Learning How to Paint in Oils by Elaine Ostroot

Archive for the ‘Color temperature’ Category

using photographs – part two


So – here we are, the finish of our Cheyenne Chief.  I found some information on the peace pipe.  The newest ones made by contemporary indian artists were a bit over the top, so I used the information I found on older photos.   I found the buckskin shirt and pants to be the most troublesome  to paint.  Getting all those variations and subtle color changes seemed to take a lot more time than I expected.   Here he is – and I’m happy with him.  I will now set the painting aside and look at it for a few days while it dries to see if I’m still satisfied and nothing “jumps” out at me.  When I’m completely content that I have done all I can I will sign it and varnish it with a coat of Liquin and hang it up on my studio wall to dry thoroughly before framing (if you do not allow a few weeks of drying time your painting will stick to the frame – not  good).  Keep in mind, this is my vision, my way of portraying these unique people, your vision is just as valuable.  You may see these photos in a different way.   Good!  Do your thing, but please do your homework first.  Decide what your goal is and follow it.  Look at all the possibilities and paint your vision.

My final advice on using photographs is be sure that the photo you are using is “in the public domain”.  If it is copyrighted and you use it without permission you may find yourself in a heap of trouble.  To be absolutely safe take your own photos, but use them creatively, with caution, being aware of the camera’s limitations.  Your own two wonderful eyes are your best tools.  Learn to see with your “artist” eyes and you will make beautiful paintings.

Before we close out this post, I want to tell you about a wonderful discovery I’ve made.  Soon after I posted ” Using Photographs – Part One”, I recieved notification that several people had found my blog and had “liked” it.  One in particular I want to refer you to: http://liamrainsford.com/.  He is an Irish artist painting  his countryside.  This stuff is wonderful!  I’ve never seen time-lapse video before.  What a wonderful teaching tool!  I recommend that you go to his site and watch as many as you can. I certainly intend to.  His work is beautiful, very impressionistic  and well worth the time, besides it’s really fun to watch him paint!   Another site;  go to youtube.com and type in the search bar “oil painting demonstrations”  you will find page after page of artist’s videos – some very good and some not so good.   They are short and fun to watch and you just my learn something from them.   So – till next time – paint something wonderful and have fun doing it.

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a christmas card


I’d like you to meet someone special.  Her name is Bonnie.  She is a dear friend.  We were talking one day and she mentioned that she had always wanted to learn how to paint.  She is about my age and has a tremor that she felt precluded that endeavor.  I told her to come to the studio on Mondays (I have “open studio” that day) and we would see what we could do.  She agreed and that was the start of Bonnie’s art career.  This woman has an eye for color.  Fine detail was difficult for her so we settled on a style that was loose and very colorful.  I wish you could see the beautiful paintings she has created.  So beautiful that she took first place in painting, best of show, plus viewer’s choice the first year she entered our Labor Day show.  She won enough money to set up her studio at home.  I nearly burst I was so proud of her.  The two judges commented that this woman should be chained to her easel and not allowed to do anything but paint. 

My point is this – it’s never too late to start to learn to do something that you love.  There’s always a way.  This is the reason I’m attempting this blog.  If I can assist another “Bonnie” it’s worth the effort.  I know how much I have been blessed by assisting others to find the joy I get from painting.

We celebrate Christmas because of the  birth of the Son of God on this, the world He created.  We celebrate in thanksgiving that He took on the job of delivering His creation.   I, personally, am so glad  that He did.    So we celebrate His birth and look forward to His return.   I hope your Christmas time is full of joy and renewed faith.   We will get back to the study of oil painting after the new year.  We have much more to cover.   Happy Christmas to you all.

Portraiture – part three


 Finally we come to the best part, the head and hands.  We’ll start with the color mixtures.  You will need the following tube colors:  White, raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent red Ultramarine blue and cerulean blue.  People are essentially orange.  The temperature of the skin comes in two flavors, warm and cool.  Black skin is cool with blue and violet highlights.  Brown skin is warm.  Asian skin is more yellow.  Look at your subject’s skin carefully (before you take photos).  Does it have bluish undertones? (Look at the inside of the elbow.)  My skin has the blue and I am very pale white.  My husband Gerry has warm skin, much more yellow.  These skin tones determine which yellow I will use – yellow ocher (more warm) or raw sienna (much cooler).

 There are as many ways to make flesh tones, as there are artists.  This is my way.  Take a reasonable amount of raw sienna and half as much of burnt sienna and mix them.   Separate your mixture into two piles.   To one pile add a small amount of cerulean blue. Now we are going to add white to both mixtures and step down the values as shown in this photo.  Please note that my palette’s color has changed.  Because I am working on a toned canvas, I have placed papers under the glass that has a mid value.  (Jack Richeson & Co., Inc. –  Grey Matters Paper Palette)  The reason is it’s easier to see how your paint mixtures will look.  

 These color mixtures are what we are going to use to paint Bruce’s head, arms and hands.  We will also add a very little red to make the warmer tones of his skin.  Bruce’s skin tones are generally very fair.  He’s outside a good bit, so he has a lot of color in the lower half of his face.  In Caucasian skin, there are three bands of color across the face.  The center band adds red to the ears, cheeks and nose.  The upper band adds more yellow to the forehead.  The lower band, in women and children, is in between.  In men the beard adds a blue cast to the lower chin, which we may not need as we have a blue undertoned value study to work with. 

