Friday, 12 March 2010

What are the Main Oil Painting Techniques?

Confronting art techniques for oil painting for the first time may overwhelm the beginner on the diversity on offer. Fine art painting books would suggest that oil painting requires complex practices and materials, but this is not necessarily the case. The beginner may enjoy simple oil painting techniques with effective results, and which will give the fledgling artist satisfaction.

Basic Oil Painting Techniques

The Key Techniques for Oil Painting
Rachel Shirley
The beginner in oil painting may begin with all prima, which simply describes a painting completed in one session and therefore in one paint layer. Quick oil painting sketches of landscapes or skies, for example, are typically completed in alla prima. Such a technique requires the application of neat oil paint straight onto the painting surface.

Oil painting impasto complements alla prima, in that impasto describes a thick paint layer, and one which may enhance the painting with brisk brush marks or other textures within the paint. Thick paint or impasto can be manipulated with wide bristle brushes, palette knives or other mark making instruments.

Oil Painting Glazing

In opposition to the two oil painting techniques just described, glazing with oils describes the completion of a oil painting by the application of several layers of oil paint and over several sessions. Each layer or “glaze” will be translucent in appearance in order to modify the colour beneath, to enrich the colour or to alter its tone. The paint will usually be thinned with either linseed oil or an alkyd medium such as Liquin. Many old masters practiced glazing, applying in as much of ten or more before satisfied with the result.

My Youtube clip below, showing Bacchus from Titian's painting Bacchus and Ariadne, shows the combination of 2 art techniques: the background had been completed in glazes for smooth detail. The Bacchus figure, as can be seen, was completed in one paint layer (alla prima).

Sgraffito Oil Painting

Sgraffito provides special paint effects by adding textures to the oil paint. Any mark making implement can be used, from old combs and toothbrushes to pencils. By applying a conflicting colour beneath the painting, this colour will be revealed when the upper layer is etched off, introducing an element of movement and energy to the oil painting.

Simple Oil Painting Techniques

Further techniques in oil paint can be explored as the artist learns more about this medium. Tonking is a useful technique for undoing an area of painting the artist is unhappy with. By blotting off the area concerned with newspaper, the paint can be lifted off without affecting the surrounding area.

Scumbling is an oil painting technique that gives a broken finish to the paint, adding atmosphere to clouds or landscapes. Constable practiced scumbling in his later paintings.

Art Techniques

With different oil painting techniques at one’s disposal, the artist can make oil painting as simple or as complex as one needs it to be. Several techniques can be combined within one painting to provide contrast in approach. But the beginner need only require the oil paint, a few brushes and primed artboard in order to begin oil painting.

Links on Oil Painting Techniques

Saturday, 6 March 2010

How do I Darken the Colour of Snow?

Because the colour of snow is inherently white, this knowledge will be carried into snow paintings, resulting in a flat portrayal of snow. The beginner in painting snow will stick to pale colours, or just white, creating a painting that appears unfinished for the white patches that abound. Some artists make the mistake of darkening the colour of snow with black, resulting in dirty looking snow that lacks atmosphere.

Avoiding Dirty Colours in Snow

An unsatisfactory painting of snow could be avoided if certain painting practices are avoided, which are:
    Colour Mixes for Snow
    Rachel Shirley
  • Restricting the colour of snow to white
  • Darkening the colour of snow with black or dark brown
  • Portraying snow as a quilt-like layer lying on every perceivable surface portrayed in the painting, resulting in an idealistic painting of snow
  • Trying to paint snow from memory or using poor reference material
  • Toning down dark and contrasting colours that are actually in the resource material, resulting in a snow painting that appears bleached out
  • Having insufficient colours at the artist’s disposal, resulting in substituting or restricting colours within the painting
  • Painting snow straight onto a white painting surface, making it difficult to judge the tonal values of snow and therefore making it impossible to make it key in to the rest of the painting
  • Using the same brush marks throughout the painting to express snow
Tips on Painting Snow

