Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Most Difficult Portrait Painting in the World: A Lesson in Portraiture after Da Vinci in Oils

Some argue that Leonardo da Vinci’s angel within the Virgin of the Rocks is more difficult to paint than the Mona Lisa. One only has to view the latter of his two versions, housed in the National Gallery to see why.  See exquisite sfumato shadows over the face, ghostly highlights on the cheekbones, translucent eyes and hair like spun gold. And the face in three-quarter view poses a further quandary for the portrait painter.

How can the oil painter capture these Renaissance effects?

Well my book, Oil Painting the Angel within Da Vinci’s the Virgin of the Rocks
Unleash the Right Brain to Paint the Three-quarter Portrait View might help.

Paint Da Vinci's Angel step by step

This book offers practical advice on how to paint this most difficult portrait. Each stage is broken down into manageable pieces, which makes this Renaissance painting more achievable.



The first part of this book aims to unleash the right side of the brain in order to render a portrait in three-quarter view, avoiding common pitfalls in drawing the face. Art materials and the under painting is also explained.

Learn how sfumato of the Renaissance style can be achieved with modern art materials and a compact space, without the use of a studio or bulky easels.

Images within this book

Buy from Amazon
The chief section of this book comprises numerous step by step images and instructions on how the angel was completed. Learn about glazing in oils, color blending, applying detail and smooth shading. A troubleshooting guide and glossary can also be found.

A challenging yet rewarding project on achieving Da Vinci’s early Renaissance style by the use of modern and simple art materials. With color illustrations throughout.

Paperback book’s dimensions: 8x10in and 48 pages. Also available on Kindle, Kobo, Google Play and Apple.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

I’ve Squeezed Too Much Oil Paint out of the Tube and Can’t Put it Back in

Oil paint tubes get cranky as they get older. The thread gets gunged up with oil paint and the lid no longer wants to screw on tightly. No amount of cleaning or care can prevent the lid of the tube from getting temperamental with overuse. Eventually, the seal becomes compromised and a skin of dried oil paint develops within the spout of the tube.

Oil Paint Splodge
The next time the artist attempts to squeeze the paint from the tube, it resists before spurting out in one go. The result is a huge blob of oil paint on the palette that was not intended. This causes waste of oil paint and frustration, as the pigment cannot go back into the tube.

How to Save on Oil Paint

As with me, a tube of burnt sienna developed a wonky lid, no matter how I tried to screw it on squarely. A little air had got into the tube over time, causing a skin to form within the lid. With little pressure, the paint came out in one go, which was rather annoying. No one wants to waste costly oil paint.

But there are ways of salvaging the oil paint for another painting.

Art Tips for Oil Painting

Don’t despair. The oil paint can be salvaged. Remember that oil paint dries quite slowly and does so by oxidization. This means providing an airtight container where the paint is in no contact from the air. Of course, the tube is no longer an option.

How to salvage oil paint

Here is what I did:

1 Scrape the paint from the palette and into a little tin foil measuring a few inches square.
2 carefully parcel up the paint within the tin foil, allowing no air to remain within.
3 To ensure an airtight seal, wrap the tin foil parcel within a layer or two of tough clingfilm. Check there are no tears or holes where air can get in.

If no tin foil is at hand, two or three layers of clingfilm or similar plastic should do the trick, as I did here. Don’t use plastics or tin foil with print or dyes, or it could leach onto the pigment.

4 Seal the parcel tight with a twist of a food tag at the top.
5 Label the parcel with the pigment that is within.

The paint should remain fresh and useable for the next painting. I have yet to test out how long the paint will last, but I have kept the parcel for a month and the pigment within remains as fresh as from the day I had first squeezed it onto the palette.

Wonky Lids of Oil Paint Tubes

An oil paint lid that refuses to screw onto the tube will cause the paint within to dry out. To prevent this from happening, place clingfilm over the top of the tube. This is not ideal and care is needed not to get paint elsewhere when opening the tube, but is preferable to wasting lots of oil paint.

I keep temperamental oil paint tubes in a separate container wrapped in rags, so that the other tubes are kept clean.

