The final installment of our “Painting In Oils” series.
There are probably as many ways to approach painting as artists. In this post I attempt to show how I paint portraits.
First, you need to gather your supplies:
- Mineral Spirits
- Rags (Or Paper Towels)
- 12X16″ Stretched Canvas
- Linseed Oil
- Oil Paints (Utrecht)- Titanium White, Burnt Umber, Cobalt Blue, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Cadium Red. Naples Yellow and Dioxazine Purple
- Paint Brushes (Utrecht) – Round #00, #2, #3, Filbert #4
- Small Mirror
- Use mineral spirits with burnt umber oil paint to create a wash and lay in the basic shapes.
- Use only the larger brush during this step.
- Do not use any linseed oil or other medium at this point.
- Push and pull the values to work out the composition, working from big to small shapes.
- Use the small mirror to check your work. The mirror helps you to see problems in proportion etc…
- You are not committed at this point. If it not working just wipe off the thin paint and start over.
- Only concern yourself with getting the basic shapes and forms at this point.
- Make sure you keep with the traditional placement of the features in mind as you work.
- Remember the more white you add the slower it will dry so use it sparingly.
Take a brief break and step away before beginning step two. So you have a fresher perspective.
- If the paint is dry to the touch, oiling out will help with the paints flow and correct use of color.
- Correct anything that may not look correct from Step One.
- Begin to lay in the basic colors of the flesh and develop the values further.
- Keep the strokes loose and fresh as you can. Be sure of each stroke before you make it.
- Deepen and enrich the colors of the flesh further. Work with smaller brushes only if necessary, but keep the freshness of the strokes. Do not become too tight.
- Develop the clothing further and at least lay in the basic colors.
- Darken the background and play with the push and pull of edges of the figure.
- Notice the flesh here has blue in the shadows.
- Continue checking your work with a small mirror to be sure you are making the progress you think you are.
- Build up the shirt area with equal looseness you have in the flesh tones.
- Touch up detailed areas of the features, still trying to not be too tight.
- Reinforce the texture on highlighted areas of flesh.
- Be sure to include highlights on iris and pupil.
- Fill in the rest of the dark background.
- Develop edges of figure with the background so they are cohesive and not seen as being in two totally different spaces.
- Sign into the wet paint at this point. Or, try to wait to sign the work until the paint is dry. This way if you make an error it can easily be wiped off without disturbing what painting has been accomplished.
At this point I could continue building the piece with more and more detail. Instead I have chosen to stop here and leave it with the loose brushstrokes.
- Be sure to take regular breaks. I tend to do so every hour. It just happens that Pandora internet stations play approx ninety minutes before pausing.
- Clean your brushes well at the end of each painting session.
- To keep oil paint wet from one work session to another consider placing it in the freezer in a closed container.
How to have an even sheen on the surface of your oil painting without using varnish.
To remedy this problem you do what is called “Oiling Out”.
Oiling out will accomplish two things:
- It will make the colors appear more saturated
- Even out the surface shine.
You CAN do the same thing with a coat of varnish. But there are advantages to oiling out vs. Varnish:
- Varnish can be removed, it does not meld with the oil paint as an oiling out would.
- The oil is absorbed into the oil paint itself and becomes part of the whole.
- It can be accomplished as soon as the painting surface is dry to the touch. Whereas a varnish seals the surface in such a way that the painting must be completely dry all the way through, or it can create problems. So unless you paint very thin it can takes months for the painting to dry enough to apply a coat of varnish.
- You can also continue painting over the oiling out layer, where with varnish this is not suggested.
So how do you do it?
- Lint free cloth such as cheesecloth
- 1″ Flat Paintbrush
- Mixture of either oiling mixture: 50% Artist Medium + 50% Mineral Spirits or, 80% Stand Oil + 20% Turpentine.
- Dust off the surface of the painting with a soft lint free cloth
- Apply the oiling mixture generously with the paintbrush, making sure to cover the entire surface of the piece.
- Let it set for 2-3 minutes to allow the oil to absorb a bit.
