Learning How to Paint in Oils by Elaine Ostroot

Archive for the ‘Oil painting’ Category

Composition


  A big word.  Probably the word for the most important tool the artist has.  Another word for composition is design.  I like this word better.  It’s more descriptive.   For me, this is the real deal.  It’s what I have the most problem with.  It’s the first thing I look for, not only in my own work, but also in any painting by anyone.

   Many books have been written about this subject.  If you are in to landscapes, one of the best ones is “14 Formulas for Painting Fabulous Landscapes” by Barbara Nuss. I started out painting portraits of children.  There’s not too many ways to arrange a child’s face in a painting, so when I wanted to branch out into flowers and landscapes I found myself in trouble.  Where to put what?

 So – the best way to show you what I’m writing about is – as usual – paint a picture!  I have chosen a 30 x 40 canvas, My son, Scott has decided to showcase my work in our dining room, which is large enough to house a bar – so it’s more like a room for intertaining and has several large walls. St. Louis zoo fall colors

The first photo is one my son took on his cell phone.  As you can see the center of interest (the waterfall) is dead center.  It’s a beautiful picture, but for a painting that waterfall is going to have to move.  I took a copy of the photo and drew lines dividing it into four equal sections both horizontally and vertically (we did the same thing in Portraits, part one).  The center of interest should not be in the center – any one of the four box shapes surrounding the center is the logical place for our waterfall.  I have cropped the picture to move the waterfall to the right upper box.  Now we have some editing to do.   I want more water than sky, so I will crop the sky down a bit.  I also want to retain the orange tree on the left side to balance out all that red.  I will eliminate the rock in front of the waterfall and move the rock at the right far edge closer to the rock adjacent to it. Or leave it out altogether. 

I have a program on my computer called Picasa 3. This allows me to straiten a photo, crop it and even add more light to a dark photo. To make the grid more visible to you I have used black fishing line taped to the edges.  Normally, I use a 6H pencil to put the grid in lightly, so that the lines can be erased more easily.blog 005-001blog 003-001

 I used some leftover paint from another painting to do the drawing.  It is very loose and sketchy, but that’s all you need to start.  Just an indication of where things are.  Don’t get too caught up in details at this stage. blog 009-001

 Most of designing – especially using photos – is leaving out stuff.  My rule is generally, if it doesn’t contribute to the painting – leave it out.  That’s hard to do.  We have a tendency to paint everything in and that results in a cluttered and scattered painting.  My initial lay in will simplify as much as possible.  First notice (or decide) where the light is coming from.  This is critical – your light source must come from a single direction.  That is not always the case – in portraits and still life paintings the light can come from other directions, but in landscapes, the light will come from one direction.

 Now I will decide what elements to retain. Which ones to leave out and if I need to change some elements to create balance.  I don’t want to lead your eye out of the painting – especially out the corners.  I also want to lead your eye to that beautiful waterfall.  I want to use my brightest colors, my sharpest edges and my highest contrast near or on my center of interest.  My darkest dark is the cave behind the falls and my lightest light is the top of the falls.  So, let’s begin. I have my initial lay-in and my decisions are made.  I’m going to add my first darks – you will notice that my darks are larger than they will end up. blog 021-001 Darks have a tendency to disappear very quickly, so this is a hedge against that.  I will start adding more values of green to the trees and add the orange and darker values to the trees behind the green trees.  I think some are evergreens. blog 022-001  

As this next photo shows, I’ve blocked in most of the elements, keeping the darks as much as possible.  The red I’ve chosen for the red trees is a transparent one.  I chose it primarily because it leans to the blue a little and the green behind it will help serve as my darkest reds. blog 029-001

Now I will pull this painting together by adding all the other values.  I will also add some lighter tones, but not the lightest quite yet. blog 032-001

Now I’m ready for the lightest lights. So here is the finished work.blog 037-001

 Composition is worth your careful study.  It will make or break your paintings.  You will notice when you look at paintings that most of them are dull and uninteresting.  Then there are those that knock your socks off.  Make more of those.  Good design is the answer.

