oil painting | what I’ve learned so far (pt 2)

by | Oct 5, 2017 | Art, Artistic Endeavors, Oil Painting | 30 comments

I shared all about the paints, brushes, and painting surfaces I’m using in PART ONE of this series following my oil painting journey.  The post was getting really long, so I split it into two posts.  I would suggest reading the first one, if you haven’t, so you hear the story behind this journey.  I also want to restate that I am new to oils, so I’m just sharing what I’m doing and take it with a grain of salt.  I hope that I communicate – If I can do it, you can do it.  

And I don’t mean that we’re going to be good all the time!  But we can have fun learning and expanding our horizons.

So, let me share about inspiration…

I am regularly sucked down the rabbit hole of oil painting tutorials on You Tube, painting blogs, forums, etc. and I’ve picked up a lot just browsing around.  I’ve already shared that I really like Jessica Henry’s You Tube channel and also Draw Mix Paint.

And I love Sophie Ploeg’s blog.  Her work, like that painting of a dress, is insanely good (it almost makes me want to throw in the towel), but then she has the most practical, non-pretentious posts that are so encouraging.

I have also taken advantage of the Jeanne Oliver creative network and signed up for a few classes (to work on once I finish the 100 meadows project.)

Over the past few weeks, I have been scouring the internet for landscape paintings that I love and I’ll print them up and add them to my pin board.   Sometimes I’ll pull them off the board to study the brush strokes, use of color, etc. and use them as a reference when I’m painting a picture that has some similarities (like color, composition, subject, etc.)

I like art books for that reason.  I find it’s much easier to see how to paint a tree when I can look at a tree that’s been painted (as opposed to a picture of a tree.)  A more experienced artist can show me, through their work, where the highlights and shadows are, how the light behaves, successful colors for stormy skies, etc.

A couple of books I’ve enjoyed lately are Color Theory (it’s only a $6.00 book, but it’s packed with great information)…

…and Think Big Paint Small

I am drawn to the loose style of Joyce’s work, so that book has been a good study as well, especially since I like working small at this point!

Another source of inspiration has been the pictures all of you have been sending me!  Some of them are going to be very challenging, but it’s nice to have a seemingly endless supply of pretty views to paint.

As I’m working on the 100 meadows, I’m trying to make changes to my process to see what works for me.  Trial and error is one of the best ways to learn, especially when pursuing creative endeavors.  It’s so personal and, while there are rules of thumb, there is always an exception and successful rule-breakers.  So, you just have to muddle through until you find your sweet spot.

I started out just painting one 4 x 6 landscape from a reference picture.  No sketching or anything.  Just jumping right in.

With the last few paintings I’ve done, I have tried doing a rough sketch in a journal first with pencil.

And then, when I have time, I will do two paintings – one that has more detail (like the one below)…

…and one that is painted quickly, in about five minutes…

Of course. the detailed one is more, well, detailed and the quick rendering looks a little unfinished or just suggestive, but it’s been a great exercise to relax and focus on overall color, shape, and composition, and not get stuck on the details (which can be frustrating to me at times!)

I haven’t had time to do the sketch and “quick version” of each painting, but I like to do it when I can.

For my palette, I’m using this glass palette.  I can just scrape off the paint that’s dried and then I have a nice, clean palette.  I try to use small dollops of paint, so I don’t waste very much.

For the easel, I’m using a Lyre easel, like this one.  I bought mine at Hobby Lobby with a 40% off coupon, so it was around $50.  I was going to get a huge H easel on wheels, but then it dawned on me that I am not going to be working large scale so I don’t need the biggest easel in the store.  This one can still accommodate large canvases, but it wasn’t as expensive.

I haven’t branched out into any mediums or glazes, but I have purchased some and just need to start playing to see what I like.  I just tested out varnish on the paintings I kept, though.  I like the paintings varnished, since it gives the paint a consistent gloss and brings out the darker colors.  I used Gamblin’s Gloss Varnish.  

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more!  If you want to follow my journey more closely, I am sharing all of my paintings and more on my Instagram Stories.

In home decor-related updates, I painted the kitchen island today and hope to snap some pictures in the next day or two to share!


  1. At Rivercrest Cottage

    I’m so inspired by your beautiful work. I actually thought about taking a painting class, but then I sobered up and remembered I have no talent! I thought that dress painting was a photo, it’s so real looking.

  2. Shirley

    When I was oil painting I learned more from Helen van wyck and john stobart. I think their books and videos are still available.

  3. jacqueline pankuck

    Really great Marian…I was in your studio once and saw some of your watercolors as well. Talented lady.

  4. Linda

    I don’t have any artist talent when it comes to drawing or painting but you are definitely an inspiration to everyone who reads your blog. 🙂

  5. Teresa

    I absolutely love the painting in the last picture on this post. Thank you for sharing your journey. While, everyone may not be inspired to paint, your story is encouraging to anyone who is contemplating trying something new. My husband taught himself woodworking just like this, through blogs and books that inspired him.