The artist’s box of tricks might not appear aesthetically pleasing as of the day the tubes of oil paints have been purchased, but it is the paint applied onto the canvas that matters, not the appearance of the artist’s materials. I prefer to see well-used art materials to the pristine unused sort that languishes within a forgotten cupboard.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Evaluation of Oil on Canvas Painting of Old Truck in North Carolina

This painting featured for appraisal is a sun drenched rusty pickup truck in North Carolina, completed via oil on canvas with coarse bristle brushes.

Oil Painting of Rusty Pickup in North Carolina
This painting, completed by an artist who wishes to remain anonymous, is only her fifth attempt at oil painting. She has found inspiration from a subject matter that personally fascinates me: how things crumble and rust through time. The artist has shown evidence of an eye for finding inspiration from the most unlikely places. Degradation of objects, such as this old truck in ruin provides endless textures, contours and hues to explore.

Finding Inspiration from Rusty Objects

The medium used is oil on canvas, and what appears to be of a limited palette comprising mostly yellows, blues, greens with varying amounts of white. The rough texture of the canvas has been plied over via broad coarse bristle brushes for an impasto feel. The marks have been pasted on in different directions, creating energy and movement to the painting, which I find appealing. An underwash of a slightly deeper hue provides contrast against the sun-parched colour of grass in the foreground.

The original photograph
The artist has handled the complex subject matter well, conveying the feel of rust; of a vehicle yielding to the forces within the landscape. We can see pinks, violets and beiges, which I feel is the painting’s greatest strength and focal point. And yet there is a dreamy appeal that conflicts against the reality of rust.

Awareness of Light and Shadow

It can be seen from the photograph that North Carolina has fantastic light, almost brutal. In England, where I come from, light like this does not occur often enough. In this respect, I think the artist has great opportunities to exploit this incredible light. This means being aware of light and shadow, not just the outlines of the truck itself. Light and shadow can be seen as subject matters in themselves.

Shadow Shapes
Look for colours within shadows, for these are not merely darker versions of the surrounding colour, but often contain definite hues. In the photograph, the shadows on the truck display an array of blues, violets and even greens.

Light and shadow have been suggested in the painting, but I feel these could have been brought out more. Taking a closer look at the shapes of the shadows will yield odd, abstract and angular shapes cast across the truck’s front. I have simplified the shadow shapes of the truck in this illustration and blacked out the background to make these shapes stand out.

Don’t be afraid of expressing odd shapes in shadows, and of using bright colours if these can be seen. Often, reflected light will infill shadows. For instance, the sundrenched grass has created a turquoise cast on the truck’s door.

Colours within Green Foliage in Backgrounds

Simplifying Tree Shapes Decode their Meaning
Green is often a problematic colour for landscape artists, because of its label. But when we actually look at green in nature, it is rarely pure green, but somewhat sombre. Here, the artist has used what appears to be viridian or similar. The trees are actually quite honey-coloured with deep shadows between. Backgrounds comprising lots of foliage can leave the artist confused on what to do with it.

The secret is to simplify. See illustration of how I have broken down the seemingly complex shapes of the trees. Seeing these basic shapes decodes the background areas into what can more easily be expressed. Here, the trees can almost be seen as two or three colour shapes held together by a few key trunks. Of course, this can be elaborated on, but be vigilant of over-fussing.

How to Paint Trees in Oil a Few Tips

The colours seen in the original photograph can be achieved via a mixture of cadmium yellow, white with a dab of ultramarine. The shadows can be achieved via ultramarine and burnt umber with a dab or alizarin or similar crimson. The tree trunks can be expressed by burnt umber and ultramarine (or any cool blue).

Pick up Truck, Close up View
When painting a scene with many contrasting tones such as this, it is a good idea to have more than one art brush on the go. This saves on constantly cleaning the brushes. I might have a ‘sunlit’ brush and a ‘shadow’ brush’. This will prove useful when painting a scene with lots of light and shadow, and will retain freshness in the painting, as can be seen here.