Advertisements

EDGES


           

         One way to spotlight this subject is to do a small demonstration.  So pick a subject – an apple, a vase, any object.  Set it in front of you and really look at it.  Hopefully, you’ve set it on a table next to your easel and it is lit, by the light from your window, more on one side than the other.  In my new studio, I have three windows facing due north and two windows facing east.  I will close the mini blinds to limit the light from the east side.  If I leave the east windows uncovered I would have a light source from two sides, which would make my project confusing.  Note the side lit by the light and compare it to the side away from the light.  My object’s lit side seems to have a sharper edge.  The side away from the light seems softer.  Also the turning edge seems to feel softer.  So – edges are important.  If we paint them correctly, our object will appear three-dimensional. Softening or hardening an edge or “losing” the edge completely, we give the illusion of form.

 I have chosen to paint a portrait of my granddaughter Caity.  I am using a photo that I took outside in the bright shade.  Caity loves pink so I will surround her with various shades of it.  I plan to do this small portrait in a relatively loose and painterly style.  I will start by painting her in not more than three values of each area.  Then I will modify and adjust the values and colors as needed.  I will also pay particular attention to the edges.  This first photo of the work is the initial lay-in. 

Note the soft edges on the left side of Caity’s face near the hairline.  Also as her cheek turns away from the light the edge softens.  That edge makes her face look more three-dimensional. Now I will adjust the values (see the posting on values to refresh your memory).  Notice that Caity’s face has many different edges.  The left side starts very softly shadowing into her hair – a “lost” edge.  It dosen’t firm up until it reaches the right side of the jaw line.  This edge and the line of  her adjacent neck are probably the hardest edges in the painting.

The bright light on the left side of her hair has a nice crisp edge.  The lost edge on the right side of her hair blends with the background.  All these various edges add volume and form to the portrait and add reality.

To summarize:  edges are important.  They help define and add shape and form.  They create the illusion of three dimensions.

Apology for the Interruption


Lots of things have happened that changed our comfortable lifestyle in the Ozarks to a more dynamic big city style.  We’re not sure we like it yet, it takes some getting used to before it be comes our new normal.

Moving from our home of seventeen years in a laid-back retirement community has induced culture shock. We moved from a community of other artists and friends into a bedroom community where most people are gone most of the day.  We feel a bit isolated as the freeway commuter system is intimidating, so we don’t do much “going”.  We seem to have more of a “horse and buggy” mentality in a modern high-speed area.  I have not yet been able to connect with other artists, but I will do so as soon as I can. Now Gerry has to walk Kato twice a day and carry a plastic bag to pick up the ubiquitous droppings from our neighbor’s front lawn.

We are remodeling my son and daughter’s home to accommodate us (and Kato).  The studio/study is in the last stages of completion.  I hope to be back at my easel next week.  After two months of enforced idleness it will be so good to get back to work.  I plan to start with a small series of still life paintings.  After that we will get into “edges”. Look for a new posting in November.

using photographs – part one


Photos are wonderful!  I do not know any other thing that has been as helpful.  I could not go to Kenya, but I had friends and students that did.  Another pair of good friends traveled a lot and I was the recipient of many of their photos from Mexico and Central America.

There are a few problems we must keep in mind.  The camera “sees” differently.  It flattens objects.  It distorts.  The shadows are usually too dark and it records EVERYTHING.  An artist friend said that the only problem he had with photos is learning what to leave out.  If it doesn’t contribute to the painting or what you are trying to say in the painting, leave it out.

  So in my new series of paintings about Native Americans, I will use Edward Curtis’s photos as I would a photo I took myself – selectively.  I will begin by showing you the photo I am using and detail how I plan to use it.   I will lighten the shadows on our chief’s face and open his eyes a little more.  I will put an evening sunset behind him; the lightest yellows low, gradually deepening to orange and rose colors ending with the darkest around his ceremonial bonnet.  I will change the stick with the scalps – I will make it a Calumet (a “peace”  pipe).   I will also remove the shadow on his hand.  I will also edit out the curve of the cape below his bonnet as well as the metal buckle on the saddle blanket. 

