Create an Oil Painting of a Chicken



I'm a graphic designer from Canada. I love creating things, whether it's digital or something mor...

Painting is a great hobby, but there are so many more benefits than the finished artwork. I love being able to look around in the natural world and see colours I never noticed before I learned to paint. It's like being apart of a secret club.

Best of all, I believe anyone can learn. I started oil painting just under a year ago. As frustrating as it was in the beginning, I kept at it and slowly started to improve.

About this painting:

This little chicken was based on a photo I took on a farm. I liked her as a subject matter because I think she's kind of funny. She's staring right at the camera with her head cocked and is so inquisitive.

My goal was to capture her "chicken-y-ness", with a splash of humour.

Safety tip: Always paint in a well-ventilated space.


  1. Wood Panel
  2. Ruler
  3. Pencil
  4. Gesso
  5. Black Acrylic Paint
  6. Solvent
  7. Linseed Oil
  8. Brush cleaner
  9. Brushes:
    • Round size 1
    • Flat size 2
    • Filbert size 4
  10. Oil Paints:
    1. Titanium White
    2. Cadmium Yellow Pale
    3. Yellow Ochre
    4. Cadmium Orange
    5. Cadmium Red
    6. Permanent Alizarine Crimson
    7. Cobalt Violet
    8. Cerulean Blue
    9. Burnt Umber
    10. Burnt Sienna
    11. Lamp Black
  11. Palet Knife
  12. Paper Pallet
  13. Tape
  14. Paper towel or rag
  15. Photo reference

Note: Some artists would say never to use black paint. I use it, but never straight from the tube. I always add additional colours to it to give it some extra life.

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Step 1: Prep Painting Surface

For oil paint, people typically paint on canvas, wood panel, or paper that has been gessoed. My preference is to paint on a wood panel. I find that canvas bounces too much when you're painting.

  1. Purchase your wood panel. Gesso the back and sides completely. This will help seal the wood so that your artwork will last as long as possible. Wait to dry.
  2. Gesso the front of the panel. Paint in the direction of the wood grain. Wait to dry.
  3. Add a second coat of gesso to the front of the panel. This time, paint across the grain. Let dry.
  4. Optional: If you like to paint on a smooth surface, you can give the painted gessoed surface a light sanding.
  5. Using acrylic black paint, paint the edges black. This gives your work a polished look when you're finished. You can use oil paint at this stage, but acrylic can be less expensive and dries much faster. Let dry.

You should be left with a white working surface with black edges.

Step 2: Get Reference Photo Ready

I use a tool like Photoshop or GIMP to crop my photo and figure out my composition. I usually print a black and white version and a coloured version. At this point, I also add a grid in photoshop on my black and white copy to make for easy drawing later in the process. If you don't have photoshop, you can use a pen and ruler to mark out your grid. As you can see, I like to use the grid method. Here's the link to a good instructable on how to use the grid method.

If you're new to painting, I would recommend printing off a version where you have your values broken down. In Photoshop you can do this by going:

Image > Adjustments > Posterize and change the level to 3.

If you use this method you'll be able to easily make out your mid-tones, shadows, and highlights.

Tip: Print your reference photos on matte photo paper. I used to print my photos on regular printer paper which distorts your colour and doesn't give you the same depth.

Step 3: Stain Panel

I would recommend staining your panel. It's a nice way to unify a painting from an early stage and allows you to let the underpainting colour show through.

Normally, I use Burnt Sienna as my underpainting colour. This time I decided to do something a little different and I went with Permanent Alizarine Crimson.

For the initial colour, I do a wash with my paint mixed with some mineral spirits. This speeds up drying time and keeps it semi-transparent. It will take a few days to dry completely.

Once dried, I use a pencil to grid off my panel into 16 equal parts to match my reference photo.

Step 4: Paint Underpainting

Using the same colour that I stained my panel with, I mix it again with mineral spirits and start to block in the mid-tones of the chicken. This is where it's helpful to have a black and white version of the photograph. At this point the only thing to be concerned with accurately drawing the chicken and getting the correct values.

When you finish with the mid-tones, let that dry, and add in the darkest values of the painting.

Once everything has dried, you can gently erase your grid lines.

Tip: When I'm working alla prima (wet-on-wet and in one sitting) I often use more mineral spirits with the paint so my underpainting can dry as I mix colours.

