Easy Oil Painting Ideas | More Challenging Projects To Try | Abstract | Still-Life | Landscapes | Flowers | Portraits | Animals
Have you just decided to try out painting in oil but find yourself at a loss for what to paint? Fret not, I've compiled a collection of oil painting ideas for you to look through. I'm sure you'll see one that'll get those creative juices flowing.
There’s nothing more exciting than deciding to start an artistic endeavor like oil painting. From researching which are the best oil paints and the best and long-lasting brushes. Followed by which surfaces you can paint on and everything else you need to get — shopping for supplies is the most fun part of all for me! But rein yourself in, you don’t need to buy them all. Here’s a guide into the basic oil paint colors you need to start off.
And finally, you have your whole set up ready and waiting. Just remember - the good news is that you don’t have to start with a masterpiece. This is the time for you to explore and figure out which subjects you find interesting to paint.
How do you start oil painting?
If this is your first time with oils, I suggest you drop by our oil paint mixing guide to understand the basics and the process of painting in oil. As well as the oil painting color mixing guide to have a better understanding of how to mix your colors and how color harmony helps you decide on which color palettes to use.
Once you’ve had a bit of a background, then you’re well-prepared to dive into it. I always recommend to my students to start small and simple. You’re still getting acquainted with the new medium, so don’t overcomplicate things just yet and enjoy playing around with the paints first. I also recommend getting canvas pads so you won’t have to worry about spending so much on your supports when practicing or doing painting exercises. That way, you’ll just keep painting and painting.
Easy Oil Paintings for Beginners
Here are some of the easier ones that you can try to slowly ease you into the joys of oil painting. Remember easy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a ‘too simple’ painting or composition.
Simple Still Life Composition
Giorgio Morandi’s still life paintings are the perfect example. He was fond of painting simple objects such as vases, bowls, and bottles in very subtle tones and colors, placing them simply next to each other. And yet they are just as beautiful to look at as Van Gogh’s also simple yet more vibrantly colored still life below.
You can clearly see the limited number of colors used in both paintings. So you don’t need so many colors to be able to paint a striking still-life. Instead focus on the composition, color mixing, and the textural effects you can use.
Try painting fruits or vegetables (one or two at a time), a coffee cup, or any random thing at home that you find interesting. Not sure how to place them in your composition for best results? We’ve got that covered with the golden rules of composition explained and illustrated.
Start with even just one kind of vegetable or fruit, alone or a bundle of them like the oranges below. Observe how Paul Gauguin artfully arranged them. They’re piled in a more interesting manner in the bowl, while three are on the surface below. And one of the three has been partially opened. It’s as if we just happened upon this scene where someone has been eating oranges. Still-life is a fount for easy oil painting ideas, the possibilities are endless.
Easy Landscape Oil Painting Ideas
The nice thing about landscapes is that they can go from the simplest of interpretations to very, very detailed ones. You can choose a photograph (copyright free, of course!) to copy or if you’re lucky enough to be living somewhere with awesome scenic views — go out for some plein air painting. Nothing beats seeing the view right in front of you and painting what you see.
Monochrome Landscape Oil Painting
Again, start simple and don’t make everything too detailed. Below is a very easy and simple winter landscape painting that I did using just three colors from ZenART’s Essential Palette: Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red, and Titanium White. And just two brushes to paint this misty winter scene – the Flat hog brush and Fan brush, both from the Renoir Collection.
You can watch the live video replay of how I did here on our YouTube channel:
Impressionistic Landscape Painting
The Impressionists are the perfect source of inspiration for landscape painting. With the advent of paint that came in tubes, this afforded them more freedom. Moving away from the realistic painting style of Romanticism, they explored the subjective and expressive ways that they see things. There is no longer any need to paint everything in extreme detail. They instead played around with colors. How to use them to evoke the light and weather changes and how this transforms a single view into so many possible and different interpretations.