Conclusion

Being only the fifth attempt at oil painting landscapes, it is evident the artist has a flair for expression. She also has an eye for where to glean artistic inspiration, which is not in the usual places. I love the loose brush marks in the foreground that is rather Impressionistic and also of the freshness and vibrancy. But the real highlight of the painting I feel is the sensitive portrayal of rust colours on the wheel arch and the bonnet of the truck.

I do feel the dazzling contrasts supplied by the Californian light could have been exploited more fully. This entails placing bright highlights against cool shadows. The trees in the background may also have overwhelmed, causing the artist to paste green paint indiscriminately. The secret is to simplify the complex and don’t be afraid of using bright colours if these can be seen. 

But the overall feel of this painting, is as dreamy, appealing expression of a rusted vehicle, giving way to the landscape, uniquely handled by someone at the beginning of an interesting journey.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

New Oil Painting Instruction Book for Beginners: No Need for an Easel or a Mahl Stick by Rachel Shirley

You have just received a set of oil colours, brushes and canvas boards as a present. This might be because you have a reputation for being a bit arty and might have dabbled with oils or acrylics in the past. You might be a complete beginner in oil painting. But what do you do with the art materials? 

Overcome Artist Block 

Click to buy from Amazon
Taking up a new hobby is always exciting. New and untouched oil tubes and brushes look enticing. The idea of embarking upon a painting project might fulfill an old dream of perhaps learning a new skill, holding an exhibition or earning a little money painting portraits or pets. Time goes by and you still have not picked up that brush. A blank canvas may reflect an artist block that solidifies with time. The oil paints end up collecting dust in the garage.

A Beginner’s Book on Oil Painting 

This is where this art instruction book comes in. Find tips on how to break out into painting using the simplest art materials and painting exercises. Bulky costly easels and stretched canvases are not needed. In fact, oil painting can be made clean and compact. I use a resting board with bulldog clips rather than an easel. Primed art boards save space and money as opposed to stretched canvases. Dozens of pigments and numerous art brushes of every size would also be superfluous to requirement.

Preview of Art Instruction Book on Oil Painting
How to Begin Oil Painting 

No need for a mahl stick means that only several colours, a few brush shapes, two art mediums and primed art boards form the essentials for oil painting. Find projects that begin from the very beginning – by trying out each pigment. Knowing your colours is like learning the alphabet before reading words, as pigments form the basics of colour mixing.

Basic Oil Painting Techniques 

Really, this book’s aim is to get that brush moving even if this means trying out each colour and comparing how one looks against another. Breaking artist block often entails simply squeezing the colours onto a palette and applying them. The artist confidence may build into colour mixing, shading technique, darkening colours, practicing colour theory, mark making and finally completing a first painting via high instruction within this book.

No Need for an Easel or a Mahl Stick Book Preview
Oil Painting Tips for the Beginner 

Find demos that progress to painting your first landscape, still life and animal painting via highly instructional step by step images and text. Build confidence through practice and glean tips along the way. Future projects would seem more possible after getting to know your art materials first.

What can I Paint? 

This invaluable art book is available on Kindle as well as paperback. The paperback version is 100 pages long and 8x10in in size. Each chapter summarizes with a bullet point list reinforcing what has been learned so far. Also find glossary and a recommended shopping list for the beginner, as well as tips on making oil painting cheap. This book is bursting with colour images with invaluable advice on simply getting started in oil painting. A must for the beginner in oil painting!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Oil Pigments Color Temperature, Paint Transparency and Hue Saturation

The artists’ first encounter with oil painting will be presented with a vast array of oil pigments in art shops. Many blues, browns and reds could cause confusion on which oil pigment to choose for painting. The cost of art materials will also influence the number of oil tubes to purchase. Which are the best oil colors to buy and how does each oil color differ regarding color temperature, coverage and intensity?

