Understanding your oil palette with Dmitry Fesechko


Hello! I want to tell you some words about oils paints and some words about palette. I know that not so many painters use oil paints that much, but some principles could be used also for acrylic paints on wet palette for example.

Ok, you have decided to try oils for painting miniatures, that’s awesome! The first question of course is what will you need? Oil paints, white spirit, matt varnish and brushes. This is minimum. Then you can add some dry accelerator, palette knife and special diluents. Now in details.


  • Brushes – Don’t use your acrylic brushes for oils, it will spoil them very quickly. For oils I use synthetic or kolinsky sable brushes with short tip. I prefer to use cheap brushes and to change them every 3-5 days.
  • Oils – There are a lot of manufacturers, but almost all of them have different ranges. Usually there are student and professional ranges. What is the difference? The difference is in the pigments that are used. The student range is usually made for studies or impasto technique, they are cheaper, but the most expensive pigments like cobalts, cadmiums and others are merely imitations in this range and there is also less pigment so they are less opaque. In the professional range, all pigments are natural as usual so they have a more natural look, they are more vivid, but can be quite expensive. The cost of the paint depends on which pigment is used and is usually marked on the tube from 1 to 6 (A-F). Colours of the first cost range are the cheapest and colours of the sixth are the most expensive. For example Old Holland colours that are made of earth pigments cost between 10-12$ for a 40ml tube. These colours are made of semiprecious stones or rare metals such as cobalts, which can cost more than 50$. I’d recommend choosing the paints of professional range but it is not necessary to buy the paints with the most expensive pigments. For example Old Holland Schev. Blue light is in the second cost range and the Cerulean light is in the sixth however, I do prefer Schev. light. But don’t be afraid, I have some 40ml tubes that I am using for more than 3 years. The second thing you should know is that all the colours are divided into the following categories: opaque, semi-opaque and translucent. Translucent colours are very dark when you put them out of the tube but when you add some white to them you’ll see that they are very vivid. In miniature painting I use them for toning or in mixes. The opaque colours are used much more often. I’ll show it later in this article. What manufacturers do I like? I think the Old Holland are one of the best, Rembrandt range of Talens has very good translucent colours and I use also Schmincke a lot. I also like Winsor and Newton and I use some paints of Russian “Master-class” range of Nevskaya Palitra. Maimeri is also well-known manufacturer but they have so much different ranges, not all of them are suitable for painting miniatures. If you have no experience I will not recommend to try them for the first time.
  • White spirit – You just need to buy some artistic white spirit, maybe odourless. It is needed for diluent and to clean your brushes. Don’t forget that white spirit can melt the plastic, so you’ll need a metal jar for it.
  • Matt varnish – Of course you will need to remove the oil shine from the miniature after painting and may be to proceed the painting work with acrylics. I like the Humbrol matt varnish, I mix it with white spirit (2:1 – more white spirit) and application is done via the airbrush. If you don’t have an airbrush then you can use some spray varnish like Tamiya TS-80.
  • Dry accelerators – Used to decrease drying time, which is important with Oils as they stay wet much, much longer than Acryllics. Usually they are called siccative. Always read the instructions on bottle, often it is not recommended to add more then 5-10% of accelerator to your paints. You can spoil the paint layer. Different paints dry in different time. As usual the reds and yellows have the drying time of about a week. With accelerator about 2-3 days. Blues, greens, white dry in 3-4 days. With accelerator about 1 day. And some earth colours as umbers or sienna earth dry in 1 day, with accelerator they can dry on a palette.


oil 3

My simple to make Oil Palette

Now I’ll show you how to make small but very practical palette. I have made mine from an old DVD box. You will also need a sheet of plastic. Cut it so you can place it inside the box. It is done. So why am I using the box that can be closed? The answer is simple. Sometimes when I paint I have to take a pause for a couple of hours. In such cases, I can just close the box and place it within the fridge to halt the paints drying. I can then just continue the work with mixed paints. But use such a hint carefully, cold temperatures are not too good for oil paints: I don’t leave such palette in the fridge overnight for instance.

Now I’ll tell you some words about organising colours on your palette. I always try to mix the paints through their ranges,rather than painting by bottled colour.  I think this is much more artistic than using some preconceived patterns that are used by miniature painters as “start from this paint, then use this for highlights, then this for shadows…” and so on.

oil 17

Ready to use and easy to clean

Model acrylic paints are offering the colours for such patterns, such as Scale75 paint sets for green, red, etc. Usually there are more than 70 colours in model acrylic sets. It is a little bit different with oils. Of course you can always have 70 different oils paints, but how will you place them on the palette? And usually there are very few greyish “dim” paints in oil colour ranges. Why? Because to make the paint “dim” is very easy, but it is very hard to make it more vivid. I try to work with the most vivid and saturated pigments. In fact you just don’t need a lot of different colours; you can mix everything you need from some basic paints. I always use about 15-25 colours that I have chosen from a lot of colours that I have tried working with over the years, both with traditional and figure painting.

