How to Use Oil Paints With Children

Painting can provide an excellent creative outlet for children. Because oil paints dry more slowly than acrylic, water colors or latex paints, they offer longer manipulation time on the canvas and greater color blending opportunities. Oil paints are thicker than other paints, are sold in tubes of color and may be thinned with paint thinners to any desired consistency and translucency. Because certain chemicals used in oil painting may be toxic, oil paints should not be used by children without adult supervision.

Choose a well-ventilated spot. Paint in an open area that has adequate air flow to reduce inhalation of paint fumes. Setting up an easel near an open window or in an area outdoors are both good options.

Use water-soluble oil paints. Unlike traditional oil paints that must be thinned with turpentine, water-soluble oil paints are a safer alternative becuase they can be used with water. If water-soluble paints are not available, look for odorless paint thinners if they must be used. (See References 1)

Decide on a subject. Children can paint what is familiar to them, such as a flower, animal or person. Those with more painting experience may be comfortable with using charcoal to sketch a scene on a canvas and then fill in with oil paints. Charcoal is easy for kids to use because errors can be erased with a cloth. (See References 1)

Begin painting with one or two primary colors. By starting with only a few paints, children will be able to acclimate to the texture of the paint and the brush. Once they are more confident in their abilities and feeling more experimental, children can mix one or two colors to create new colors.

Clean the brush between color changes and upon completion. Thorough, gentle cleaning will prolong the life of the brushes. Children should remove as much of the paint as they can with a dry rag before rinsing in water (or paint thinner if traditional oil paints are used). After swishing the brushes in water, they should be dried with a clean rag.


Children should wear disposable latex gloves while painting to avoid contact with the skin, as well as a smock to protect their clothing. (See References 2)

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