Saturday, 10 May 2008

10 tips to get you started with oil painting

This article was first published in Frequency Magazine - April 2008

Oil painting may seem a difficult medium, but it is in fact versatile and very forgiving. Whether you are new to painting or already using another medium, don’t be afraid to go for oil painting. Here are my ten tips to get you on the right path:

1) Buy the best quality paint you can afford. Manufacturers sell different ranges of colours. The cheapest ones are often labelled as “student” and contain fewer pigments. Buy “extra-fine” or “artist” quality oil paint instead.

2) Use a limited palette. There are dozens of colours available in tubes and it is tempting to buy them all. Limit yourself to a basic set of colours and learn to mix them together. This will not only reduce your costs but give more unity to your paintings. I suggest the following colours to start with: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Sap Green and Viridian Green. You may want to add Black, but you can also mix it with equal parts of ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and viridian green.

3) Start small to learn faster. Start with small canvasses or canvas boards that you can complete in a few sessions. 12x10” or 16x12” are good formats to use.

4) Paint fat over lean: this rule is fundamental to conserve your painting and to avoid cracks when the paint dries. In a nutshell, you use a thinner like turpentine when you start and only use linseed oil or thicker painting mediums at a later stage.

5) Don’t paint too thick at the beginning. Paintings with texture look great. However, you will not be able to adjust colours or tones and will just muddy your colours if you apply the paint too thickly at the initial stage.

6) Simplify your painting. Don’t try to put too many details in. Build-up the large masses first and don’t worry about fine details until you have the foundation of your composition right.

7) Use as big brushes as you can. The best way to avoid being bogged down into details is to paint with big brushes. Buy an assortment of hog brushes (flat, round and filbert brushes) and experiment to learn the type of marks you can achieve with brushes of various shapes.

8) Block-in with your darkest tones first. At an early stage, when you define large masses, think in three: dark tones, medium tones and light tones. I advise you to start with the darkest tones, then the medium ones and to reserve the planes with the lighter tones or to paint them with a wash of light earth tone, like Yellow Ochre.

9) Don’t use too much white too soon. White mutes colours and, when used in excess, deadens the whole painting. Try to avoid using white in your mix until you have covered the entire canvas with colours. As an experiment, see how far you could go in your painting without using any white.

10) Work from nature as well as from photographs. Painting from photographs that already provide a two dimensional view of the subject is easier. However, working from nature will improve your observation skills and make you a better painter. For your first attempt at working from nature, a still life is a good subject because you can take the time you need and you have more control over lighting conditions.

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