t cover color to the degree I’d like it to. On the other hand, The Oil Painter’s Handbook is very basic and sometimes talks about certain things like the reader should already know things.

One example was the brush types. In The Oil Painter’s Handbook, we’re given images of both bristle and synthetic brushes but in our description it only goes over bristle brushes. It’s nice because we can see the types of marks the brushes make but it doesn’t differentiate between them. How do I know which mark was made by which brush? It also doesn’t go over fan brushes, utility brushes, or how to properly care for brushes (cleaning and such). In The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist we do get all of this information but in a more wordy way and with less pictures.

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Likewise, The Oil Painter’s Handbook goes over different ways to create textures, such as messing with the gesso process or mixing paint with sand, plaster, or even wood chips. It also has sections dedicated to things like how to paint moving water, water, and skies. These things I didn’t see in The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist.

And of course, like all books where we’re learning new things, this can’t just be read and digested in one sitting or even three or four. It requires the reader to sit down and practice before really moving forward and that’s really the best way to use these books.

Both of these books can be purchased on Amazon:

  • $12.99 The Oil Painter’s Handbook
  • $19.11 The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today’s Artist

I am definitely going to get The Oil Painter’s Handbook since I doubt the library would appreciate me taking their books or returning them with paint on them.

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