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So You Want to Know How to Paint in Oil

So You Want to Know How to Paint in Oil

Painting in oil has long been a mysterious process the public has believed was relegated to the few and the eccentric. Artists and their lives have always been an unusual breed, but painting a large body of original oil paintings has also been a sure-fire way to drive oneself into immortality. The paintings will always be there, traveling through history, with your name on it! So by this definition it’s definitely a noble profession. Think Dali, van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt and da Vinci. Each enjoys a lofty reputation for what others might consider crafts. And their reputations only grow bigger over time. What other profession offers that possibility? So who got the last laugh? Well, van Gogh did, of course. He’s forever immortalized as one of the greatest humans to have ever lived. Not bad for someone who never made a dime in his own lifetime. But in the age of the Internet and the worldwide marketplace, artists don’t have to starve anymore. I’m not starving, and I’m making money doing what I love. I can also work anywhere, whether I’m on vacation or traveling to exotic locales. I love that the most about it. I can do whatever I want and wherever I want, and post a painting for sale from Ibiza, Paris, London…. or Omaha. I wouldn’t trade with anyone. And you won’t either if you work at it and treat as a way to offer beauty to the world and get paid for it!

The purpose of this article is to take the mystery out of the process of painting. This article is only written to get you started. I’ll write more detailed techniques later. But this article will set you on your way to experimenting and having fun with paint. Ultimately it’s like anything in this world. Before you have the knowledge, it’s complicated. But once you have it, it’s easy! Knowledge is power, and this phenomenon definitely applies to painting. The technical aspects are the easy part. Anyone can do it. You ultimately could be as capable as Monet with practice. We humans can do whatever we decide to do! Deciding WHAT to paint is the hard part. It takes discipline and a singularly focused desire to create one painting after another. For whatever reason, I loved it the minute I started. And I never looked back. I love it today as much as I did over 16 years ago. I never have “writer’s block” either as to what to paint. I just paint from my experiences in life. So don’t think too hard on it. Paint that apple sitting on the table, or paint the tree in your own back yard, paint your girlfriend in an unusual way. But paint something that means something to you, that’s all that matters. Make it funky, make it interesting. If it’s abstract, remember that abstract art has long been the most desirable. It’s an expression of the individual, make it unique. For those who want realism, take a picture. What’s amazing is that once you do it, you realize it’s the ultimate escape into happiness. Suddenly you forget your problems for that period of time. You have control, and no one can take it away from you once you are skilled at painting. The process is addicting. But like anything, you must START! And once you do, look out….you’ll be hooked.

OK, let’s get started. Step one…supplies. You need a flat brush, a fan, a small detail brush and a couple of Filberts. A filbert is a rounded edge brush that lets you maneuver the paint easily without going outside the edges. Ultimately buy brushes that you like though, and make them work. Fans allow you to blend, for example. I use fans a lot and it’s how I graduate color throughout my images. Everything I paint is by hand….no airbrushing or assistants. I want it to be an expression of me and nobody else. You also need an oil painting medium to mix with the oil paint to make it more fluid, and to speed or slow the drying process. Whichever you prefer. Go to the art store and don’t be afraid to ask for help….they’ll love helping you! A medium is merely an additive liquid which increases gloss, makes it flow easily, preserves the finish over time, keeps it from yellowing. I personally love Galkyd and Galkyd Lite. If that isn’t available, buy a medium that looks like liquid amber and is kind of thick. Don’t buy watery looking mediums….too hard to work with.

The lite version of Galkyd is simply thinner. I use it more than the other. I love it. Paintings I did 16 years ago using Galkyds look as pristine as the day I painted them. You’ll also need a canvas and some paint. I buy a tube of red, green, blue, purple, yellow, brown, white and black. I prefer what’s called Ivory Black and a soft mixing white as you’ll add white to a lot of different colors to make lighter versions. From these basic colors you can make any exotic color by mixing them in combination’s. Be creative and experiment. And don’t be afraid of color, because color is the most popular in museums! The bright paintings are historically the crowd favorites. As for color variety from these basic colors, mix red and white to make pink, mix yellow with green to make lime green, white with blue to make light blue, white with black to make gray, etc. Use your common sense and play with it! You’ll also need pencils, an eraser and some Turpentine or Turpentine substitute. Keep your brushes soaking in it in a plastic cup to keep them clean and ready for your next color choice…. and to keep them from drying out.

Now, decide WHAT you want to paint. Very important…you do NOT need to know how to draw. That’s the great thing about painting, you can create even if you’ve never had a lesson. Don’t get me wrong, art school is great. But don’t let the lack thereof deter you from creating. You do not have to have a teacher to tell you how to create. You do need to know a few basic techniques, but from there let your imagination fly! When deciding what to paint, go to some websites about artists or Google famous artists to get inspired. Again, do not let a lack of training deter you from painting! Many of the great artists of the past had no training either. Many can’t draw stick figures, but they can paint because the colors give you amazing options of expression! You may also go to my websites mentioned below or Google me to see all the crazy work I’ve created. My personal preference has been to create a large variety of work to keep it interesting and versatile. I did not want to be that artist who only painted one thing over and over. To me that’s boring, and it should be boring to you too. Any known artist of the past has a vast variety of work. You’ll also find that it makes it more interesting to you while you’re doing it, because you won’t ever get bored, you’ll always be wondering how it’ll turn out.

