one year of oil painting

by | Oct 10, 2018 | Art, Artistic Endeavors, Oil Painting | 39 comments

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 keep the oil medium in a jar and the Gamsol in a solvent container, both on the cabinet by my easel.

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

You can bid on my still life paintings HERE and the animal paintings HERE.

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.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



  1. Carolyn Kellam

    Very inspiring! I love your early works, but your recent paintings are even more beautiful! You are truly talented!

  2. Sandy R

    Do you usually post first on Instagram when you are putting new paintings up for sale? It seems each time I see the information, almost all of the paintings are already sold. I like the one with the pear and the mason jar that you said is still drying.
    Please do some more based on your trip, the one with the cat is beautiful!

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I usually do share on Instagram first, but the auctions run for three days, so the ones I just listed are still for sale. That way, everyone can have a crack at getting one and I don’t have to set prices! They all start at around $15-25.

      And yes, I took lots of pictures and notes during my trip, so I have a lot of ideas for paintings of Tuscany and Paris.

  3. Beverly

    I have been painting with oils for about fifteen years and like you, started out in watercolors, I am self taught and purchased many books along the way. I knew nothing about the process but was determined and that determination paid off. I still have much to learn but enjoy sharing my paintings with friends and family. I loved your tip about using the rubber brush to sign your paintings….I will be sure to use it on my next painting. I look forward to your daily message.

  4. Alice Scofield

    Wow, the improvement is stunning. You are really getting GOOD! Keep it up. I love your works…and they are inspiring me to just take the plunge and stop waffling. Thank you.

    • Marian Parsons

      Thank you! It has been fun for me to see progress and to learn first hand that’s it’s not just raw talent. It’s developing the talent you do have to increase your skills.

  5. Sherri


    I am very impressed with your paintings!! You have learned and accomplished oils!! I love the horse painting. Drawing and paintings of horses are so hard and you did an amazing job!! You definitely have so much talent in so many arenas!! Congratulations :)!

  6. Pamela

    I’m where you were at the beginning of your journey.. Frightened to pick up the brush. I have purchased my supplies, and have purchased a couple of the books you recommended. …I have even puchased a couple videos for beginners. I can feel I am getting closer to starting on my “oil” journey… I have been inspired by your posts. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    • Marian Parsons

      I’m so glad Pamela! Really, just dive in and know the first ones will be bad, especially when you look at them from a year down the road. Try to enjoy the process of painting in the beginning, knowing the skill and style will emerge. Progress over perfection!!!

  7. Crystal

    I’ve always thought of you as a truly talented, artistic person. I love so much of your work & admire your courage as you branch out & learn. (& share… I afraid I fall more into the perpetual “scrapper” category. The type A, perfectionist takes over… an always present nagging feeling on an endeavor like the one you’re on. Tough not to get hung up on that when it isn’t “just right”) I guess that really is the point though- the Process & NOT the perfection-
    Anyways, I just have to tell you, your progress is AWE INSPIRING! Like as in pick my jaw up off the floor when I see your side by sides & watch your time lapse.
    You’ve come so far & I thought you were so great to begin with. I never would have truly realized just how much you’ve grown otherwise.
    Major kuddos to you! I can’t wait to continue to see more 🙂
    Maybe someday I will be brave enough myself! Fingers crossed-

  8. Elizabeth St.

    Your latest oils are gorgeous… I’m so glad you took the five imto oil painting despite your initial reluctance. You are so right that practice plus learning leads reliably to improvement. Things that seem like shortcuts are tempting but deceptive.

    How do you find the time, amid your other important activities, to do (and even read about) oil painting? It’s a serious question.

  9. Elizabeth St.

    Autocorrect Correction: five imto = dive into

  10. Cherylan

    I also share an appreciation of indigo shade. It may be because indigo is the only “warm” blue. It has red in it! A warm shadow!
    To your brush collection, I always need an angled shader 3/8 for flat details.
    Sometimes best to take a brush and cut and grade it.
    And a palette knife or some flat hard edge to scrape and brandish in the air!

    • Marian Parsons

      I haven’t tried painting with a palette knife, yet, but I need to!

  11. LuAnna

    Have you thought of combining your oil painting on a few select pieces of furniture?
    Years ago, there was a shop in Pequot Lakes, MN that sold various furniture pieces with scenes, florals, etc. painted on them in oils. I used to swoon over them, and thought what a beautiful gem that would be in the right spot in the house.

