The Oil Paint Website


Drawing before oil painting

Pen and Ink

India ink  and crow-quill pens are best. Ballpoints with alcohol-soluble (not turpentine-soluble) ink are okay too. You can also use water based colored inks. Pens and inks are good when oil painting on hard surfaces such as wood or Masonite than when used on canvas.

Drawing with pen and ink can be slow and tend to be best with smaller areas. Its main advantage is that it tends to make the oil painter overly aware of details from the very beginning. It is popular in detail oriented paintings.

Another advantage of using pen and ink is that the drawing stays exactly where you put it. It will not smudge or run when paints are applied on it. It also does not come off easily with Turpentine. It is also easy to make corrections. Steel wool makes a beautifully effective eraser for pen and ink drawing.

Don't use Graphite pencils

Graphite pencils are not recommended for sketches for oil painting. This is because graphite has a tendency to rise up through the layers of oil paint and in time to show through on the surface of the dried painting. The same thing happens on an even more drastic scale with felt-tip markers. The ink from these pens cannot be covered with oil paints; they come right through even the most opaque colors. For pens and ink drawings it is best to stick to India ink.

Pastel and Crayon

Using pastels or crayon is almost identical to using charcoal. The same tools and techniques for blending , smudging, scraping, and erasing apply. The difference is that color can be introduced as an element in the drawing stage.

Choose pastels that aren't too soft. Pastel pencils are an excellent choice. The idea is to not have too much color on the canvas, which is why hard pastels are preferable to traditional soft pastels. You don't want much powder on your canvas. Keep the pastel clean ,k with no bid up. Also avoid using white or light colored pastels in this approach. Instead, let the white of the painting ground work for your light effects. Building up a traditional layer of thick pastel in this situation can be dangerous because it will result in an unstable ground for your oils. So keep the pastels extremely think - almost like a stain. Fix with a spray of retouch varnish if desired.


Charcoal is the almost universal drawing medium to use with oil paints. Both compressed charcoal and vine charcoal are suitable for drawing on canvas or panels.

Vine charcoal is preferred because it leaves a lighter mark and is more flexible. That is it is easier to erase. Compressed charcoal pencils, which leave a dense, dark line, are cleaner and more suitable for detail drawing.

Drawing with charcoal on a canvas ground is almost like using it on paper, except that the charcoal tends to stick less to the surface. The degree of finish can range anywhere from a few very general strokes to a fully realized value rendering, a complete with shadows and highlights.