Different Blues in Oil Colors

Types of Pigments in Oil
A walk into the art shop will educate the artist on the number of art pigments available in the art shop. For instance, in regards to blue, the following can be found: French ultramarine, cerulean, Prussian blue, Monestrial blue, Pthalo blue, cobalt blue and more. The same applies to reds, greens, yellows and browns. I avoid packaged sets of oil colors, which do not work out cheap in the long run, as unnecessary hues are often included (and often the omission of an essential color). I will purchase the tubes separately, creating an essential collection of oil colors that will be used.

Pigment Temperature
Which Oil Pigments to Use

Most artists will use just a dozen or so oil paints (as do I) which includes a warm and cool version of the primary colors (red, yellow and blue) as well as earth colors, a few extras and white. I find the following oil pigments will mix just about any color needed for painting: Titanium white, French ultramarine, Pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium red, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow (pale), burnt sienna and burnt umber. The following are also useful extras: cerulean blue, viridian and alizarin crimson (an old favorite).

Using Oil Paints for the First Time

A good way of learning about the nature of each pigment is to apply each alone on a primed piece of card. The video clip informs on how each oil color differs in translucency and color temperature (how warm or cool it appears). Nothing quite equals trying out each color for yourself as opposed to reading about them, but basically, each color will have its own intensity, opacity, temperature and translucency. Find a YouTube clip on how I applied each oil pigment neat onto white card.


Translucent Blues and Reds

Color Temperature of Blue and Red
French ultramarine is quite a translucent color, not having the opacity of cerulean or cobalt. Pthalo blue is also quite translucent. Both require a little titanium to add coverage, but the addition of white will change the nature of the blue a little, killing its sparkle. The close up image shows translucent and opaque blues and reds. See how the translucent paint allows a little of the white gesso to show through, leaving a patchy feel to the paint layer.

This can be seen with viridian, which is also a transparent color. I applied it neat, and then with a little titanium white.

Opaque Pigments in Oil Colors

Color Temperature of Yellow Brown
Again, we can see here that lemon yellow and burnt sienna are rather translucent, where as cadmium yellow and burnt umber has more coverage. Translucent colors when applied over a white surface will appear vibrant. Opaque colors has good coverage but lacks this vibrancy.

Colour Temperature of Pigments

How warm or cool does the color appear? This is known as colour temperature. A warm color will be bias towards red, a cool colour will be bias towards blue. French ultramarine has a violet cast, meaning it has a warm colour temperature. Cerulean blue and Pthalo blue appears cooler. Cerulean has a slightly greenish tinge. Again, cadmium red has an orange-glow, giving it a warm cast. Permanent rose and alizarin crimson are cooler reds, having a violet cast. Similarly, burnt sienna is a warm, toasty brown; burnt umber is cooler. 

Guide to Oil Pigments Transparency and Colour Temperature

Adding White
To summarize, find a guide to the nature of each oil pigment below:

French Ultramarine: a warm, violet blue, tends to be translucent
Pthalo blue: a cool, deep blue, tends to be translucent
Cerulean blue: a cool, greenish blue, tends to be opaque
Viridian green: A sharp green, tends to be translucent
Permanent rose: a cool, violet red, tends to be translucent
Cadmium red: (deep to pale can be found) but tends to be orange-red, rather opaque
Alizarin crimson: a deep, violet brownish red, tends to be translucent
Lemon yellow: a pale, acidic yellow tends to be translucent
Cadmium yellow: (deep to pale can be found) but tends to be warm, orangey, rather opaque
Burnt sienna: a warm toasty brown, tends to be translucent
Burnt umber: a cool, coffee brown, tends to be opaque
Titanium white: a brilliant, opaque white. Will add opacity to any pigment it is mixed with.

More Articles about Art Pigments

My Science of Color site
Recommended Oil pigments for painting
How to make oil painting cheaper

Saturday, 27 September 2014

My Town Painting Looks a Mess: Help for Painting Houses and Harbors

Painting a town scene featuring lots of buildings and architectural features may cause frustration if the detail looks splodgy and lines wonky. How can the artist paint a town or harbour without the detail looking messy and amateurish?