    • Marian Parsons

      I have, actually. It might be too specific, though, but I’m sure one day I’ll have just the right inspiration!

  12. Brenda

    You have really inspired me to just get in there and do it when it comes to learning and improving.

    • Marian Parsons


  13. DonnaDoble-Brown

    Oh my gosh Marian I LOVE the cat one from Barga and this latest one 97 I think . . The plums? THAT is stunning! How did you find an online course . . . You’re making me think
    About doing this . . . . ?

  14. Downraspberrylane

    Those plums. My favorite so far.

  15. Julie

    I agree with LuAnna! One of my best friends growing up had a dresser that her dad had custom painted with oil paintings on each of the drawer fronts. He is 96 and still doing beautiful oil paintings! His paintings are as amazing as he is. Creativity keeps the mind young!

  16. Jill

    You’ve done so well! I’m just taking up oil painting, too, and I really love it. I have a book of my fathers (who was an illustrator) that was his favorite reference – it’s called Alla Prima II, by Richard Schmid. You might like it. Also, where did you get the rubber brush you sign your paintings with? I’d love something like that, but I haven’t seen one.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I have that book. It is an expensive book ($150) and a tough one to wade through, but there is great information in it. It’s not one of my favorites, though. I prefer the more casual, practical books that are easier to digest. His work is stunning, though!

  17. MaryLisa

    Love the mason jar! Looks amazing

  18. Shelia

    I used to dabble at oil painting in my early 20s but gave it up when life happened and I got busy raising my son. Now I’m an older woman and I want to start again but in acrylics. Like you did, I bought everything I need to get started but have been intimidated and scared of failure I guess. You have given me encouragement that it is possible to try again. Marian, you have a gift and you’re only going to get better with practice. You’ve already developed your own style and that I’m told sometimes takes years! I could pick out your painting in a grouping for sure! Keep up the good work and please keep us posted on your progress on your blog because I don’t have Instagram! Guess now I’ll have to subscribe, lol !

  19. Charlotte

    Beautiful work! You continue to inspire me with your painting, your decor ideas, and your blog posts (which I signed up for to keep up to date). Thank you so much for sharing! I look forward to reading your latest posts! Keep up with the beautiful work!

  20. Connie

    Not sure that you’re ‘comparison’ paintings are fair to you! I don’t necessarily see ‘not so good to much better’ but rather all beautiful & works I would be honored to hang on my walls; some just appear to be looser or more impressionistic interpretations than others – and I love them all!

  21. Monique

    Bravo! I have watched along and loved your tips and watching your progress and I thank you very much:)
    And I agree..those plums..are fabulous.

  22. Marian Zimmerman

    thank-you thank-you,
    for all your tips, I will purchase and try those brands,
    keep posting, I am still pondering to try a 100 series

  23. Vanessa

    Congratulations on your beautiful and inspiring journey. I have a question: do you paint by observing a picture , (like the barn) or a table with your fruit and vases? Or is it just from memory and imagination?

    • Marian Parsons

      I paint from either a picture or from life (in person). Sometimes I’ll paint something from my head or I’ll make adjustments, but I’m working on my drawing and observation skills, so I’m trying to stick closely to my reference.

  24. Patricia Cantwell

    LOVE your “moody” fruit paintings.
    Your technique is amazing, as is your one year progress!
    Keep up the good work.
    Well done!

  25. Becky R

    Your posts about paintings are my absolute favorites! You have inspired me to buy some paint and supplies, but I have yet to start! I’m terrified!

  26. Mary b

    Your journey is inspirational. I always wanted to paint/ draw. There’s no time like now to start. Always good to remember to do a little often

    • Marian Parsons

      That’s right. You just have to start!

  27. Beth Lester

    Progress over perfection. I’m going to use that when I get frustrated with my piano lessons (after 40 years since I quit lessons, although I continued to play).

    Thanks! Beautiful art. That’s my next skill to grow.

  28. Marie Thomas

    I have been looking for an easel like yours. Would you mind telling g me where you found it! Thank you so much. You are an inspiration to us all.

    • Marian Parsons

      It’s the Sienna Counterweight Studio Easel and I bought it on Amazon.

  29. Tina Holton

    I have never attempted painting but have always wanted to! Can you give me the name of a good book to get me started? BTW I can’t believe you have only been doing oils for a year! What talent!


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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