- Wipe off the excess with a clean soft lint-free cloth (Such as cheesecloth)
- Place the painting in a clean dust free environment to dry, just as you would any oil painting in progress.
Gallery Wrapped Stretched Canvas
Canvas – Duck canvas or linen, (unprimed)
Stretcher bars – Or 1” x 2” pine
Staples or tacks –To attach canvas to stretchers
Staple gun – Type found in hardware departments
Hammer – Helps to make precut stretchers square and to tap in any staples that need it.
Square – L shaped, metal preferred
Sewing Scissors – be sure they are sharp!
Gesso – As a sealer/primer to be used on the canvas surface
Miter saw – Necessary to cut stretchers at a 45 degree angle. Box is less expensive and will work, but if you can afford it an electric miter saw is a wonderful time and energy saver.
Nail Punch – Optional – used to help make staples flush to wood in corners
1- ½” Nails – Optional – used to make corners more secure
2” Paint Brush
Sources for Materials
Dick Blick – www.dickblick.com
Sax Arts and Crafts
Creating a Stretched Canvas
Choose size desired for a finished canvas. Keep in mind if you want to frame it with a standard size frame, you will want to go with sizes easily available. 5” x 7’, 8” x 10”, 11” x 14”, 12” x 16’, and 18” x 24”, anything larger would likely need to be specially made. You will find most commercial framers are willing to work with just about any size of canvas you wish to frame. But if in doubt, inquire with your framer.
If you are cutting your own 1”x 2”s, inspect them before purchase for bowing and/or excessive knotting. 1” x 2” usually comes in a length of ten feet. Most lumber yards will cut them down to a smaller size if it works better for you to handle. Some will go so far as to cut the 45 degree corners for you to length. But since this is ground for your art work, you will probably prefer to cut your own, to ensure a tight fit and correct size.
Once home simply cut the ends to meet in a 45 degree angle. Be sure to keep in mind the end measurement of your canvas will equal the longest edge of the corner when assembled.
How you actually attach your corners will depend if you purchased, or cut your own. ** See below if you have purchased your bars.
Lay the large metal square down on a flat surface. On the inside corner of the square lay down the stretcher bars against the edge. Lay down all four edges to be sure they are the right size, and double check for warping of wood and other imperfections. If they aren’t this is the time to make adjustments, not after they are attached to each other.
Before attaching to each other, BE SURE THEY ARE SQUARE! It works best to worry only about 2 pieces at a time, at this point. So remove two of the bars and concern yourself with just what is happening in the corner of the square
If you have cut your own, it works well to simple staple them together on both side. It is usually a good idea to put at least 2-3 lined up in a row.
Be sure that they are flush as possible with the surface of the wood. If not they will create a ‘bump’ on the canvas that is not a desirable end result. To do this tap with a hammer or use a nail punch. Be sure to recheck that things are still good and square. Turn over carefully and do the same process to the other side. Be careful when turning over that you do not cause the first staples to come out or twist. It is important to do both sides, so that there is adequate reinforcement.
When all four sides are connected, ensure they all are square with each other, an old carpenters trick is to simply measure from corner to corner crosswise, if they measure the same than they are still square.
**If you have purchased your stretcher bars they more than likely have tongue and groove ends. These ends will fit into each other and create 4-90 degree corners. Simply tap or push the ends into each other until tight and square. Your purchased bars also come with small pieces of wood called ‘keys’. These are pushed into the openings in the inside corners to help make it tighter and more stable. Some artist will also tap in a small nail, or staple the corners to ensure they do not move when stretching canvas on them.
Lay your canvas material onto a clean flat surface. Laying the stretcher bars on top, and measure around the stretcher bars about 3 inches of extra material on each side.
Starting on one edge fold the fabric up and over the edge of the stretcher bar, staple the canvas to the bar in the center.
Pull the canvas snug and repeat on the opposite side. Repeat on the remaining two sides. Be sure to pull canvas snug each time, before it is stapled.
Starting on the edge you began with. Place staples approximately 2” apart all the way around, except for the very corners. Then do this on all four sides.
