ART101 – Getting started with oils

Inspired by numerous requests, I am now offering a FREE web-based oil painting course, strictly for beginners.  Artists with more than two or three months of experience will probably not learn anything new here – you may want to wait for ART102…

If you don’t already have the necessary supplies, here’s a list of essentials, along with some optional items.

1 – Paints – Get student grade or better paint, in 37ml tubes if you plan to stay with it, 21ml if you’re unsure of whether you’ll like it.  I began with a starter set of the small tubes and still work out of some of them.  If you bought a starter set, you should have what you need.  If you are buying individual tubes, be sure to get French Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Alizarin Crimson Red, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Light, Lemon Yellow, Burnt Sienna Brown, and Raw Umber.  Get a tube of Titanium White – you’ll use it up first, so you might want to go with an even bigger tube.  Don’t waste your money on black; if you ever need it, you can buy it later.  It will not be needed for this course.

2 – Brushes – To get started, get three “filbert” bristle brushes – number 2, 4, and 6, and a small zero or double zero liner brush for fine detail and your signature.  Optionally, you might want a cheap 2 or 3″ varnish brush (hazing brush) – I sometimes use them for smoothing out lumpy brush strokes and for fine blending of sky, clouds, water, etc.

3 – Easel – You can start with a small but sturdy table easel, or you can go directly to a metal portable easel – you’ll want one eventually.

4 – Supports – For practicing, a pad of 9″ x 12″ canvas paper is fine, and it’s much cheaper than canvas board, which would be my next recommendation.  Bigger and better canvases come later.

5 – Solvents – Buy a gallon of mineral spirit at the hardware store – it’s much cheaper than turpentine and goes a long way. 

6 – Medium – This one is optional – you can paint without it, and I usually do.  Medium is usually a mixture of oil or varnish and turpentine and is used to help the paint flow better or either slow or speed up the drying process.

7 – Container for cleaning brushes – I use a wide mouth canning jar with a small, upside down tin inside it, punched full of holes in the bottom with hammer and a nail.  I pour enough mineral spirit into the jar to more than cover the “holy tin;” when my brush is dirty, I rub the bristles across the bottom of the tin, the paint settles to the bottom of the jar and my solvent gradually cleans itself.  I wipe the wet brushes on paper towels.  It’s a good idea to set the cleaning jar on a solid surface, covered with cardboard, newspaper and many layers of paper towels.

8 – Painting knife – Get a painting knife that has an elongated diamond shaped blade.  We won’t be painting with it in this course, but it’s great for mixing paint, scraping scattered paint into piles, and for cleaning the palette when you’re done.

9 – Palette – I started out with a small piece of varnished plywood – plexiglass is fine; paper palettes are becoming more and more popular, because when you’re done, you can toss them – no cleanup.  You can buy a pad of them, and they may come in a container with a lid – that helps keep the paint from drying up overnight, so you don’t have to put the palette full of paints in the freezer, like I do…

With that, you should be able to start.  If we need more, we’ll get it when we need it.

LESSON 1.  When I started, I wanted to create a masterpiece right away, so I drew my scene on a piece of canvas board and started painting.  Big mistake, as well as a waste of money.  Pull out your pad of canvas paper, tear off the front cover, and draw your scene – make it a simple one!  In fact, for this class, let’s just paint a few objects, learning as we go.  The first thing I want you to paint is a ROCK.  Yes, a rock!  My objective for the course is, at the end of the course for you to be able to paint a simple landscape, and that landscape will have one or more rocks, one or more trees, some grassy areas, sky, and maybe some water.

This particular rock is irregular shaped, big, lit on one side by the sun, shaded on the other side, influenced by “atmosphere” on top, and throws a shadow.  I’ll explain as I go.

ROCK Drawing, wih sunlight direction indication

Once you have the rock outlined, it’s time to start painting!!!

This rock is rather dark, so we mix burnt sienna with some french ultramarine blue for a “base color”.  You can make it “cold” by adding more blue, or “warm”, by adding more burnt sienna.  Brush the paint on the entire rock, scrubbing it in rather thinly and quickly.

