I really wanted to write this post on the one-year anniversary, but I was in Italy on that date and have been posting mostly about my trip, so I missed the boat. I really didn’t want to let this milestone pass without a post about it, so better late than never.
After about a year of dabbling with watercolors and sketches, I started oil painting in earnest last September. I had purchased most of the materials a few months earlier and they had been languishing in a drawer, mostly because I felt intimidated by using oils. I didn’t know how to use them or even how to clean up after using them. It is something I dreamed of doing, though. I wanted to be an oil painter and it’s impossible to be an oil painter without painting with oils!
An instructor I took a watercolor class from, Michelle Wooderson, wanted to learn oils, too, so she set out a challenge for herself – paint 100 landscapes. She called it the “100 Meadows Project“. I knew that putting brush to canvas was what I needed, so I tentatively joined in. I doubted I would be able to do 100 paintings with everything else I had going on, but I started doing it. I loved it and began to steal away time whenever I could. Determination swelled within me and I wasn’t going to quit shy of 100. I could feel that I was on a path and these 100 paintings were just the first steps.
The picture above is a collage of my first landscape (top) and one of my most recent landscapes.
After that series, I set out a new challenge for myself to stay motivated and focused. I decided to tackle 100 still life paintings in order to gain experience painting from life instead of pictures. I just finished number 99 this evening.
Here is a short time-lapse video showing the painting process on this one, if you’re interested…
During this series, I have been reading lots of books on art and decided to make my art education a bit more formal by enrolling in the Rennaisance Academy of Fine Art. I cannot adequately express how much the combination of training and consistent practice has helped me grow. (Duh, right?!)
Here is a side-by-side of two pears on black backgrounds. The one on the right is number 5 in the series and the one of the left is number 98.
My mantra through this entire process has been “progress over perfection” and it is amazing how that string of three words has kept me going and prevented discouragement! I’ve been able to focus on where I can see progress in my own work and not want to quit when it falls short or it’s not where I want it to be.
Now that I’ve shared my journey in a nutshell, I thought I would give an update on the tools I’m favoring these days. Before I get into it, I want to throw out the disclaimer I’ve been using on all of these oil painting posts… Take what I share with a grain of salt. I’ve only been doing this a year, so any advice I give is from the perspective of a complete novice. All I’m sharing is what I’ve learned and it might be helpful to others who want to get started.
For my very first oil painting, I used a wooden palette, but I was so intimidated by cleaning it up that I just left the paint on it and let it dry for weeks until it was so crusty that I just threw it away. When I started painting in September, I used a glass palette and then gray palette paper for even easier clean-up.
There are some disadvantages to the paper palette, though. Sometimes the piece of paper I’m working on slides around, so I have to use binder clips to hold it in place. It’s also a large, floppy rectangle, so it’s not something I can hold. I have to be next to a surface large enough to hold it. So, I started using a wood palette a couple of weeks ago. It’s just a cheap one, but I thought I would try it out before I invest in something nicer (larger, better balanced, etc.)
When I was at Casa Cordati in Barga, the owner displayed his grandfather’s wooden palette in a cabinet. It had an amazing patina from years of being used and cleaned. Splotches of color lined the top edge, showing where each pile of paint had been placed over the decades.
I got in a conversation with my art instructor about using and caring for a wood palette and how I like the idea of using a tool that will develop a patina over the years; evidence of time spent in the studio. She likened it to a musician’s instrument; a piece that has their fingerprints all over it
I’m just using my smaller, cheap palette for now, but I have ordered a nicer one that has a larger mixing surface and a more comfortable grip, etc.
After buying and using all sorts of paint brands and colors, I have found a color palette I really like (at least for now.) From right to left – Gamblin Titanium White, Gamblin Cadmium Yellow Medium, Windsor & Newton Yellow Ochre Pale, W&N Burnt Sienna, Gamblin Cadmium Red Medium, W&N Alizarin Crimson, Gamblin Phthalo Green, W&N Ultramarine Blue (Green Shade.) I will sometimes add W&N Indigo, just because I love it, and Gamblin Dioxazine Purple.
