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.


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.