The rock outlined in ultramarine blue

Frequently, this is how I draw my scenes – just a few simple lines painted with a brush dipped in a “wash” of pure paint mixed with mineral spirit.  Landscape painting doesn’t require a talent for drawing – just a sense of shapes and perspective, and that can all be learned as you gain experience.

Rock, underpainted with thinly scrubbed mixture of ultramarine and sienna

Rock, flooded with sunlight from the left and shaded on the right

I put in the sun to show where the sunlight was coming from and what the sunlight color was.  I used cadmium yellow light for the sunlight – that’s important, because the color of the sunlight also determines the color of the shadow.  Shadows are painted with the complement of the sunlight color (opposite sides of the color wheel), which in this case is purple.  If I had selected orange as the sunlight color, I would have used blue as the shadow color.  In one of Van Gogh’s paintings of a pool room scene, he used green light and red shadows.  By the way, if you don’t have one, get a good color wheel that shows you what colors to mix to get other colors, by turning a part of the wheel.  As indicated above, I added purple shadows on the parts of the rock that would be away from the sun.

Rock with reflected light on the shadow side

Here is a very effective trick for making rock (and tree trunks, buildings, etc.) interesting – allow some light from whatever is past the object on the shadow side to reflect back on the object.  That reflected light would take on whatever color was found on those objects past our rock.  If the rock were sitting next to a red wall, the reflected light would be red.  In our case, I will choose a light blue.  So I mix ultramarine blue into some white, then mix that with some of the shaded rock color (burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, with the purple shadow color mixed from ultramarine and alizarin crimson).  Then I paint that along the edges and sides facing away from the sun.

Rock influenced by "atmosphere" - the color of the sky reflecting down from the sky overhead

Here I have indicated the color of the sky above the rock, and reflected that light (“atmosphere”) onto the tops of the rock – wherever the rock faces the sky. 

So the process was:  First scrub in the “base color” of the rock (burnt sienna and ultramarine blue – or whatever color your particular rock might be), then add sunlight, then shadow.  Then add reflected light on the shadow side, “pour” some atmosphere on top.  There you have a rock!

Rock, surrounded by grass

Now let’s make this rock look even more real by painting some grass around it.  I made a green by mixing a little ultramarine blue into cadmium yellow light and scrubbed it in around the rock.

Finished rock sitting on a grassy knoll

Then I mixed some cadmium yellow light into my green and painted that on the sunny areas of the grass.  Then I took some of my purple shadow color and mixed that with the green and painted around the shaded side, away from the sun. 

If the rock is the main subject (center of interest) of your painting, you might even want to take your little liner brush and highlight some sunlit edges with your yellow sunlight, put a few dark pockmarks here and there, a few thin, dark cracks, etc., just to add more interest.

That concludes lesson 1 – if you are not satisfied with the results of your first attempt, tear off your sheet of canvas paper and try it again.  Practice makes perfect!  Just think, once we get to our first landscape painting, you’ll already know how to paint rocks!

Lesson 2 will be on how to paint a tree.  Stand by! 

And Happy Painting!

LESSON 2 – How to paint a tree.

There are lots of trees, of course, so we’ll have to pick one.  One of America’s most interesting as well as most common trees is the pine tree.  Again, there are many varieties of pine trees, but at this point, we don’t need to be that specific.  If you have access to local pine trees, use one as a model – or you can follow along with my example.  Here we go.

Here is my “line drawing” – rough and sloppy, but about what I had in mind.

This might be the tree...

3 responses

27 03 2010
Fred Cox

This is a cool idea, Karsten. Thank you!

27 03 2010
Karsten

Thank you – I was hoping you would find it interesting!

29 05 2010
Fred

I keep wanting to do this after the semester ended, but so far things have been very intense. There’s always an unbelievable amount of work to get done on a farm, especially after putting off things while I was teaching. So, I still hope to take advantage of your lessons. I’m just not sure when. Thank you for putting them on here.

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