OIL PAINTING WORKSHOP
Picture making for all levels with water-mixable oils. Or regular oils with linseed oil and Eco-House 125 Neutral Thinner.
Over two days you will learn a number of exercises, techniques and methods so that you can experiment, explore, learn and
grow on your own after the workshop. Painting is more about concept and 2D design than about applying paint to canvas.
Ways to Learn and Improve Your Picture Making
1. Focus on concept - what it is you hope to capture. Not 'what is the subject'.
2. Thumbnail sketching - try several compositions in just a few minutes.
2a. Or...use sketchy lines or fuzzy shapes on the canvas to find your composition.
3. Charcoal drawing - focus on shapes and values, no color.
4. Color mixing - three primaries, plus black and white, mix full range of color.
5. Painting play - mix colors you like, paint by whim & chance, see what happens.
6. Memory/imagination painting - paint without references.
7. Mapping and coloring - outline major shapes with black, pick a color for each shape.
8. Five step painting process - gesture, outline, underpaint, reconstruct outline, paint.
9. Assess and Correct - Is it working and how to fix it.
1. Focus on Concept
What is the painting about? Not what subject are you painting. What mood, emotion, atmosphere do you want to evoke?
What inspired you to paint this picture? Write the concept down so you can check that you're on track as you paint. This is
the most important step. You can borrow a concept from an old master's painting, a living artist, a photograph, a movie, TV,
etc. What kind of art do you respond to the most? That's probably how you should be painting.
2. Thumbnail Sketching
Using pencil or pen on paper make a number of small, quick sketches in which you explore ways to best depict your concept,
at least three. Divide your rectangle into only a few large shapes and values, no more than five or six, less if possible. Try
horizontal, vertical, square formats. No detail. Try out compositions and imagine how you would paint the final. Decide high
key, mid key or low key. Notan can be included in this category...small sketches with only three shapes each a different
value. To aid in planning your picture you will need to be familiar with the elements and principles of art listed in 9. below.
Some prefer to explore composition directly on the canvas using vague shapes and sketchy lines that are easily changed until
it feels right.
3. Charcoal Drawing
A very flexible, fluid and forgiving way to draw that is much like painting...and it's fun! A great way to practice picture
making. You will learn to work with values alone to make a picture, an essential thing to know for good painting.
Materials needed: 4B pencil; felt-tip markers, fine and broad; Vine Charcoal, fat and thin Chamois; Stumps; Conte, black and
white; Erasers, Extra Soft and kneaded; Paper Towel; Sketch book, Fingers and can of Hair Spray for fixative.
Draw a border. Sketch in the composition with the pencil. Confirm the drawing with the fine felt tip pen darkening only
essential key points you don't want to loose because all the pencil lines are going to disappear. With the broad felt tip fill in
the darkest shapes. Rub the large vine charcoal over all the white area remaining. Gently smooth the charcoal with the
chamois to make a uniform middle gray. With the extra soft eraser remove charcoal in light areas. The kneaded eraser will
bring back the white paper in the very lightest areas. The paper towel is for removing charcoal, blending, making marks and
wiping fingers. The stumps are good for blending small areas. Then it's a matter of adding and removing charcoal, working
back and forth until you're happy with the effect. I use the white Conte at the end for white lines and spots or even to make a
black area white if needed.
Very similar to drawing with charcoal and a useful transition from drawing to painting are the monochromatic oil wash and
the monochromatic oil painting. In the oil wash technique no white is used, only the white of the gesso, wiping off paint if
4. Color Mixing
Using just three primary colors plus black and white has two big advantages. The color scheme is automatically harmonized
and you will become very good at mixing color. Starting with Cerulean Blue, Yellow Lemon and Permanent Rose secondary
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colors can be mixed: green, orange, and purple, plus any other color. Or use three primaries you already have. These are
called 'hues'. Mixed secondaries will not be as intense or saturated as those you can buy in a tube, but for painting
realistically they are fine. In time you may want to add a few more colors, but you don't need to. It is better to get everything
you can from a few colors than try to make everything work with too many colors.
Most of the time you will want to paint with grays rather than paint directly from the tube. Many colors you put on the canvas
will be mixed from all three primaries in different proportions. For example, the green mixed with Cerulean and Yellow will
need to be toned down by adding Rose. Rose is called the 'compliment' of green because it is on the opposite side of the color
wheel. Other useful grays can be mixed with a gray made from black and white plus red, for example, or some other color.
All of these grays are called 'tones'. Tones can be more pleasing to the eye. They are complex, subtle and sophisticated. You
may want to pre-mix a medium gray in cool and warm versions to save time. Tints are made by adding white to any color.
Shades are made by adding black to any color.
5. Painting Play
Applying paint with no concept or goal in mind allows you to just play with paint. The final outcome is of no
importance...having fun is. At some point you may see the suggestion of something, a face, a river, a figure. You can
reinforce that image or let it go. Now is the time to be a little bit wild. Try things you would not try in a real painting.
Experiment, discover, be impulsive, what if, see what happens.