With the above in mind, improvements can be made to a snow painting. The following tips and ideas will help:
  • My link to an oil painting demonstration of snow will reveal that snow is not merely white, but consists of an array of pales and pastel shades, particularly in oblique lighting. White with a hint of burnt sienna will result in luscious creams often seen in snow drifts; white with a hint of ultramarine will result in pastel violets seen within shadows on bright sunny days. Other pales, such as crimsons, china blues and eggshells will add authenticity to the colour of snow
  • Similarly, snow often contains subtle darks, from deep violets, midnight blues and earth colours, to magenta.
  • Throw the black paint in the bin. It is better to darken the colour of snow with a hint of ultramarine mixed with burnt sienna or burnt umber for extra definition. Pthalo blue mixed with permanent rose also results in deep violets, ideal for snow shadows
  • Having good reference material is essential to a snow painting. Only sensitive observation will reveal that snow possesses subtleties and variations in outlines, textures and tones
  • Applying a thin wash of a neutral coloured paint over the painting surface prior to embarking the snow painting will help the artist judge the true tonal values of snow. This would be impossible if the white colour of snow were applied onto a white painting surface, which would give a misleading impression of its tone. Acrylic paint is ideal for underpainting, for it dries quickly and provides a good grounding for oil paint.
  • Painting from light to dark will help avoid colour contamination if clean pales are to be retained in the snow painting
See my youtube clip on painting a snowy landscape in 7 steps.

Techniques for Painting Snow

A wintry landscape painting often benefits from impasto techniques, which requires good quality bristle brushes and thick paint, applied alla prima, which means “in one go.” To save the cost of oil paint, impasto medium can be used. Adding impasto medium to highlights and pales of snow will make snow appear to advance out of the painting, adding an element of texture. Palette knives can also be used

For subtle colours and detail, such as the dusting of snow on branches, good quality thin sables should be used. To suggest snow blasted surfaces after a blizzard, a little white paint can be flicked at selected areas of the painting. A fine spray can be achieved by mixing a little linseed oil into the paint mixture.

Lastly, when darkening the colour of snow, it is best to introduce the dark colour gradually, to prevent a dirty mix or producing shadows that appear too black.

Essential Art Materials for Painting Snow

The following pigments would come in very useful for adding depth to snow paintings: white, ultramarine, pthalo blue, burnt sienna, permanent rose and burnt umber. Other colours will occasionally be seen, such as a little cadmium red and even viridian. Impasto medium is useful for impasto techniques, as well as good quality wide bristle brushes. Sables are invaluable for blending and detail. Round sizes 3, 6 and 12 would suit most painting sizes.

Related Links on Painting Snow

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My Cumulus Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool

The beginner in oil painting may try to make a sky sketch more interesting by filling it with idealistic puffy white clouds. Such a cumulus painting is likely to be expressed with white paint upon a stark blue sky. The contours of the clouds will have a bubbly or candyfloss look. A painting of cumulus clouds of this nature could spoil an otherwise accomplished landscape painting.

The Culprits to an Idealistic Painting of Cumulus Clouds

How to Paint Realistic Clouds
Rachel Shirley
The following oil painting practices will often be the culprit of an unsatisfactory portrayal of cumulus clouds:
  • Trying to paint the clouds from memory
  • Using a colour palette that is imagined rather than what is real, for example, restricting the colours to mere white or cream and black
  • Painting clouds merely to fill an empty space within the painting
  • Working from an inferior photograph
  • Blending the colours of the clouds too much
  • Using the same brush marks throughout the sky painting
  • Using a flat (or bright) bristle brush to blend the edges of the cumulus clouds
  • Trying to darken the colour of the cumulus clouds with black
Tips on Painting Cumulus Clouds

Close observation will reveal that there is more to cumulus clouds than mere puffy cotton wool formations. Cumulus clouds have different categories and shapes, for instance, Cumulus Humilis are the regimented flat-based formations often seen during settled weather; cumulus Congestus are formed from stronger convection, creating taller formations and sharp outlines. Cumulonimbus Incus is a wedge-shaped thunder cloud with a dazzling array of tones and colours. The following observations will help the artist paint cumulus clouds to add atmosphere to the oil painting.
  • Dispense with black altogether
  • Looking for unlikely colours will result in more convincing portrayal of cumulus clouds. They often contain violets, greens and crimsons, as well as pinks.
  • Cumulus clouds also contain diverse outlines. The tops of a tall cumulus cloud will appear sharper and more defined than the cumulus formations nearer to the viewer
  • Cumulus clouds often possess flat bases, which will adhere to the rules of perspective. The further the cumulus formations are from the viewer, the more regimented they will appear to be. Formations at the zenith or nearer the viewer will appear more chaotic
  • Cumulus clouds possess different types of pales as well as darks. Using a dab of burnt sienna with white will produce brilliant creams. A little ultramarine blue is ideal for creating cool highlights, offering pleasing contrasts. A dab of permanent rose will add warmth to the highlights of cumulus clouds during sunset
  • Similarly, cumulus clouds contain different-coloured darks. Ultramarine and crimson can often be seen at cumulus bases. Burnt umber and pthalo blue is ideal for the undersides of shower clouds
  • Bizarre colours can be seen reflecting off cumulus clouds during the oblique lighting of sunrise or sunset, such as dazzling red, yellows and greens. Resist the temptation to tone them down.
  • Ensure the tonal values of the cumulus clouds key in to the rest of the painting, for instance, that they are not too pale, making the sky appear bleached out compared to the land. Standing back from the painting and viewing it through half-closed eyes will help
Essential Art Materials for Painting Cumulus Skies

