Oil Painting Techniques

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Aims of this Oil Painting Techniques Site

Oil painting techniques is a painter's notebook, and a fairly comprehensive one. From selecting materials, laying in, working out color harmonies . . . to selling the finished work — in these thirty-odd pages you'll find an overview of the painter's craft.

Oil painting techniques covers practical matters, but advice is backed by references to books and Internet sources. The underlying principles are not neglected, however, and may help you to understand and learn from the acknowledged masters. In short, this oil painting techniques site tries to pull together what can be overlooked in courses, and to point you in useful directions.

The usual approaches are covered — including direct painting — but space and copyright considerations restrict what can be convincingly demonstrated. The essential need is to try and see for yourself. The coordination of hand and eye, a dexterity with pencil or brush, a knowledge of composition and aesthetic harmony, of how paints mix and their properties may be modified with oils and balsams — none of this can be learned from exposition.

Nonetheless, I hope this site will encourage contemporary painters to explore and develop the range of techniques still open to them. And that they will follow up these bare notes with experimentation, and will keep practicing and practicing.

Leisure painting is a fast-growing pursuit, and even the smallest bookshop will have a few manuals on how to get started — choose canvas, paint and brushes, master the elements of perspective and composition, mix and apply paints, finish and frame the work. Why this site?

Because oil painting as taught and practiced today generally employs only a fraction of the techniques available from its four hundred years of history. Contemporary oil painting is mostly 'direct painting', the immediate application of paint to a canvas with only a minimum of prior planning and underpainting.

Direct painting has its strengths, and can produce works of great vigor and freshness. Unfortunately, it is also a rather hit or miss method, and requires skills — from conception to manual facility — that cannot be acquired without long application, and then not by everyone. The beginner has to start somewhere, and not be too easily discouraged, so that the authors of various 'how to paint' exercises are providing a sterling service. But the starting painter does not realize just how much expertise has been compressed into these deft strokes of the brush, or how difficult it may be to extend them to create other forms of pictorial reality. Many hopefuls give up at this point. Others persevere, but find the demonstrations do not take them where they want to go. Books, classes and individual tuition have then to be sought, which are expensive, and usually boil down to what this site recommends — that the many different aspects of oil painting technique should be studied separately, which is what the earlier painters understood was necessary.

Certainly there is no one correct way of painting. Artists train themselves in a wide variety of approaches, which they continually practice and extend as they find occasion and need for. And whatever the public may suppose, art is not dashed off in fits of inspiration, but comes together after exhausting trial and thought. With the older approaches, however, which broke the picture process into manageable steps, there was more opportunity to get things right. Each stage had simple requirements, which could be more completely achieved.


Oil Painting Techniques: Making it Simple

Oil painting is straightforward, far simpler than etching or even watercolor painting. If you can see something, you can paint it in oils. To create something memorable, however, you need to:

1. Formulate what you hope to achieve, and devise a workable route to that objective.

2. Research the market if you wish to sell the work.

3. Approach the painting process in logical steps, which usually entail:

a. drawings to investigate compositional possibilities.

b. blocked-out charcoal/pencil/oil sketches to arrange tonal values.

c. oil sketches to experiment with various color schemes and harmonies.

d. preparing canvas and paint for the anticipated tasks.

e. applying paint to canvas, either incorporating the results of b and c in direct painting, or by tackling them in distinct phases.

f. varnishing, framing and hanging the work.

Yes, it does help to know what you're about. But though the objectives of painting, and even how to go about them, can all be stated in a few page:

1. Acquiring the necessary eye and manual skill takes years, and

2. Producing something significant requires individual gifts, strong personal qualities and unceasing application.

Whatever you attempt, you'll get there quicker if you appreciate the larger dimensions of oil painting techniques, and continually study the work of other practitioners, both the old and contemporary masters.

What's on the Site

The site provides:

1. Summaries of the basic requirements and concepts of oil painting.

2. Short notes on how to prepare canvases, paints and glazes.

3. Advice on courses, painting trips and holidays.

4. Recommendations for framing and gallery services.

5. A select list of books, suppliers and Internet sources.

Internet References

I have tried to place Internet listings on a relevant page, but — in case you get lost — here's an overview

oil painting techniques: company and aims

aesthetics and art theory

art magazines

art materials supplies

art instruction videos

canvas suppliers

color composition

color theory

history of art

paint brushes

painting classes: directories

painting holidays: directories

picture framing

pigment properties

selling your work


Click on the LH listings to get started, or on links below for other matters.

Illustration: detail from Charles I of England, Hunting by Anthony van Dyck. Musée du Louvre. Paris. A masterpiece of political portraiture: a devious and self-centered man is invested with the aura of kingship while modestly posing as a private gentleman. But for touches of blue in the sky, the composition uses an analogous color scheme, superb line drawing and careful control of tones.

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