Now that fall is in its full swing, serving us colder days, some of us might feel like staying at home rather than going out or simply to get a break from all the studying. Why not use this time as an opportunity to truly discover the artistic side of yourself? There are a vast number of different materials and ways to produce art, but what has stuck personally to me is oil painting. The most celebrated painters created their art with oil paint, but there is certainly no need to paint like Monet and Lautrec yet. Either if you are a beginner, curious to learn or simply need a piece of art to your empty wall, fear not, I got you!
Oil paint being one of the most popular mediums due to its versatility, preservability, and long history of use by incredible painters really makes it special. As I started to learn myself by reading online a couple of years ago, I failed on several different levels, but I tried over and over again. I hear many say that painting with oil is difficult due to the paint’s consistency or its long drying process, but I want to convince you of the opposite. In fact, oil paint might even be easier compared to other mediums such as acrylics and watercolors once you try it more. Certainly, I am still no professional, but the least I can say is that I feel comfortable enough to guide you. Without further ado, let’s jump straight into it!
Before you set up the stage for your painting endeavors, be ready for that no matter how careful you try to be, stains from the paint somehow find their way, either onto clothes or the space where you paint, and yes, this paint is a PAIN to remove. Therefore, before you start painting, secure your space, and put on the old shirt you first intended to get rid of. Further, you don’t need an abundance of materials and solvents. For example, there is no need for an easel, instead I recommend starting off with smaller paintings to really try out the paint and understand how it works. What you do need is the following:
- A range of small to large paint brushes for oil painting
- A flat palette, for example plexiglass or disposable palette paper (I use the latter)
- Odorless solvent for oil paint, to wash brushes or thin out the paint. (Don’t forget the brushes in the solution for more than a week, it destroys them. I’ve lost many…)
- A painting support: canvas or paper for oil paint.
- A piece of cloth or paper towel to clean/brush of the paint brushes
- Palette knife (optional, but very convenient when blending colors)
As for the paints themselves, you can start with a simple palette of the primary colors (blue, red, yellow) and a white. If you want to extend to a wider range of tones and hues, of better quality, I recommend investing in the following to begin with:
Compared to acrylics which are water soluble, oil paints are composed from oil and pigment, with a thicker consistency, almost like room temperature butter. Since oil paint is not made of water you cannot mix or blend it with water, instead you use a solvent to clean the brushes and thin out the paint if you wish to do so. Because oil colors are much more pigmented than acrylics, they tend to be more expensive, but due to their strong pigment you don’t need large amounts of paint, making them last rather long. Although, nowadays you can also find water-based oil paint, which you can use water with. However, I do not have much experience with those, but it seems to work just as well as the regular oil paint.
And now to the actual painting. Don’t hesitate in the beginning, just give it a try, and trust the process. There is no wrong way to paint, but I will describe how I do it. Previously, I would directly outline the figure on a blank canvas, however I have learned that having a thin underlying base on the whole canvas in the beginning, makes the painting process a lot easier. To make the base, mix a little bit of every color on your palette (except for white, do not add it here) and you can adjust the color of the base depending on the ratio of each color. With a base covering the entire canvas, there is less of a contrast, which facilitates a clearer view of how the colors develop and blend as you add more, as opposed to starting on a completely blank canvas. Next, using thin paint, map out where you want your major shapes to be. There is no need to paint accurately at this stage. Subsequently you may add blocks of colors to the shapes you painted, giving the picture a better context in terms of light and shade. The picture at this time might look funny and you may doubt everything, but don’t give up here! From now on you should play around with the colors as you wish to refine your painting. In the picture series below, you can see the approach, unfortunately due to some time limit I did not get to finish it yet, but I hope you understand how you may approach the painting process.
With the major areas mapped out, it becomes easier to visualize the overall composition and how you want the colors to play. Important thing to keep in mind is the oil paint’s longer drying time. Generally oil paint dries in several stages and becomes touch dry within 12 days, but depending on which pigment, the drying time varies. Hence if you want to work on a dry surface, wait a couple of days and carefully touch the canvas to assess the texture. The beautiful thing with oil paint is that the slower drying time makes it possible to work on and modify paintings over a longer period of time. Isn’t that great?
You can call me a nerd, but I could go on forever rambling about oil painting. I hope this crash course was helpful and that you might end up enjoying it as much as I do. Maybe you’ll give oil painting a shot at your next “sip and create” get-together with your friends, or simply try it for some alone time. Either way, there are plenty of chances for you to give it a try and remember, it might be challenging at first, but you learn by doing. Imagine the satisfaction after you have finished the painting! Besides, there are often going to be things you want to change about your own painting, but sometimes you also have to accept the beauty in those flaws. Most importantly, do not forget to have fun during this adventure!