The following colour palette is invaluable for painting cumulus clouds, although other colours will be seen: Titanium white, burnt sienna, burnt umber, ultramarine, pthalo blue and permanent rose. Round bristle brushes (not flat) are ideal for impasto effects or for applying large areas of colour. Good quality sable brushes are ideal for blending, but fine sables, sizes 3 and 6 are good for detail, such as defining the sharp edges of a thundercloud. Impasto medium will add bulk to the oil paint, adding texture to an impasto sky painting.

Related Links on Painting Skies

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

How do I Erase a Mistake from My Painting?

An otherwise effective oil painting could be spoiled by a garish tree, a black splodge or a grey expanse of water that is not in keeping with the vibrant colours of the painting. In an attempt to put the painting right, the artist may fiddle with the area, overworking the paint until it looks a muddy mess. How can the painting be put right?

Culprits to Making Mistakes in Oil Painting

Correct an Oil Painting
Rachel Shirley
Few things are more frustrating for the artist than completing a satisfactory oil painting, except for a particular area. The view holds true that an oil painting is only as good as its weakest point. No matter what the artist does, the offending area of oil paint will continue to draw the eye unintentionally. The undesirable option of scrapping the painting and starting again may seem to be the only option. The following may have brought the artist to this point:
  • Completing the painting in one go causing the final part to be rendered when tired or in a rush
  • Guesswork an area of painting by trying to paint it from memory, for instance by using green paint neat from the tube for grass or trees
  • Trying to work from a poor photograph
  • Fiddling too much with an area of the painting, causing the area to lose life and become muddy
  • Trying to erase a mistake by adding ever thicker layers of oil paint
  • Having insufficient colours within the palette to express the colours required, causing the artist to use substitute colours which are unsatisfactory
  • Using cheap brushes, which do not control the paint sufficiently
  • Not thinking through the composition properly until the paint has been applied when it is too late
How to Put an Oil Painting Right

Scrapping the painting need not always be the only option, unless the overall painting is unsatisfactory. If only one area is at fault, the following may be worth trying:

If the area is quite large, such as a lake painting or area of sky, for example, carefully wipe the paint off with a clean soft rag. Keep wiping the area with a clean area of cloth until most of the paint is removed.
With a little linseed oil on a clean rag, wipe the last remnants of the oil paint from the painting surface
Leave the area to dry for two days or so, or until the painting surface is dry

If the offending area of the oil painting has completely dried, the area can be lightly sanded down with fine glass paper to remove any impasto effects and paint ridges until smooth. Using a dust buster or vacuum will prevent the dust from lodging into another area of the painting.

Tonking an Oil Painting

If the offending area is close to an intricate area of detail, the artist may use a method known as “tonking,” named after sir Arthur Tonks, who came up with the idea. It is quite simple and is akin to blotting.
  • Cut or tear a piece of clean paper (newspaper will do) into roughly the size and shape of the offending area of the painting
  • Place the paper over the area and press down with the palms of the hands
  • Gently lift the paper off
  • Repeat with more clean paper
  • Lift off again
  • Repeat until no paint can be seen lifting off with the paper
  • The painting can be left to dry over a day or so and new paint can be reapplied over the area
Essential Art Materials for Successful Oil Painting

Mistakes are unavoidable and are part of learning how to oil paint. However, the following will help minimise mistakes from spoiling an otherwise effective oil painting:
  • Good quality artist’s resources, such as clear photographs or sketches
  • Including the primary colours for colour mixing
  • Having good quality sable brushes or bristles
  • Stick to recommended oil painting manufacturers such as Winsor & Newton or Daler Ronwey
  • Composing the picture properly before applying the paint
When tired or time is running short, don’t rush it, put the painting away. It can be completed the next day.