    Oh, and when you decide to sell more paintings, would you mind giving a heads up on your blog before you put them up for sale? Would love to have a chance to buy one and the first 20 were sold out so fast! : )

  6. Charlotte

    Oh Marian, I quite like to read about your ‘problems’ – like having a few extra paint brushes – I’m kind of like that with bits of lace and trims and threads etc. The question that I have is – do you stand or sit while you paint?

    • Marian Parsons

      I generally stand, so I can take steps back to see how the painting is coming together.

  7. Gilda

    are you selling these??????????????

  8. Carla from Kansas

    I thought it looked like a photo also (the dress). It is beautiful.

  9. Mayanna

    My glass palette is a piece of glass I had cut and the edge smoothed at the glass shop. Then I spray painted the back with gray auto primer. This neutralizes the back so the colors are true on the palette.

  10. Diane Ruebel

    Thank you MSS, for sharing your creative adventure. My mediums are collage and poetry so your diligence is inspiring. Christine Valters Paintner’s book, the ARTIST’S RULE nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom, is a amazing twelve week journey for all of us seeking the Creator as we create. Please keep sharing, Diney on Camano Island

  11. FIL

    How painting that pic of Sebastian you posted on Instagram not too long ago.

  12. FIL

    How about painting that pic of Sebastian you posted on Instagram not too long ago.

  13. mary

    I wonder what the story is behind the white gowns? I found a postcard from the Toledo Art Museum (Ohio) of
    a young child who looks exactly like I did and wondered……..Also found another painting of a young boy that my
    grandson insisted was of him. Art is wonderful in many ways. I have a movie poster that my father drew in
    1922 which is the “image” of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate in NYC. You never know!

  14. Judi

    I am an art teacher.I buy used books on line ,many from thrift books for under $5.00 so feel free to use a highlighter on important ideas.
    Painting larger is easier…

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, really? I am nervous about going bigger, but I have some blank canvases and I really need to go for it!

      • Kimberly

        That was one of the first things we learned in a Native American art history class at university, small — with a few exceptions — is much harder to make than large. Things on a large scale (but obviously not TOO large!) are much easier to deal with and manipulate, things that are small or miniature are generally very intricate and the details are difficult to handle, plus they sometimes can be easily damaged or destroyed due to their delicate nature. This discussion was mostly in the context of pottery, basket weaving, bead work, and jewelry making. I can see how it would apply to oil painting as well.

        On another topic of discussion, Marian, I have to tell you that your clouds make me so happy! You’re a cloud expert, they always look so pretty and fluffy!

  15. Sandy

    Hi Marian, just curious, did you give up on watercolor? You are so talented In so many ways. I’ve been trying to teach myself watercolor in much the same way as you, however, I haven’t progressed as fast. But I love it anyway!

  16. Vicki K

    You paint skies so WELL! I enjoy looking at your paintings very much. You definitely have lots of talent in a lot of different areas, MIss Mustard Seed, and you are exploring in each one! How wonderful is that?! God has truly blessed you.

  17. Marian Parsons

    Not at all! I was just setting up a new palette last week. I am just digging into this challenge, so when I’m in the studio, I’m using it to get to know oils. I think I’ll hop back and forth between the two. And then there are pastels… 🙂

  18. Sophie Ploeg

    Thanks for the mention and pic! So glad my work and blog are helpful. Loving the journey you are on!

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, so excited to see your comment! Your work is amazing and very inspirational. I’ve already learned a lot from your posts. 🙂

  19. Sophie Ploeg

    Whoops, a few typos in my web link… this phone is too small to type on 😧

  20. Susan

    When I took a college-level drawing class our instructor assigned lots of homework, which always included one assignment to duplicate a drawing by a master artist. The goal was not to re-create it but to become familiar with different approaches. I remember copying a Picasso drawing which helped me become braver with texture and gesture. These exercises really opened me up and helped me break some of my bad habits/crutches.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I’ve done some studies of Rembrandt sketches and that was so helpful! I would like to do more studies, especially of oil paintings, now.

  21. Norma Rolader

    Great job keep up the wonderful painting God bless

  22. B. Folk

    Your comment about the quick rendering being a great exercise to relax reminded me of when I used to be a writer (non-famous). There was an exercise that someone suggested where I would just write, as quickly as I could, whatever my hand wanted to, not really stopping to think about sentence structure, grammar, the “right” word, or much of anything. It just helped to loosen up the word flow, then I could actually create. You are doing a similar thing with the quick renderings. I must say, #32 is beautiful!
    Speaking of “rabbit holes”: had I not gone down a rabbit hole several years ago, when I was researching milk and chalk paint, I would not have found this blog and become a loyal follower. Sometimes, rabbit holes are good.

  23. mary

    I just remembered when my father painted in oils (still love the smell of turpentine) if he wasn’t happy with the finished product he would just paint over the painting in a neutral color and start over. Why not pick up cheap ugly canvas works of art at a thrift store or wherever and do the above. I know those canvas stretchers can be expensive.

  24. Kelly

    You write with such kindness and hope. So encouraging for a wannabe/dreaming artist. 🙂

  25. Sarah Clark

    How funny…four years later, and I am printing your landscapes for my pinboard 🙂


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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