We’ve got another Toolkit article that’s all about the rainbow colors of the impressionists. It covers the colors that they used, why and how those choices began, and the counterparts for some of those colors nowadays. Fyi, ZenART’s co-founder, Ardak Kassenova, is a great fan of the Impressionist movement that she specifically created an oil paint set inspired from their colors, the Impressionist Palette from our Infinity Series.
You’ll never run out of ideas and interpretations when it comes to landscapes. The same view can have several iterations as the times of day, the weather, or the seasons change.
Geometric and Linear Abstract Easy Oil Painting Ideas
Don’t want to paint anything too representational? No worries, you can go for abstract oil painting. It’s perfect for exploring color mixing, color harmonies, and the various techniques of creating textures and effects. A liberating path to breaking away from clear depictions of a subject.
Check out our guide to oil painting brush strokes and techniques and try out the various brush strokes that can help you with your abstract painting.
Below is Robert Delaunay’s ‘Le Premier Disque’, a play on geometric shapes and bold color combinations. Why not try something along these lines to start out?
For more shapes to play around with along with the geometric ones, here’s another well-known and well-loved abstract oil painting by Wassily Kandinsky. Though it may not look like an easy oil painting to do compared to the one above, remember it doesn’t have to have as many elements. Use this as a jumping point and have fun with it!
More Challenging Oil Painting Projects To Tackle
Once you become more familiar with how to use oil paints, I’m sure you’ll be ready to stretch your painting skills even further. Here are more ideas for you to try out.
Colorful and Textural Abstract Oil Painting Idea
Another one from the abstract tract that I’d like to include. You don’t need to have any sort of identifiable shape either if you’d want to be even more abstract about things. Here’s Kandinsky’s “Improvisation 7”, one of many of his works wherein he used musical terms for inspiration and for titling them. Music was after all a crucial catalyst for the abstract movement as it perfectly embodies the idea of “abstractness’.
Floral Oil Painting Inspirations
Flowers will always be one of the most favored subjects of artists. And why ever not, their vibrant colors and beauty are a great source of inspiration. There’s just something about flowers that evoke a sense of joy and wonder in us. No matter what century, they will always be appreciated. They are truly timeless.
How about trying your hand at painting a garden-full or a field of flowers à la Klimt’s below? This oil painting project of a garden or patch of flowers is on my list of paintings to do, too. Next time you pass by and see some, snap a few photos for reference or if possible – paint right before them!
“Flower Garden” by Gustav Klimt, 1905-07.
Flowers In Vases
Painting bouquets of them in vases is another classic composition. Keep in mind, you don’t have to paint flowers hyper-realistically. What’s important is to get the essence of them, their vibrancy and delicacy. Here are two fantastic examples of doing your own way of painting flowers. Edouard Manet’s “Bouquet of Flowers” is his impressionistic take on them. Flower paintings were such a big part of him that for the last few months of his life, he only painted floral subjects.
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Still Life of Irises” was one of a few other paintings he did of irises. Another notable series of flower paintings he did depicting the same subject was of sunflowers.
Abstract Floral Painting
You can also paint in a more abstract or illustrative way, something akin to a modern wallpaper pattern. Check out ZenART’s resident artist, Theodora’s video tutorial on her process of painting this beautiful one below in oils and acrylic.
Portrait Oil Painting Ideas
This can seem overwhelming but you’ll never know if this might be something you’ll actually enjoy painting until you try. I personally really love mixing various skin tones and painting people. And you’re in luck, we’ve got an in-depth article covering the how-tos of oil painting skin tones.
The nice thing about painting people (especially nowadays) is that it doesn’t have to be exact like a photograph. Unless of course that’s what you’re looking to do. The magic is in injecting your own take on things. All the techniques can be learned, but your own vision and interpretation is just as important.
