How to Make Better Oil Paintings

How to Make Better Oil Paintings

When an artist is all pumped up and his adrenaline is in high mode, it is frustrating to have to abandon the painting and resume it days after. There are new options of white paint over the classical titanium white that solve this problem, making oil painting so much more cooperative. It’s called fast-drying white, or underpainting white. I use the Winsor & Newton brand. This can be substituted in place of titanium white. This paint tends to be thicker than ordinary whites, so use mediums such as Liquin, walnut or linseed oil to dilute.

1. Using Under painting or Fast-Drying White to Enable Over-Laying

One thing that has dissuaded some oil painters from using this medium is that when you add a layer of paint on top of another, they tend to intermix. For example, it is hard to add snow on top of a blocked in mountain while the first layer is still wet.

2. The Thin Line Enigma in Oil Painting

Most, if not all, oil artists have been frustrated trying to achieve thin lines with oil paint, especially when the paint is still wet, because of the fatty vegetable oils which tend to not dilute well (water-soluble mediums are more cooperative in this regard). Even signing a painting is not that easy if the signature is small. One way to achieve thin lines is to wait until the paint dries before depicting them. Here are some methods:

  • You can use a business card and tap them into the painting.
  • Believe it or not, if the lines are very thin you can use acrylics on top of the dry oils.
  • I discovered another innovative technique — stick oil pastels. Normally these don’t dry, but if you add a thin layer of Liquin first, the hardening process will take place. This will really help you add all the thin tree twigs, barbed wire, and telephone wire.

3. Toning Your Canvas

If you ever visit a top gallery and see a painting close up, you will see little specs of broken paint that expose a warm burnt sienna underpainting. This has the following advantages:

  • The white background will make it harder to judge values.
  • During plein air if your canvas is tilted toward the sun, the glare will be too bright to judge values properly. You don’t want to wear sunglasses, as this will distort your colors.
  • It is practically impossible to totally cover every area of a painting during a spontaneous, quick procedure. As a result, if you work on a white canvas, these little specs can show through.
  • Paint is not 100 percent opaque, so the warm glow of a toned canvas can influence the general feeling. To control the painting from being too warm, such as in fall scenes, you can resort to the background being toned in a cool color.
  • The orange specs that would show through when depicting foliage would come across as a bundle of dry leaves that will help break the monotony of monochromatic greens.

4. Conveying Volume with Thick Paste

One big advantage of acrylics and oils is that you can build up thick impasto that will help convey a three-dimensional look. Other media such as watercolor and pastels lack this quality. My advice is to apply thick paint in the foreground and gradually go thinner with the paint as the planes recede, leaving just a thin layer in the most distant background. Add blobs of paint on tree trunks, rocks, flowers and protruding leaf clusters.

5. Dry Brush to Create Texture

Indicate clumps of leaves, clusters of grass, and water foam in crashing waves and waterfalls using the “dry brush” technique. Dry brushing is a term used to relate to skipping the brush and allowing the paint to peel off. Graze the brush, holding it horizontally, and tickle the bottom surface while dragging it in different directions. This method will make wood look weathered, produce an array of small leaves, make water foam look bubbly and add weeds to grass.

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