5 oil painting equipment essentials

5 oil painting equipment essentials

Over my 20-years’ experience as an artist, I’ve tested many different items of painting equipment to see what works best. With the sheer magnitude of oil painting equipment available, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed with what to buy. So, I’ve whittled my list down to just five items that I find essential for oil painting, beyond paints and brushes.

If you’re new to oil painting or thinking about joining my Online Art School, this list should give you a good idea of the type of equipment you will need for oil painting or that you might need as you start to advance.

It’s not necessary to purchase the exact same equipment as me to start oil painting or to take part in my oil painting courses. However, I do recommend that you purchase the highest quality equipment that you can afford, as you’ll be happier with the quality and able to produce better paintings.

Tablet and tablet holderPainting Surfaces    

I highly recommend Ampersand’s Artist Panels – Primed Smooth. These are high quality, 1/8″ panels coated with an ultra-smooth acid free acrylic gesso primer. They are excellent for fine detailed paintings and I’m using them more and more as I think they are just brilliant. My oil painting tutorials are mostly based on 12″ x 12″ panels but any smooth surface including canvas will be fine.


There are many different models and styles of easels, but I would suggest that you look for an easel that is very sturdy and allows your oil painting to stand upright. The last thing you want is for your easel to be unsteady and ruin all the hard work that you’ve put in. I use the Mabef M18 Convertible Studio Easel.

Palette (tutorial SS)Palette

Any smooth surface that has an even colour will work well for oil painting. Over the years I’ve used plywood, glass and cardboard and even paper in varying colours, and they’ve all been more than adequate. Winsor and Newton make a good product that I’ve used many times, a tear-off pad of 50 disposable vegetable parchment palettes, impervious to oil, acrylic or alkyd colour.


I use a tablet computer to view reference images while I’m oil painting and during my oil painting lessons for my Online Art School. Although it can be more difficult to colour match than by looking at a physical image, almost all tablets these days have an exceptional resolution touch screen.

I use a tablet by Samsung which has a 10.5″ screen and requires a very limited amount of image processing from camera to screen. This means that the colours are crisp and very closely matched to your reference photo. Another great advantage to using a tablet is the ability to zoom as needed.

I try to have my reference photo displayed on the screen roughly the same size as the painting, which helps me maintain the correct level of details. If you do not have a tablet to use, you can simply use your laptop or desktop computer, it may not allow you to zoon in as easily, but it will still work just fine.

Tablet Holder

Using a tablet holder makes painting so much easier for me and you may find that it works better for you too. I like it because it allows me to have the reference photo on my tablet as close to the painting as possible. So, I use the Manfrotto 196B2 Mini Articulated Arm. It connects to my Easel via the Manfrotto SC super clamp and on the other end, holding the tablet, is a Hague camera plate and a tripod tablet holder.

If you haven’t already, head over to my Beginner’s guide to starting oil painting to learn about the oil colours and paint brushes you’ll need, how to thin your oil paint, clean your brushes and varnish your finished oil painting.

Or, if you’d like to learn how to paint with oils with over 1000 budding artists from around the world, head over to my Online Art School. You’ll have access to a range of beginner oil painting lessons with step-by-step video guidance from myself and support from a friendly and dynamic online community.