Paint your family or friends
Here’s one done by Alexandra @axasgallery that puts all the focus on the face, especially the eyes. The hair, the clothes and the background are all just supporting elements of the whole composition – color and detail-wise.
Painted using colors from ZenART’s Portrait Palette, a set specially put together for an easier skin tone mixing experience!
Mother and Child
An always popular theme when painting portraits or people is the ‘mother and child’. The intimate bond between a mother and her child is a beautiful thing to behold and to capture on paint. Here’s one painted by our co-founder, Ardak Kassenova, her own version of Mary Cassatt’s “Little Ann Sucking Her Finger Embraced by Her Mother”.
Cassatt painted scenes evolving around the lives of women both in private and socially, and of course her very many paintings of mothers and their children.
Try painting a self-portrait
The easiest and most convenient way to practice painting portraits is to start with your own face. It’s the face you see everyday and the one you’re probably the most familiar with. Here’s a selection of self-portraits done by some of the masters. I hope these self-portrait oil paintings ideas will help inspire you to paint your very own, too!
There are many ways to go about it as you’ll see below.
Animal Oil Painting Ideas
Animals have also always been a part of paintings whether as a small part of a big composition or as the main subject. They have been depicted as far back as the cave paintings, no surprise there as they are such a big and important part of our lives.
Bird Oil Paintings
The first bird I ever drew was two connecting c-shapes, very simple and yet it is visibly a bird when put in the setting of a vast sky. Here are two birds that have been painted in very different styles but are equally beautiful.
If you’re in the mood for painting one of the most colorfully vibrant birds, here’s an oil painting of a Macaw parrot by Kyra Gill-Ettienne using ZenART’s oil paints.
Four-legged Animals Oil Painting Ideas
And of course, this list won’t be complete without our four-legged furry friends! Here’s one by Louis Wain who was well-known for drawing and painting a lot of cats.
This one is titled “The Bachelor Party”, featuring cats sitting in a row on a bar with accompanying ‘bachelor party’ elements.
Another artist known for his paintings of dogs doing all sorts of human activities is C M (Cassius Marcellus) Coolidge. His most popular dog series is Dogs Playing Poker. Here’s one titled “Poker Game”.
You can also go for a more textural impressionistic approach if you’re not keen on painting all that fur-like texture in detail. This is Berthe Morisot’s “Laerte the Greyhound”. Laerte is her daughter Julie Manet’s dog.
The energy of the dog is wonderfully and expertly captured in Berthe Morisot’s confident brushwork and mix of colors.
Paint a study painting of your favorite masters’ work
Painting studies of works done by your favorite artists is a fantastic way to learn and expand your painting skills. It’s a journey of discovery and experimentation trying to replicate their colors, brushstrokes, and painting styles. It will also help inspire you on what to paint next.
Our co-founder, Ardak Kassenova, painted Gustav Klimt’s iconic “The Kiss”. Check out her entire painting process below!
There are sooo many more oil painting ideas I’d like to share, but these are hopefully more than enough to get you starting. The first step is to pick up that brush and just start painting. Don’t let your doubts and fears stop you from discovering your very own artistic voice. Just keep painting! It’s the only way to surmount those second guessing thoughts.
The important thing is that you enjoy doing it. Don’t focus on the end result, instead enjoy the process.
Which theme from above sounds interesting and something you would like to try out? What have you already tried or explored so far? Is there any specific topic you’d like to see us cover in the future? Let us know in the comments below, we’d really love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
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Here's an in-depth guide into oil painting supplies for beginners to help you start out. Have a great time painting!
- MEET THE AUTHOR -
Kathleen is the Wordsmith at ZenART, resident artist and art editor. When God sent a shower of talents, Kathleen made sure she got a basketful of them! She's a visual artist with practical knowledge on various fields from painting and sculpture, to costume and set design which comes in very handy when writing about various art techniques and theories. She also shares her passion for the arts through teaching. She runs her own brand of handmade wirework jewelry designs.
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