Step two: Now roughly draw onto the canvas what you want to create in paint. Don’t worry, it does not have to be perfect. Your cool application of paint from your innermost imagination will make it look good. If you mess up with the pencil, simply erase it off and start over. Warning: resist the urge to simply copy some artist’s painting from the past. That’s career suicide, and so boring. You’re smart, make your own art. It’s much more interesting and unique. A copy of a painting from the past has the sole purpose of making you look like a copycat, and who needs that on their resume? Remember, deciding WHAT to paint is the hardest part. But once you get into the flow it will come to you, I promise. Paint from your own life is the best career advice as a painter. Truth is more bizarre than fiction anyway. And I believe people like to kind of know what they’re looking at, as opposed to simply painting a solid layer of red and calling it art. Be creative, go with the flow, don’t over think it. Paint what you want to paint and the world will ultimately find it interesting. After all, it’s YOUR art. Painting nature is always a good idea, as nature never goes out of style.

Step three: go online and study the basics of shadow and light. It’s a visual thing, and too complicated to talk about here. But once you see it, it’ll come to you quickly. Simply Google “shadow and light in painting” and the basics will come up. Once you know these rules, you can apply it to any shape, any form, any painting. And it’ll make you keenly aware of shadow and light on virtually any object on earth. It’s what makes a painting three- dimensional and expensive looking. You can also buy art books on shadow and light at any bookstore. But make sure you sit down for a couple of hours and study it. It will come quickly to you, I promise.

Step four: the key to a finished looking painting is to build it just like a house…and by that I mean layers. Paint it in the reverse order in which the eye sees it to make it three-dimensional. By this I mean paint what’s farthest from the eye first, and build layer upon layer towards the eye. In other words, do the background first because it should be the farthest from the eye, then add the objects on top of that, and then add the shadows to complete the look. Ultimately it’s common sense. If you paint a bowl of fruit, the bowl and fruit need to sit on top of that background, much as it would in real life.

Step five: pick your colors and start applying them to your penciled outlined images…make sure to mix the paints with a little Galkyd. Painting right out the tube is probably a bad idea, and it’ll take forever to dry. Mix the Galkyd pretty evenly with the paint until you reach your desired thickness of paint. Less Galkyd keeps the paint thick. More makes it thinner. A safe start for a painting subject is a still life, like a bowl of fruit. No matter what you do…within reason…it’ll look cool. You do not have to make a twig brown or an apple red just because nature says so. Use your imagination. Do something different. Collectors over time like to watch you evolve painting by painting anyway. So don’t worry if your first painting stinks in your mind. It’ll be interesting later once you’re great. And by the way, most famous paintings have an under drawing, so they’ve used this layout technique I mention above. Sorry to tell you, most inspired paintings were planned out with pencil first. They did not happen spontaneously. They were built logically and in a defined order so that the end result looks right.

OK, now let it dry overnight. The next day….or whenever you get around to it….mix a lot of Galkyd with just a little bit of color and glaze it over the first layer. Layer upon layer….allowing each layer to dry… is what makes paintings look finished and interesting and expensive in my view. Certainly you can paint wet on wet, as van Gogh did. But that’s a much harder proposition we’ll talk about later. You can put as many layers as you wish until you get your desired look. A thin glaze of Galkyd with just a little black works great on top of any dried color underneath. It give it an antique and finished look. But be careful not to add too much black. Don’t worry, if you put too much just wipe it off and start over. That’s the great thing about oil is it dries slower and you can tweak, correct, start over before it dries. Tip: a thin layer of yellow glaze looks good on top of almost any color too. A thin glaze of green looks good over blue, a thin glaze of blue looks good over purple. But ultimately you can pick and choose and experiment with which color to add to your glazes. There are no rules. Invent ones of your own. A thin glaze of yellow on top of a dried layer of red looks awesome. A thin layer of yellow on boring brown make it look like expensive and not-boring brown. You get the idea. But make the process your own and have fun with it. No one will ever do it quite the way you do, and that’s what’s interesting about the process.

Step six: once you get all the layers just like you like, let it dry thoroughly for several days. Now take black and apply the shadows with your clean brush in keeping with the laws of shadow and light like you’ve learned earlier. If you put too much, wipe it back with a Q-tip or a rag until it looks like a shadow. Make sure you’re putting shadows on top of only dry under layers. Always clean your brushes in between colors to keep the colors isolated and pure too. You don’t want blue in your shadows, for example. Study my paintings if you wish because I do a lot of distinct shadows and I light things like vases, leaves, birds, fruit, etc. in ways that I think will stand out to you. Like if I paint a vase the bottom of the vase is darker than the top. Just like in real life. This applies to any shape whether it be a face or an apple or a vase. Also look at my backgrounds, as I’ve done a lot of them. Notice how each background is a multitude of layers to give it a finished and complicated look. Glazes allow me to reach this end. When I started out I didn’t know what I was doing and friends and family thought I was crazy. And the very same people act like they knew I’d make it now that I have. Oh well, it’s the way of the world. But stick with it and you’ll be enlightened and inspired over time!

In conclusion, this article has really just been a “Painting 101” exercise. I’ll be adding more articles on the subject once you get more advanced. It’s so rewarding to those who stick with it. My work now sells around the world online. So I’m glad I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s been infinitely good to me, I’ve met the most interesting people….including Madonna! And I am so glad I get to do what I want And ultimately it’s so gratifying to leave expressions of myself behind forever. And if the owners then turn around and sell my paintings for a fortune later, then that’s the cherry on top for me. I feel lucky to have found my calling. And I hope you find it too. And I hope that every single time you view one of my paintings it brings you a little bit of the amazing joy it brought me when I was creating it.

Feel free to email me if you have questions at the email addresses below. But most important, you’ll find that with each painting you’ll get better and better. Carry forward everything you learn from each work and eventually you’ll have real talent! But only if you keep at it. And don’t worry about people telling you you’re crazy. They told that to van Gogh too! Sweet justice Vincent, sweet justice. He’s certainly getting the last laugh, isn’t he? And the world will know who Vincent van Gogh was for the rest of time. Not a bad gig.