There are several ways one can create a corner that will work for various needs. Our goal is to create one that will work for a professional looking corner, with or without a frame. If done correctly, you can paint around the sides of the canvas and hang it without a frame and it will appear professional, with very clean lines. No matter what style of painting you may have.
It may take some practice to get the hang of folding the corners and have a smooth edge. But take your time; it is well worth it in the end.
*Preparing to fold corner
*Folded corner from side
*Corner folded and snug, stapled down.
NOTE: If you use pre-primed canvas the following is not necessary.
Lay down your stretched canvas painting side up. Wipe away any stray threads or dust that may have attached them selves when stretching. If necessary use a damp cloth.
Going in one direction and using your 2” brush apply gesso to the surface. Be sure to paint the edges of the canvas also! Allow this first coat to dry thoroughly.
You can leave the canvas as it is for a slightly rough tooth surface, which works well for general use. Or if you want a rougher surface to paint you can add pumice, marble dust, sand, or about any other materials to the next coat to increase the surface tension. If you want a smooth surface, take fine sand paper and lightly sand the surface between coats of gesso. Allowing the gesso to dry well each time.
Tip: Apply 1-2 more coats depending upon surface desired. Be sure to go a different direct for each coat of gesso. This will help to build a stronger and longer lasting surface.
*TIP – If you used cotton duck canvas and find a ‘dent’ anywhere on your canvas wish you can fix this with a spray of water on the back side of your canvas. Allow the water to dry and the canvas will stretch back into its original shape. If you did not use Duck canvas and find yourself in a similar situation, there are more high tech materials on the market, than our use of a water bottle. How you handle the situation depends on the materials used. We suggest you check with your art material supplier for products available and their use.
Facial proportions can vary according to ethnic background and gender. Traditionally men have more angular faces and more pronounced brow just above the eyebrow line. Examine the images shown to see how the eyes fall in the middle of the entire skull, between the tip of the head and chin. In-between the eyes is a space equal to the width of one of the eyes. Halfway between the eyes and the tip of the chin is the line where the mouth opening will fall. Although the model on the left is a young adult female, the proportions are the same as an adult. Her features are merely softer and less angular than seen in an older mature looking individual.
Remember these are merely guidelines and will need to be adjusted to fit the subject that you are depicting. Below is that of a middle-aged male’s profile. When you are drawing a subject keep in mind where your light source is coming from, the same rules apply to drawing a human being as to drawing anything else. The trick is to be objective and to draw what you see and not what you think you know. Look at the subject carefully and try to look at the person you are drawing more than the paper you are drawing on. Always work from life whenever possible, if you can not find a model or do not feel comfortable doing so as of yet, just use a mirror and do a self-portrait.
We all know what the traditional artist palette looks like: Large kidney shape with a hole for your thumb. But as an oil painter, what are your other options?
Wooden – The most traditional. Manufactured wooden palettes are sealed with varnish or lacquer, but I prefer to season them also. If you make your own you will need to “season” it. To do so you rub linseed oil into the wood with a rag and allow it to dry. I do this a few times before I use it and then at the end of my painting session 2-3 more times, minimum.
Plastic – Durable and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are usually made of a white plastic that will not stain.
Disposable – Convenient for plein-air painting, and are easy to clean up, made from layers of a wax paper. The top layer is pulled away and thrown out after use.
Re-purpose fast food containers – With the one shown below I use the lid as the palette and the bottom to seal it. I then place it in the freezer to help the paint stay fresh.
Glass – Can be placed on a work surface and any color of paper can be placed beneath to aid in mixing colors correctly. The surface can be scraped clean at the end of the session. Edges of the glass can be heavily taped to prevent sharp edges or a glass cutter can grind them down smooth. A glass thicker than 1/4″ works best.
Color & Tone – If you mix your paint on a dark brown, then go to place the same paint onto a white canvas it will not appear the same. It helps to have a palette close to the color and tone of your working surface. Of course one option is to paint your canvas a closer value to the color of your palette. But this is not always an option.
