The Must-Know Secret for Teaching Oil Painting on a Budget

Teaching oil painting with a small budget is possible if you apply this one simple principle.

(Please note this article contains affiliate links.)

Many art educators avoid teaching oil painting in their classrooms due to expense. It is true that purchasing oil paint, palettes, canvas, and brushes can add up quick.

But, if we challenge some of the assumptions about teaching oil painting in the classroom, it’s possible to teach it on a more modest budget than previously thought.

There is one secret above all others that will keep your supply costs down.

Paint small.

Simple, but true. Everything becomes more manageable, and cheaper, when you have your students complete projects that are physically a small size.

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Painting small reduces the amount of canvas used by students.

There is no need to buy canvas panels, stretched canvas, wood panels, or any other expensive support for painting. Instead, cut a 5″x7″ piece of canvas from a roll, and then tape it on all sides to a drawing board. You can get a TON of 5″x7″ pieces of canvas out of a single roll, and you can get rolls of canvas for as cheap as $90.

How to teach oil painting
Art teachers at a workshop taught by Mandy Theis learning how to teach oil painting to students. Notice the paintings taped to the boards are then transferred to the inside of a pizza box for safe keeping.

Bonus Tip: Have students transfer their wet paintings to the inside of a pizza box. The tape around the edges will allow them to stick snugly to the bottom of the box. You can easily store 4 paintings per pizza box. Close the lid, write the name of students on the edge of the box where it is easily viewable, and stack away knowing that your students’ paintings are safe and sound until the next class. You can reuse these pizza boxes the entire year, and most pizza places will straight up give you a stack if you ask nicely with your art teacher puppy dog eyes. 

(I personally prefer to purchase blank pizza boxes and have my students do their color theory color wheels on the lid of the box. That way they always have their color wheels on hand to reference.)

Want to start atelier training? Join our Ateliyay! Painting Bootcamp today!

Painting small reduces the amount of paint used.

If you have small canvases for your students, you don’t need as much paint to cover said canvasses. I can get 3-4 5″x7″ paintings out of a class of 25 on 3 tubes of titanium white, and one tube each of cad red, cad yellow, ivory black, and ultramarine blue.

(The amount of each color may change depending on what subject you have them paint. If oceans are your theme, you may need more blue, for example.)

My painting projects take about 10 classes each to complete which is 30-40 days’ worth of lessons with a relatively small amount of money spent on paint.

Painting small reduces the number of brushes you need per student. Also, smaller brushes are cheaper.

This is a bit of a no-brainer. If you don’t have big surfaces to cover, you don’t need big brushes. In fact, most of the time I give my students a size 2 and size 4 filbert brush and that is it. There isn’t a reason to need bigger brushes than that when working on 5″x7″ canvasses. I keep small detail brushes at my desk that students can check out as needed.

Painting small reduces the number of palettes you need because students can share.

Having students share palettes is one way to reduce your costs. Painting on small canvasses with small brushes means students only need a small space to mix their colors. Palettes are not terribly expensive, but when you are on a tight budget every little bit helps.

I do not recommend sharing palettes if you have an easel setup in your classroom, but if that is the case you can probably afford the extra palettes with that supportive admin you appear to have.

So, what do you think? Will painting small help you take the plunge and teach oil painting this year? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Want to start atelier training? Join our Ateliyay! Painting Bootcamp today!


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  1. I put wax paper taped to cardboard to make palettes. Super cheap. Also I buy glass salt and pepper shakers from the dollar store for brush cleaner and medium. Old towels from home cut up for rags

    1. Please be careful using mediums in the classroom, some of them contain a high concentration of oil and if left saturated on a rag can spontaneously combust. I love the idea of using salt and pepper shakers – that is a brilliant way to control the amount used by students.

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