(I know it seems like I may have only tried Gamblin and W&N, but I actually tried several brands and these were the ones I kept favoring.)
What really got me into this general palette was my classes in RAFA. Not only was an experienced artist suggesting this group of colors, but she showed them in action. I have learned you can do so much with just Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, and Ultramarine Blue. Everything from blacks, browns, grays, blues, purples, and greens.
Starting with that general palette, I played around with different brands and versions of those colors to find the perfect “Marian palette”. Yellow Ochre vs. Yellow Ochre Pale, for example. And I went through a lot of Ultramarine Blues before I found I preferred W&N Ultramarine Blue Green Shade.
I also tried a lot of Burnt Siennas and I liked W&N’s version the best. When I was mixing Burnt Umber and other Ultramarine Blues together, the blues/grays looked very purple, which I didn’t like. With the Green Shade, they look like blue/grays, which I do like.
I’m sure my color palette will continue to evolve as I try new brands and colors, but this is what I like now.
What I have learned, from all of the books I’ve read and the online classes I’ve taken is that there isn’t one right color palette. It’s all about preferences. Just like decorating a room, it’s all of the elements that you bring together that end up making that room look like your style. The paints you select and the tools you use will contribute to your unique look, so it’s good to experiment and develop your own preferences.
As far as brushes, these are the four I use the most. I do use some other brushes for blending, fine detail, etc, but these are the ones I reach for regularly.
From right to left –
- I love the Catalyst brushes by Princeton. They hold their shape well and I like their “spring”. I use the 4 and 6 flats the most.
- I use the eclipse short filbert (also called a cat tongue) by Rosemary for my initial sketch and for small details.
- The no. 8 flat hogs bristle brush is for toning the canvas/linen prior to painting. I’ll use a larger brush for a larger canvas, but this size works for most of the paintings I do.
- Lastly, I use a rubber “brush” for signing and numbering my paintings.
It scratches out the paint and I like that I can write neatly with it. Well, neat for a signature! Since it would be hard for someone to read my signature, I label my paintings on the back as well with custom stickers.
For solvents and oils, I use Gamsol for thinning down paint and cleaning my brushes, but I use this sparingly. For my oil medium, I use a recipe shared by Carol Marine on her website and in her book. I only add it when the paint feels still and I want it to move better.
Here’s the recipe…
I’ll pour a little bit into the cups clipped to my palette when I’m working. I’m still getting used to that, though! I have to be careful not to slosh them around.
For painting surfaces, I’m primarily using panels made of linen mounted on birch plywood. I order them from SourceTek, which I have found to have the best prices. I’ve started picking up more stretched linen canvases from Hobby Lobby, though, when they are on sale, and I’m testing out hardboard and gesso board. The latter is for a specific project, though, and the slick surface isn’t my preference.
I’m building up quite a nice library of art books and there are so many good ones…
…but the books that I’ve been returning to again and again (specifically for oil painting) are Mitchell Albala’s Landscape Painting, Vibrant Oils by Haidee-Jo Summers, and Daily Painting by Carol Marine.
Not only did they help me initially, but I turn to them when I get stuck on something.
While we’re talking about paintings, I wanted to share that my most recent grouping is listing for auction right now. It includes a painting inspired by my time in Barga…
…a couple of horse paintings I did for my class…
…and a few still life paintings…
And, these paintings are still drying, but these are ones I’ve finished over the past few days…
I’ve really been enjoying “moody fruit” paintings the past few days!
Thank you to everyone who has been encouraging in this journey. It’s always a scary step to try something completely new and my community of readers/followers have made it a little less so.
I only share about my art occasionally here on my blog, so if you’d like to follow what I’m doing regularly, you can do so on @marianparsonsart on Instagram.
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