Shape & Size – Rectangle or kidney shape are the most common. A rectangle fits well in a paint box, while a kidney shape can fit more comfortable on the hand. Either way, in the end it is a personal preference.
Organizing Your Palette – How you place your paints on your palette is up to you. Some prefer light to dark, while others favor cool to warm. Or even a random fashion, it is your call. It is only important that it makes sense to YOU.
- Place your colors along the outer edge so you have an open area in the center for mixing.
- Start with fewer colors and add as you go, particularly if you are a beginner, so as to not waste paint.
- Consider placing the colors the same location each time to build a reliable routine.
Note: There is a new vertical palette on the market that intrigues me. I haven’t tried it yet, but would like to soon. It is a vertical glass surface placed next to the painting, side-by-side.
These are designed by artist David Kassan and I believe they are available only online. If anyone has tried this I would love to hear your thoughts!
Mediums used with oils modify the character of the paint. I personally like to not have my paint dry too quickly, unless it is an underpainting, and with a medium I have more control over this factor. I prefer to work wet-in-wet whether I return to the canvas an hour later or twenty-four.
Linseed Oil – Made from the flax plant it is the binder used in most oil paints. There are a number of different types due to consistency, color and drying time.
- Refined – An all purpose medium.
- Cold Pressed – Dries a little faster than refined and is considered to be of better quality than Refined.
- Stand Oil – Thicker with a slower dry time, to touch in one week.
- Sun Thickened – Syrupy version thickened by leaving a slightly open container of Linseed Oil in the sun (Is actually a bit more complicated than that, but for our purposes here….)
Safflower Oil – Dries faster than Poppyseed Oil but similar characteristics.
Walnut Oil – A thin oil it makes the paint more fluid. Dries in 4-5 days. It also yellows less than Linseed Oil
Turpentine – Can be mixed 50/50 with Linseed Oil for a medium. Use an artist grade quality and not household. Can be purchased in low-odor varieties.
There are a number of other mediums for oil paint, enough for a book. It is all a matter of personal choice. The point is this is another area that an artist can gain control.
Note: This is the first in a six-part series on my oil painting studio practices, that will be published every other Monday.
Materials for painting can be as flexible as the artist, or as ridged. Below is an example of how I handle the task:
Containers for holding mineral spirits. I prefer to use recycled jars. I keep several in the working area to reuse again and again. For those that do not know, if you allow mineral spirits to sit overnight the oil paint will settle into the bottom of the jar. You can then poor off the clean liquid and use it again. Of course you can purchase a much more sophisticated system, but this works for me. Plus I get to feel like I am being a little green in the process.
The paint brushes I use are rounds or filberts. I have purchased them from a number of companies over the years, now I just go to Utrecht.
I have used a variety of palettes over the years, wooden, glass, plastic, all different shapes and sizes. I now prefer to use a discarded salad/pie container. I use the clear lid to place my paints. I then use the bottom as a lid and slip it into the freezer when not in use. Cooler temps keep the paint fresh.
As you can see from the current assortment of paint tubes on my table, I am not a purist when it comes to brand. Right now I am wanting to use up what I have. Maybe in the future I will be more brand loyal?
I don’t use a medium very often, if I do it is straight Linseed Oil. But, depending upon the effect and drying time there are a number of options. FYI Poppy Oil will extend the drying time, allowing you more open wet-in-wet time.
An easel is always handy. Again it depends upon your needs, but I prefer a french-style easel. I can keep the legs up, as I have here, and use it on a table top, or use with legs extended. The built in drawer of course is handy for storing and carrying supplies.
Lighting is of the utmost importance. North light is traditionally considered the best. But with the amazing full spectrum lights now on the market it possible to work just about anywhere. If you are like me and live in a rural area with few options, the internet is a wonderful thing!
I use a number of re-purposed t-shirts for rags in my studio area. I cut them into pieces about 8″ square and keep them near my work area at all times.
If I am working from photographs they are taped to the easel for easy access. If painting from life, it is placed to the right, away from the easel.
Note: I also use a small hand head mirror to check for accuracy. The fresh perspective it gives is wonderful!
So there you have it! 🙂