Links to Advice on Oil Painting

Monday, 1 March 2010

How do I Make Water Look Like Water in My Paintings?

Painting reflections in water paintings is often a most problematic area for the beginner. They are often illustrated as simply an inverted image of the object above, sometimes misaligned or too idealistic. In other cases, water is illustrated as an area of harsh blue or slate grey, with suggestions of little waves on top. Such a portrayal of water is likely to look naive to the viewer.

Common Mistakes with Painting Water

Realistic Water Painting
Rachel Shirley
By drawing attention to painting practices that are the causes of an unsatisfactory painting of water, the artist can begin to make improvements. The following areas are often the culprit of a lake painting that fails to convince.
  • Using any blue or grey at hand and painting it neat over the area representing water
  • Painting waves on top of the water by using the same brush mark, the same colour and the same size, all over the water surface
  • Illustrating the body of water as having a definite edge
  • Representing the water as having the same tonal value all over the water’s surface regardless of the surrounding weather conditions
  • Painting reflections misaligned to the objects causing the reflections or painting them off true of vertical
  • Painting the reflections with the exactly the same colours and tonal values as the objects causing them
  • Illustrating edges to reflections and colour areas that may not exist
Tips for Painting Water and Reflections

Although water is a complex subject matter, when it comes to painting lakes, seas and rivers, water adheres to certain rules.
  • If a reflection of an object is visible in the water, it will always lie immediately below the object itself. Using a ruler as a drawing aid will help ensure accuracy
  • Regardless of the shape of the object, its reflection will be given a vertical aspect due to the texture of the water’s surface
  • The colour of the object’s reflection will often be darker or more muted than the object causing the reflection
  • Ripples, waves and other surface textures on the water will appear smaller, flatter and more regimented with distance.
  • If the light is behind the viewer on a calm day and a uniform sky, the tone and colours of the water’s surface will appear more muted and paler with distance
  • The colour of the sky will always appear a little darker and saturated when in reflection.
See my video clip on how I painted water in this Lakeland scene. As can be seen, the colours of the lake adhere to certain rules. The colour is deeper than the sky colour, patterns appear more regimented and smaller with distance. A basic colour palette of cerulean blue, burnt sienna and white was used.

The Secrets to Painting Water

As with painting any subject matter, careful observation is the key to painting convincing water. The following tips will help:
  • When painting reflections, turn the painting upside down to ensure they are truly vertical and lie immediately below the objects reflected.
  • Don’t exclude any colour from the palette of water, regardless of how bizarre it may seem, so long as the colour can be perceived in the water.
  • Check that the tonal value and colour of the water keys in with the surrounding landscape. For instance, a body of water that appears too dark or too blue will cause the painting to jar. Standing back from the painting and half closing the eyes will help the artist gain an overall view of the painting and how the water fits in. Making adjustments will often be necessary
  • Resist the temptation of illustrating every wave and ripple. Using a soft brush or wide bristle brush will help soften any sharp edges and lines.
  • Painting water will always involve a certain amount of blending, such as the edges of reflections, ripples and shorelines. Using a wide sable brush is ideal for this purpose
  • Using a wet into wet technique is a great way of giving water a fluid look
  • If the area of water is unsatisfactory, it pays to wipe the area off with a clean rag, or to let the area dry and to apply a thin layer of oil paint on top in a glaze.
  • Using linseed oil and painting water in layers will often result in a lustrous and smoothly gradated area of colour and tone
  • To add sharpness to the blue of water, adding a little viridian green to pthalo blue will illustrate a crisp water’s surface on a clear day
Essential Art Materials for Painting Water

Painting water favours some colours more than others. Useful pigments are titanium white, ultramarine, pthalo blue, cerulean, permanent rose and viridian green, although other colours will be seen.

Good quality soft sables, flat sized 6 and 10 are useful for blending large areas of water. Rounds sizes 1 and 3 are ideal for sharpening up detail. Bristle brushes such as ox hair are perfect for impasto techniques and pasting on large areas. For experimental techniques, linseed oil will add transparency and lustre to the paint for glazing techniques. Impasto medium is ideal for adding body to the paint and making the painting stand out in relief, for example when expressing rough seas and spray.

Links on How to Paint Water