Mistakes in Painting Towns in Detail

Painting a Torquay Scene
An artist presented with an intricate landscape scene for painting may be disappointed with the final result. The following oil painting practices may have contributed to an unsatisfactory town painting:

Completing the painting in one go, causing the artist to rush the end through tiredness. The result may be brush marks that appear carelessly rendered in the form of smudgy lines or paint that bleeds into neighbouring colours.

Not planning the underdrawing, causing mistakes to be inherited in the upper paint layer. No amount of artist precision will make up for an inaccurate drawing.

Poor art materials, particularly cheap brushes with no shape or springiness. This will rob the artist of paint control, causing the pigment to go into unwanted areas.

Applying the oil paint straight onto the white surface. Unless the artist is supremely confident, a degree of guesswork will result in a scene that is not centred upon the art surface properly or an imbalance in tones.

Another problem is that often, complex landscape scenes will feature darks and pales against one another. The result could be unwanted colour contamination within a small space. A messy painting may result.

How to Prepare for a Town Painting in Oil

This demonstration features Torquay Harbour on the Devon Coast in the UK. To make the painting easier I had prepared two acrylic underglazes prior to the oil painting: one to kill the white gesso, the other to reinforce detail so that the drawing will show beneath the glaze prior to oil painting. Prior to these, an accurate drawing is essential.

My art instruction YouTube clip shows how I prepared the underglaze for painting Torquay in Devon. Scroll to the bottom to see the second clip: the actual oil painting.




Tips for Intricate Town Painting in Oil

When faced with painting an intricate coastal town, the following are essential: a, clear photograph, fine quality sables for detail: no’s 1, 3 or 6 will suffice. A smooth art surface (fine canvas is OK, but the grain can make drawing smooth lines tricky). I used primed MDF. Don’t use old oil paints that have thickened with time.

Art Tutorial on Painting a Detailed Coastal Scene

The Under Drawing of Torquay
Torquay Harbour posed challenges in that it presents lots of tight detail in the form of houses, windows, roofs and boat masts. Rather than complete the painting in one go, I did so in stages and on separate days. Each painting session lasted only an hour or so with breaks.

Firstly, I conducted the underdrawing. Time is needed to get this right, but don’t go overboard with detail, as this will be covered with the oil paint anyway. I simply ensured the houses were drawn with reasonable accuracy and the composition centred upon the art surface in the way desired. A sharp HB pencil and eraser was used.

Underpainting with Acrylic Paint

Underdrawing and Glazing a Painting of Torquay
So that the drawing will show through the glaze (to be applied next), I reinforced the drawing by overlaying the lines with dark brown acrylic paint from a fine sable. Illustrating dark areas serves another purpose in that it supports the oil paint layer. Don’t use dark lines on areas that feature no lines or pale areas, such as the foreground reflections and the clouds, as the dark acrylic will show through the oil paint.

Art Lesson on How to Paint Torquay Harbor

Leave Lose Brushwork Till Last
Once the brown acrylic paint was dry, I overlaid the drawing with three coats of diluted blue acrylic paint. The application of one wash often results in unwanted streaks and brush marks. Three coats will create a more uniform appearance to the underglaze. This means that the overlying oil paint (which comprised mostly of pales around the houses) will be easier to key in to the surrounding.

Harbour Painting in Oils

Once the acrylic underglaze had dried, I began the oil painting, which was on a separate day. As can be seen, this preparatory technique means the artist is not faced with the prospect of laying colour straight onto a white surface or of guessing where to lay the paint. Fine sables are essential for detail such as windows and guttering. I used rounds no’s 3 and 6. Wider sables were used for the foreground reflections and the clouds.

Painting Detail Tips Art Instruction

Always begin with the most exacting area whilst feeling up to it. In this case, I began with painting the pale house frontages with varying amounts of white, burnt sienna and cadmium yellow. Painting pale prior to dark means the dark cannot contaminate the pales. As can be seen here, the houses vary slightly in their cream tones. It doesn’t matter if the pale colour goes over the windows, as the dark brown acrylic paint shows through. Reinforcement in the form of dark oil paint can be applied later.

This second YouTube clip shows the oil painting stage. Again, I began with the trickiest areas. I left the looser brushwork until last. This consisted of the sky and reflections.