6. Memory/Imagination Painting
Painting without reference material is a good way to improve your memory and powers of observation. It allows you to focus
on the canvas and the 2D design problem, simplifying is automatic.
7. Mapping and Coloring
A simplified version of the traditional painting process. You are already familiar with this type of art. It's used in cartoons,
funny papers, comic books, Manga, stained glass, posters, Hokusai woodblock prints and cloisonné. The results can be very
The most difficult task in painting is simplifying and clarifying the profusion and ambiguities of nature as you try to
reduce it all to a two dimensional design to hang on the wall. Mapping means to make an outline of the important shapes,
organizing your design into concrete shapes with clear and distinct boundaries. The line is black and more or less of uniform
thickness. Each enclosed area is painted in a solid color. Adjustments can be made if needed. Finally, color variation,
gradation, etc. may be added within each area. This exercise requires you to think in a way that is very useful for your growth
as a designer in two dimensional space.
8. Five step painting process…only one of the many ways to make a painting.
1. Gesture and Movement - Use a pencil, move it lightly and loosely. Don't draw the object rather find the movement
in the composition, feel out the boundaries of the canvas. This will link the subject with the canvas in your mind.
2. Outline - Similar to mapping, the outline will give structure to the picture. Locate the line where two values meet.
Use a paint brush with a dark paint. More contrast between two areas of value means a darker line will separate
them. Less contrast between two areas of value means a thinner and lighter line will separate them. Don't focus on
drawing objects...let it happen as you outline the value shapes.
3. Underpaint - Mix up colors that are close to what you envision, but somewhat lighter. Leave the white of the
canvas for the lightest areas. Make no commitment to final values now. The image should emerge slowly like a
Polaroid photo. The constructions lines may be covered over. Keep it light and make sure the colors you choose look
good together on the canvas. Scrub a little of a new color on the canvas and see what it does to the colors already
there. If it looks better, go ahead; if it looks worse, wipe it off or paint it over. Work all over the canvas. Don't stay in
one place too long. You're figuring out what colors to use for this painting by trial and error. Make no attempt to finish
anything, but get a good start on everything. Generally, the less finished the better. Still no commitments and we are
not trying to paint a peach and a strawberry...just apply beautiful areas of color that begin to give the impression of
fruit. Leave plenty for the viewer to do...don't 'finish' everything.
4. Reconstruct - Reestablish those boundary lines between areas of value contrast. The line work gives it structure.
By scumbling we lost all the lines. It is possible you'll like this effect. If so, stop and frame it, you're done! Or you
may do such a good job of reconstruction that you want to call it done and start another one. Usually you will go on to
5. Paint - Using thicker paint this time repaint the picture adjusting, correcting and improving as you go.
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9. Assess and Correct
A painting is a series of corrected mistakes. As each stroke is laid down you should automatically assess the effect on what's
already there. Does it fit in, does it add to or take away from? This determination is not done intellectually, not with logic and
reasoning. You rely on how it feels to you. How do you know the soup needs more salt? You exercise your sense of taste. It
may help to step back to get a fresh look. Then correct the value, the color, the shape. At some point you may know
something is wrong, but what is hard to say. Now is the time to use logic and reasoning by doing an evaluation based on the
elements and principles of art. Ask yourself a series of questions. Is my color scheme unified? Do I need to add gradation?
Do I have enough contrast, rhythm, harmony, etc.? Are my values working? So on down the list noting problems and fixing
them. It may help to set the canvas aside for a few days, look in a mirror, move to different light or get a second opinion.
How does your favorite artist make a painting work? You can use this process to figure it out. No one can paint better than
his ability to critique.
Here is a list of the elements of art: Line, Shape, Value, Color, Movement, Size, Pattern. Here is a list of the principles of
art: Unity, Harmony, Contrast, Rhythm, Repetition, Gradation, Balance, Dominance.
If you find yourself getting frustrated, go back to the basics. If your paintings are not working out it is almost always a
problem with values. Go back to charcoal drawing or monochromatic painting. Increase your understanding of values and
their importance. If the value is right you can use almost any color. Have you simplified nature enough? Take the pressure off
by doing a series of random paintings or paintings from imagination. Be prepared to sacrifice any part to improve the whole.
If you spend hours rendering a tree beautifully only to notice it competes with the equally rendered barn, the tree must be
subordinated. If you've worked for hours, tried everything and it's still a disaster, be bold...scrape all the paint off, wipe it
down to the canvas. You may still have a ghost image left to use as a guide for starting over. After you get some experience
your time is better spent in planning the painting than actually painting. You will find a lot of instructional material on my
website: www.buildart.com/blog.htm and in my new book, 'Real Art Real Easy', search for it on Amazon.com.
More Learning Activities
1. Copy an old master's painting.
2. Paint on location, en plein air; or do a still life.
3. Study art history.
4. Memorize and understand the elements and principles of art.
5. Attend life drawing sessions.
6. Frequent galleries and museums.
7. Study art instruction books and videos.
8. Join a critique group.
9. Sketch everywhere you go.
10. Try a new style.
11. Do timed paintings of 25, 45 and 60 minutes.
Learning to paint is a life-long journey. Remember...it's supposed to be fun!
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