  So, armed with this knowledge, we’ll start with the eyes.  This is what I do – for obvious reasons, it adds life to the face. Since it is difficult to see, I will do a separate demonstration on painting the eyes.  First mix cerulean blue and a little raw umber to step down the chroma .  Now step down the values by adding white.  Paint the iris – note where I have placed what values.  The upper lid shades the eyeball so the darkest less intense color will be next to the upper lid.  Since Bruce has a darker edge to the iris, I will paint that as well.  Now lay in the different blue values.  Now mix up a little ultra blue and burnt sienna and paint the pupil.  Place the catch light between the pupil and the edge of the iris.  It always looks better to place the catch light at the 10 o’clock or the 2 o’clock positions. Please note that there is a light value of iris color opposite the catch light.  The eye is a ball and the catch light will shine through the ball – just like a glass ball, – and lighten the iris color.  Mix up a little white with a small amount of raw sienna and cerulean blue (more sienna than blue) this mixture is for the whites of the eye.  As you can see if you look into a mirror, the whites are not white.  Only small children’s eyes are white with a little blue added.

 Now paint the area around the eye.  Bruce’s eyelashes do not show as the skin above the eyelid covers them.  His eyelashes are light – so they will not show much.  Paint lashes as a mass rather than each lash.  Lashes painted individually look like a doll face.  

We will start with the lightest tones first.  We already have the darkest values so this establishes our color range.  The hardest part for me is stopping myself to take pictures!  Now that the eyes are established we will start with the lights on Bruce’s face (where we wiped out when we did the value study).

   Think of it this way.  You are tiling a tabletop.  So place small “tiles” (remember our still life of nectarines?)  on the lightest areas of the face.  Now go for the next light area – placing each “tile” in its proper place.  We will add a little red to the next value to bring up the warmer tones of the face.  I will try to leave a little gray-blue showing through as shadows.  That little trick adds a casual note to the portrait.  (Note the neck area.) Keep adding your “tiles”, one on top of the other.  Smoothing as you go.

 Now the arms and hands.  Same idea, paint the lights first then work toward the darks, just as you worked on the head.  Now put your paint on a board, cover it and put in the freezer.  Let it dry for at least a day, and then we will do the finish work – all the lovely little details that will make this portrait come alive.

Finish work!  I love this best.  This is when Bruce will come alive on the canvas.  It is truly, the moment I wait for.  It’s the best part and worth the wait.  First we will find the darkest darks in his face and restate them.  We will then work toward the lightest tones in his face.  Just the opposite of what we did to start the color application.  You will be able to see the progress of the painting as it evolves.  We will restate and correct the warm tones then add our lights until we get to the highlights.

Now we will do the same with Bruce’s arms and hands.  You have most of the mid range colors.  We will accent the darks, make corrections and place our highlights, just as we did with Bruce’s face. 

Clothes, not nearly as much fun, but we need to finish this.  First I will put the highlights on the gold frame behind the chair.  Then we will start with the darks.  Mix up ultra blue and a small amount of raw sienna.  The shirt is navy blue so we don’t want it to turn green – so careful with that raw sienna.  It’s yellow and too much will turn that blue green. Step down the resulting color value with a little white.  We’re after three values of navy blue.  Start with the darkest colors then add each value in turn blending slightly.  Then the lightest colors – where the light is strongest on the shirt.  We are not going to bring these clothes to the same finish as Bruce’s face.  We do not want to call too much attention to them so we will do enough to say, “this is a navy shirt” and no more. 

White pants – we want these pants to look white.  Take a small amount of cerulean blue and add a very small amount of raw sienna.  We’re looking for shadow color for these pants.  Correct values for these white pants are going to be important.  We still do not want to make them too important.  We do want them to stand out from the chair color, so we will try to make them look really white.  I find it easier to add a darker value into a much lighter one by sneaking up on it.  Take a goodly amount of white and add your shadow mixture into one corner of the white.  When you achieve a color value one step down set it aside and go for the next darker value.  When you have at least three values of shadow start painting the pants.  Darks first then the next lighter value and on to the lightest until you come to your highlights.  Now for your whitest whites.  Put them only where the light strikes the strongest.  Our portrait of Bruce is finished.  I will set it aside for a few days, looking at often to see if I’ve missed anything and whether or not I’m satisfied with it.  Then when it is thoroughly dry, at least a week, I will give it a coat of liquin, let it dry another week and call Bruce to come and pick it up

Portraits are a lot more than just a record of someone.  They are filtered through the artist’s mind and feelings.  If all you want is a record you can take a photo.  A portrait says more.  It testifies to the humanity, the courage, and the spirit of both the sitter and the artist.  We’ve talked about this person as carrying the image of God, a one time only individual, never to happen again.  He is all that and a lot more.  His life, his heritage, the people he loves, the path in life he has chosen, all these and more we cannot know.  God does, and He treasures this person.  I as an artist, with the help of the Holy Spirit, must do my very best to portray him as best I can.  No excuses, no sloppiness, no shortcuts.  This is my job, and I must honor it and the work I do or I cannot claim the title “artist”.