Assays in Oil Painting

For about a year now, I’ve been thinking about taking up oil painting. I did one oil painting in high school, and was very happy with the result:

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(Here’s the original photo:)

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The only thing is, taking up oil painting takes a lot of prep, and with my fatigue and depression, I wasn’t up to doing that kind of work. But I asked for and got oil painting supplies for Christmas, and Mom got me a great book on oil painting for my birthday, and eventually I set everything up in my dad’s workshop in the basement and got started.

Following the course laid out in the book, I decided to start with a still life. But I soon realized I had bitten off more than I could chew: I had never painted from life before. Drawing from life is one thing: painting from it is another. I can do a drawing in one sitting, but I can’t do a painting in one sitting, and if the lighting or your position changes, so does the thing you’re trying to convey on the canvas. Not to mention I had a lot of objects with a lot of straight edges and perspective to deal with (I should have stuck with fruit: they’re organic shapes!). So I ditched that and found a photo I wanted to paint from, instead:

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I wasn’t crazy about the colors, precisely, so I put it in an online photo editor and tweaked it just a bit:

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It’s easier to work from a photo because it’s already transferred the objects and the light into a two-dimensional, colored image for you with a built-in composition. All you have to do is copy what’s on the image onto the canvas. So I did the first layer:

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You may not be able to tell from the photo, but I ran into trouble right away. It turns out that the sky, as I wished to paint it, anyway, had a lot of cyan in it. Now, as we’ve established in an earlier post, cyan is actually a primary color. So you can’t mix it with other colors. But the blue I was using was close enough, though I was a little dissatisfied with the result–and ended up putting two layers of paint down on the sky, which got tricky when my brush started removing the top layer instead of adding to it. So I set that canvas aside to dry before I tried to do more.

When I came downstairs to work on it the next day, I discovered it was still wet. I looked it up, and saw that oil paint can take at least 24 hours to dry. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t work on it more right away, but I possessed my soul in patience.

Only, the canvas still wasn’t dry the next day, either.

After about four days of not appearing to dry at all, I turned a fan on in the workshop, hoping that would help circulate the air and dry the paint. (Apparently oil paint doesn’t dry, it oxidizes. But you know what I mean.) I read up, and learned that a cool environment doesn’t help with the drying of oil paint, so I brought the painting upstairs and set the fan in my room on it, full blast. Little bits of cat hair got stuck to the paint, but I persevered.

I had a chat with one of the art teachers at the school where I sub, and he asked what medium I was using–that’s the stuff you mix with the paint to thin it a little and make it go on easier. I said linseed oil, which was the medium the book recommended and the one I had used before. He suggested instead that I use liquin, which was a quick-drying oil medium. I looked it up, and if you use a quick-dry medium, you have to use it through all the layers of the painting: if you put it on an upper layer, the lower layers may not dry thoroughly. So that wasn’t going to help in the present situation.

Eventually, though, the painting did dry enough to paint on, and I added the next layer:

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By this time I had gotten sick of not painting, so I did a couple of little paintings of succulents:

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These, I felt, were rather crappy efforts, especially the green one: they didn’t look much like the original pictures:

green echeveria

pink succulent

So I hunted out the oil painting from high school and hung it on my bedroom wall to remind myself I didn’t entirely suck at this oil painting thing.

I didn’t have space in my bedroom for the succulent paintings to dry either, so I had to leave them in the workshop, along with the third one I tried:

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A little better.

It took a very long time for the landscape to dry, since some of the foliage I had painted was impasto: I really loaded up the brush with paint and let it stand out thickly on the canvas. But eventually I decided yesterday that it was dry enough for the final layer.

I discovered that my plans for that layer did not produce the effect I wanted, so I had to do a lot of work to fix it up. Eventually, I got to the point where every time I tried to fix something, I ended up making it worse. So I stopped. In all, I was pretty happy with the result:

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Of course, as soon as I got it upstairs and really looked at it, I found things I didn’t like. There was a big, round “leaf” that stuck out and didn’t look at ALL realistic. And no sooner had I brought a brush and a little paint upstairs and fixed that and put away my supplies again, than I found that one of the tree trunks didn’t go up into the foliage like it was supposed to.

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Oops.

I’ve decided that I’m going to wait for the whole thing to dry and hang it on the wall before I do the tiny little brushstroke it will take to fix THAT one.

In all, I’m pretty satisfied with my first try at oil painting on my own. The succulents still aren’t dry yet, and my galkyd (another quick-drying medium, which I found for a little less money than the liquin) should arrive any day. Meanwhile, I already know what I’m going to paint next. My only worry is that it’s based on a photo that *I* didn’t take:

tree farm

I’ve always enjoyed the surreal, and this image of a tree farm seemed perfect.

What about you? What have been your experiences with a new medium?

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