I always add all the basic paints to the palette. Even if I know that the miniature will be mostly in greenish colours I’ll still add the reds, violet, blue, yellow and so on. This is because I’ll need red to make the green dimmer and darker, yellow to make it warmer, blue to make it colder, violet for chromatic contrast. You need all the basic paints to be able to tune the colour. After the work take a palette knife or something like that, remove the paints, wipe out the rest and wash it under the warm water with soap. Every day you will have a clean palette.


Ok, now we will start to add the paints to the palette.

oil 4

The opaque paints

On the left side I place only the opaque paints, leaving the left side for those with translucent qualities. At the top I place the colours that could be called cold and on the bottom I place the warm colours. In the middle I divide them by the so-called “earth” colours.

The first colour is Ivory black. In fact I use it very seldom because I mix the darkest colours from others. That’s why near the black I place the Dioxazine Mauve which is a very dark but saturated violet (that is closer to warm colours). I usually use it instead of Ivory black. Then I place the Cobalt blue. It is a neutral blue, that is closer to cold blue, but not so much. You can make it warmer by mixing with Dioxazine Mauve or colder by mixing with the next paint – Chrome Green Light. It is a light, saturated warm green.

oil 6

The translucent paints

Then the earth colours are coming – Burnt Sienna (reddish brown), Yellow Ochre Light and Burnt Umber. The earth colours are the dimmest (less saturated) among our basic palette. For the reds I use Cadmium Red, which is quite expensive but very opaque and vivid. You can replace it with Vermillion Red, which is warmer but still opaque and vivid. Then Cadmium Yellow Deep and Cadmium Yellow Light are coming next. Both are very opaque, but also quite expensive. I have not seen good cheap opaque yellows, but if it is still expensive for you, try Lemon Yellow, it is less opaque, but still very saturated. You will notice that we don’t have dark green here, for example. For the basic dark green I use the mixture of Blue Cobalt and Cadmium Yellow Light (or Deep).

Also on the top of the palette I place the Titanium White and some grey. There are some white paints as Titanium, Zinc, Flake, Cremnitz and some others. For the miniature painting I have chosen the Titanium, it is the most opaque. About greys – really does not matter it just should be opaque. I usually use it to desaturate the colours.

oil 8

Additional colours to each group

Those were the basic opaque colours. You may notice that they are not necessarily enough to get all the colours we will need for painting. For example, what if we need a very saturated dark blue or dark red without violet? We will use translucent paints. Now the basic translucent paints that I use are those in the picture above right. On the top I put Lasur-Cyan (or you can use Phthalocyanine Blue, for example, or Prussian Blue ), then Helio Green (or you can use the Emerald Green or Translucent Chrome Oxide Green), then Lasur-Oxide Brown, Translucent Ochre, Alizarine Crimson and Indian yellow.

We can add these paints to our mixtures if they are not enough saturated. In dark mixtures for example. Now we have the basic palette that I always use. These colours are always on my palette no matter what I am painting. And it should be enough to mix almost everything that you’ll need.

oil 10

A couple colours provide ideal base for nmm

But to make the life a little bit easier sometimes I add some more opaque colours to the palette. To the top I can add some light pastel colours as King’s Blue, Naples Yellow or Light Turquoise. I also really like Cobalt Turquoise that is very saturated. Chrome Green Deep also can be very useful. We can also add some paints to our translucent side. Asphaltum Black Translucent or Vandyke Brown to the top. It is like a warm black. Sap Green to the greens area. And Lasur-Magenta to the reds.


Burnt Umber + Cobalt Blue gives a very good neutral mixture and just adding the Titanium White enables to make a smooth transition from dark to light. Adding some Yellow Ochre will allow choosing from warm to cold neutral grey. It is a good starting mixture for painting non metallic metal (nmm for example.

oil 12

Advancing the skin-tone variations

Mixture of Titanium White, Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre will give us a basic skin-tone mixture (lower left image). We can then add some Dioxazine Mauve, Chrome Green, Yellow Cadmium and King’s Blue to get more variety in these skin-tone mixes. Or if you need some very saturated skin-tone then mix Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow Deep with White. Of course this is not a pattern, just something to start from…

For example, you are working with blue. You can make such colour transitions to get warmer or colder blue, less saturated or more and use all the tonal range of those colours simply by mixing them with white.

oil 14

Paying attention to tones

You can also make such transitions from dark to light making them warm in the shadows and cold in the lights or vice versa. Or even mixing different colours for shadows, semi-shadows, lights and highlights. Just pay attention to tones.

There we have it, I wanted to share a couple of things with you about how I work with colour and how organising your paint palette can help you to pay careful attention to the various tones of your colours, its these tones and nuances that can add a wealth of interest to your painted figures. I hope you found this article interesting and that perhaps it challenges the way you think about your paints or indeed gives you the nudge you were perhaps looking for to try your hand at using Oil paints.

Thank you everyone! Happy painting!