Tips for Painting Towns and Cities

As can be seen, the huge challenge of painting towns with lots of buildings can be broken down into manageable tasks on separate days. In this case, the stages consisted of: the drawing (take time to get this right), overlaying the lines with acrylic paint, overlaying the composition with a series of acrylic glazes. Finally, the oil paint can be applied on a separate day via fine sables. Often, a touching up session is required once the oil paint is dry. This might be to sharpen detail around windows or straighten lines. A little linseed oil will help the paint flow.

More Tips for Oil Painting

Build confidence in oil painting
Torquay Harbour worked from a photo taken by Joseph Busby

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Four States of Color: How Color Looks Different in Different Art Techniques

The pigment of oil paint can look different depending upon how it is applied. Various oil painting techniques will give the painting a different look and feel. Paint applied thickly will look different to paint applied thinly. The color label on a tube of paint is only part of the story, as can be seen here.

Different Blues from One Blue

Ultramarine & alizarin crimson
When applied as a translucent glaze on white gesso, French ultramarine will possess great luminescence, because of the white gesso shining through the paint layer. The blue will almost appear to glow, like sapphire. If a little titanium white is added to the blue, the ultramarine will not only appear lighter, but this translucency will vanish. This is because adding white adds opacity and therefore reduces luminescence. The close up image shows this treatment of ultramarine and alizarin crimson. The upper row shows a thin coat of pigment. The lower row shows the pigment with white added. Notice the nature of the color changes as well as its tone.

Oil Painting Art Techniques Shifting Color 

Different applications of paint
There are other ways of applying a color. In this image, the upper pigment has been applied thickly. Notice little imperfections and unevenness in the layer. A single paint layer is difficult to perfect because of the white showing through in places beneath.

The solution to this is to allow this paint to dry and then apply another coat on top. This can be seen in the bottom paint layer. Here, two thin glazes have been applied one on top of the other. Notice the evenness of the paint layer and how one evens out the other.

See my Youtube clip that demonstrates how I applied the paint in these four different ways.


Four Simple Oil Painting Techniques

Glazing an Oil Painting for Translucent Paint over Gesso 

Glazing with oil paint
Applying the pigment of any oil color will appear different depending on the technique. A thin glaze applied straight onto white gesso will given it a transparent and luminescent feel. An example of this can be seen in the image of a garden arbor, that looks rather like watercolor washes. The oil paint can be thinned down further with a little linseed oil or artist spirits.

Opaque Oil Paint for Flat Colors 

The opposite of a thin paint glaze is an opaque paint layer. None of the underlying gesso will show through. The paint is dense because a little white might be added to it, or it will be applied thickly. Opaque paint is necessary for flat, bright colors.

Alla Prima in a Broken Paint Layer 

Castlerigg Stone Circle alla prima
This image of Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria shows the application of broken paint layer. The paint is opaque and fairly thick but applied in a rough single layer. This is known as alla prima. Alla prima is difficult to smooth out. The only way round this is to allow the first paint layer to dry before applying another layer on top. This will even out imperfections in the paint layer.

Two Paint Glazes for Smooth Effects 
Smooth glazing with oils
This image of radiation fog over mountains exhibits smooth glazes, as the painting was completed in two sessions. The first paint layer was applied fairly thinly, allowed to dry and then a second glaze applied on top. Often a little linseed oil is needed for the upper paint layer to add flexibility.


Different Colors with Various Techniques in Oil Color 

As can be seen here, a given color can appear different depending on how it is applied. A translucent layer will appear different to a thick layer. Add a little white to increase opacity and the luminescence from the underlying white gesso will disappear. Applying one paint layer over another will create a smooth, almost perfect paint layer. These four states of color can be used to create a desired effect in oil painting.

More Articles about Oil Painting Art Techniques and Color

What are the main oil painting techniques?
My science of color site
Glazing with oils for beginners
The nature of blue pigment
Why is my painting cracking?
What are different alkyd mediums for?
Paint a landscape in 100 strokes