Curtis “staged” a good many of his photos.  He acquired a sizable wardrobe of clothing, bonnets and other artifacts to assist him.  The man was an artist – I have no objection to his methods, but I don’t have to use all of his details in my work.  If you copy a photo exactly – what are you saying?  You are “saying” what the photographer said.   Where is your input?  I want to “say” something different.  I want you to look at that wonderful face.  I want you to see the nobility of a God created creature, created in His image.  I do not want you distracted by a bunch of “details” that do not contribute to that goal.  Curtis had a different goal – so do we all.  Choose your goal for your painting and stick with it.  Don’t let someone else’s idea change your plan.

 We begin as I always do by selecting the size of the canvas.  I think a 24 x 30 will do nicely.  I want this painting to be the centerpiece of the series.  This size is large and it will command attention.  Now I will take a smaller photo and place my grid on it and the canvas and do the drawing (just as we did in “Portraiture One” post back in October).  I will not use a toned canvas for this, as I want the white of the canvas to help illuminate the  colors.  I will start with the sunset, my pallet will consist of white, lemon and cad yellow, cad and permanent red and maybe some quinacridone rose (quinacridone colors are relatively new and worth trying out – so far I like them and this particular rose is beautiful).

I plan to show you a different method from the one in “Portraiture One, Two and Three”.  In those posts I did a value study.  In this painting I will paint the face and figure directly.  I will paint the entire painting with an underpainting.  I will start with a “local” color.  To get this color, I usually squint my eyes to obscure the details of light and shadow.  What’s left is the basic color of the object.  Since we have no color in this photo I will simply use what I think the local color would be and paint that in.  It will look like a poster with a  little shading, but hang in there we will model all these objects with light and shadow.  This is simply another way of organizing a painting.  I will get the sky and some of the local colors and take photos as I go so that you can see the steps.

  I will add more shadow and this will shape the body under the buckskin.  I will add the pipe and it’s decorations.  I will also shade and model the feathers and our chief’s face.  I will do this with opaque color and with glazes.  A glaze is a color thinned with Liquin.  Take a small amount of color with your knife and place it on your glass pallet.  Now add a small puddle of Liquin next to it.  With your brush in hand, add the Liquin to your color – a little at a time – until your color is almost transparent.  This is a glaze.  For the face I will shadow it with raw sienna and burnt umber mixtures.  For the feathers, I will use burnt umber and ultra blue mixtures.  For the buckskin, I will use raw sienna, white and burnt umber with a little cerulean blue added in to gray the mixtures.  I will further model all these objects with lighter mixtures of the local color to shape them and to add interest.  My last step will be to add the lights and highlights.  This is my plan.  We will see how it all works out.

First, the basic block in – the sky and the local color of the chief and the objects around him.  

 OK,  now the real work begins.  Modeling the face – get rid of those dark shadows.  I want a clearly defined face.  Those dark shadows on our chief’s face make for a good photo – but I want to focus on the person, so we will use much lighter shadow colors.  As we’ve done before, start with three mixtures, using raw sienna, burnt sienna  and burnt umber.

I will step down the values, using white, just as we have done before, untill I have at least three distinct values.  I will work with these, mixing them as I go to paint our chief’s face.   I will also add a little permanent red to some of the mixtures to bring a little color to our chief’s face.

I have found that using raw sienna instead of yellow ocher to skintone mixtures adds a little grayer tone to hispanic and indian peoples.

I will now start to model the figure’s bonnet and buckskin clothing and start the process of finish work.  This is going to take some time.  So I will show you the painting as it is now. 

There’s much more work to be done.  I will continue and post as I go.  Next time – finish work!

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”.

Portraiture


Since this is what I do the most – it was hard to wait to write about portraiture. Since this is going to be an extensive post, I’ve decided to divide it into three parts.  So, this is part one – taking the photos, layout and drawing, toning the canvas and value study. Our subject is Bruce, an avid golfer and a computer guru.  I like to try to put into a portrait something alluding to the person’s interests.  It says more about who this person is.

 Remember, this is a one- time- only individual, a person that carries the image of God, unique, never to be seen again.  So – I never approach a portrait without prayer first.  I need all the help I can get.  I have seen the results if I do not spend just a few minuets in prayer.  The best compliment I have received about my portraits is “it looks more like him than that photo!”

 I work from photos for obvious reasons.  Photos don’t move, and most people simply do not have the time to “sit” for a portrait.  You should be aware of your camera’s limitations.  A camera “sees” differently that our eyes do.  It flattens everything, it makes the darks way too dark and the closest thing to the lens is exaggerated, like noses and hands.  So – you should not stand too close to your subject.   A reasonable rule is at least 8 to 10 feet away (camera on a tripod).  My digital camera has a “moderate” telephoto option on it, which makes it doable.  Standing that far away and using the telephoto option, I can get very usable pictures of my subject. 

 On to our portrait of Bruce.  Here are the photos I will work from.  I will also work from an enlargement of just the head.  You will see this photo taped to the light beside my easel.  What this does is to add a bit more light to his face and enables me to see the details. 

 

The first array of photos shows the start of the painting process   I’ve narrowed it down to a 4 X 41/2, which translates to a 20 X 24.  Note where I’ve chosen to place the bottom of the portrait.  You do not want to end at a joint.  It looks better to end in between the knee and the foot.  Now we will tape the photo to a small piece of stiffer paper or mat board.  We now have the dimensions marked out of our portrait. I have placed a piece of glass, 8 x 10 with the edges taped over the photo and marked off the photo both vertically and horizontally.  I have divided up the canvas similarly as this next photo shows.  It looks like a tic tack toe game.

 The next photo shows the drawing.  We are looking for something close to a line drawing.  You do not need a lot of detail here.  Just placement of the essentials, eyes, nose, mouth hairline etc.  I have used a dark pen so that you can see the results.  Start at the top – in the first square you see anything start your drawing.  Copy only what you see in that square.  Then go on to the next square copy each square until you reach the bottom.  You did it!  You now have a completed drawing.  I will transfer this drawing, using a transfer paper, to the canvas.  You can draw directly on the canvas but I did not want the layout lines showing, as I often use glazes for my backgrounds and the lines are hard to erase.  If you do it this way it will help to place a book under the canvas so that you can use pressure to get a good transfer.)  The next photo shows the transferred drawing.  Let me add this; many artists blow up the photo and trace the basics.  Some use an opaque projector.  I am not trying to teach you how to draw; I hope you have that covered.  I really do not care how you get the drawing on the canvas.  I choose to do it this way.  It’s an old tried and true method.  If you learn this method you will be able to use it to layout anything.   Now we need to spray the drawing with Krylon matte spray (the satin will work too).

The technique I am going to demonstrate to you is not new.  It’s an old one but it solves a lot of problems.  Put a little Liquin in a cup (empty plastic fruit cups work fine).  Dilute it with a little odorless turp.  I use a three Liquin to two turp ratios.  Mix up a nice cool blue gray.  Paint the entire canvas with a dilute (add more of the Liquin and turp mixture to the paint) paint mixture.  It does not matter if it’s not even.  I use a rag to thin out the paint on the canvas.  What we are after is a light blue gray surface.  Note the next photo.  I have immediately wiped out the lights of the portrait.  Now we will let it dry.

 It should dry in about 8 to 10 hours.  When it is dry we will work on the values.  This method solves all our “value problems”.  This will enable you to see the values without color confusing the issue.  The old masters did this routinely for the same reasons.   

The next photo example will show a change.  I placed Bruce in this format because I wanted to add a picture behind the chair he is sitting in.  As he likes to golf, this will add a dimension to the portrait as it shows at least one of his interests.  Start with your darks.  Apply a thin mixture of paint with Liquin to create a glaze.  Not too thin, we want a fairly dark mix for this value.  This is the darkest value in the portrait.  Mix a little more of the Liquin mixture into your paint to create a thinner glaze.  This mixture we will use to create the shadows.  If your shadowed areas become too dark, dab at the area with a rag to lighten.  Keep working at this until you are satisfied with all the values.  The next photo shows the completed value study.  Do not worry if your value study isn’t perfect.  Mine never are.  What we have is a start.  A very good idea of what to do next.  We know where are darkest values are.  We know what our shadows will look like.  So – good enough.

We’re halfway there!  Congrats!  Stand back and take in what you have accomplished.  Your value study will teach you more, at this stage, than anything else I can tell you.  Doing the work is your “teacher” You can do this technique with any subject.  Now we will let the painting dry thoroughly, at least two days.  Then it’s on to color!