Step 5: Mix Colours

I usually spend a good 30 minutes to an hour mixing colour. I like to keep my paints in the same order every time I paint, with my whites always in the top left corner.

If you're new to colour mixing it may be beneficial to do some colour wheels first to get a solid grasp on how different colours interact with each other. The biggest mistake beginners make is when they want to create a less intense version of a colour they add black, which makes the painting very dull and unrealistic. What you should be doing is adding the colours complementary colour (which is the colour that lives directly across from it on the colour wheel). Example: Purple will neutralize yellow.

The 3 things to consider when mixing are as followed:

  1. Hue: Identify the hue and see which of your paints are closest to that colour and could act as the base.
  2. Saturation: Determine whether that colour needs to be neutralized if so add it's complement colour.
  3. Value: How dark or light is that colour?

Tip: To test your colour, put some of your mixed colour on your pallet knife and hold it next to your reference photo. Squinting helps when you're comparing the colour you mixed to your source image.

Once you mix your colours, you're ready to paint!

Step 6: Block in Colours

If I'm painting a living creature I like to start with the eyes. I usually start with a small brush and work my way out.

There are many different ways to approach painting at this point. Some people prefer to paint everywhere all at once. I tend to start in an isolated area and work my way out, eventually connecting the areas. Try different ways and figure out what works for you.

I typically block colours in, laying colours next to each other to see how they look together. Once I've blocked out an area then I'll go in with another brush to smooth and blend in areas.

I'm a big fan of seeing brushstrokes so I don't overwork in colours.

Tip: Tape a piece of paper towel next to your painting so you can easily wipe off colours and move to the next. The only time I wipe off colours using mineral spirits in the middle of painting is if I'm switching from a dark colour to a really light colour.

Step 7: Paint On

I switch to a larger brush as I work out from the face. I like to leave some of the original panel stain show through my painting. You can especially see this in the body of the chicken. Mostly, I just think it's visually fun to look at.

Tricks 'n tips:

  1. Don't be afraid to wipe off a painted area that isn't working. And don't be discouraged when it happens. That's the beauty of oil, it's flexible and forgiving.
  2. Turn your work upside-down or on its side to make it easier to get certain brush strokes. I find it's also helpful to flip my artwork and paint that way if I find what I think I see is getting in the way of what is there.
  3. If it's not exactly like the reference photo, that's okay! If people wanted things that looked exactly like photographs, they'd hang the photograph.

There is no right or wrong way to paint. The more you paint the more you learn what you like.

Step 8: In Conclusion

You'll notice I changed the background colour halfway through. I felt that there wasn't enough contrast with the light grey background. I also thought it would be funny if this chicken, making that face, was coming out of the darkness. It sort of takes the seriousness away and makes it somewhat absurd, which I like.

These techniques can be used for any painting. I have found when I take my time and plan out a painting before diving in it typically turns out better.

I've included an example of this technique on another painting I've done so you can see what it looks like when you use Burnt Sienna as the underpainting colour.

Tell me in the comments! Have you tried oil painting? What do you do differently?

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    24 Discussions


    10 days ago on Step 8

    This is amazing to watch and I admire your focus on technique and teaching it, while remaining in the creative process.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 days ago

    Thank you so much! It was an interesting challenge to record myself paint while not getting distracted by the camera.


    Reply 10 days ago

    So encouraging. I wonder how many of us will try because of your generosity.thank you.


    Reply 10 days ago

    Thank you! And I hope a lot of people give it a try :)


    17 days ago on Introduction

    This chicken is so lively and funny as if it's asking " what do you think you'r doing ". Beautiful technique. Thank's very much, makes me chuckle.

    1 reply

    Reply 17 days ago

    Thank you so much! And I’m so glad that the humour came across as well. :)


    21 days ago

    I love this chicken's expression, and you recreated it perfectly! I've tole painted and watercolor painted, but never oil painted. Going to have to try oil painting now, thanks for the motivation!

    1 reply

    Reply 21 days ago

    Thank you! And I really hope you do give oil painting a try :)


    22 days ago

    Thank you so much for this. It is motivating! I have a couple questions though since I've never done anything like this before. (That being said, I'd like to apologize in advance for any stupid questions and for my ignorance. Hopefully you can figure out what I'm trying to ask if I end up not asking it correctly.)
    So, first, where do you get your wood panels? Are they just pieces of scrap wood like what you can get for free at a big home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe's in the U.S.A.?
    2nd: How do you decide what color to use as your underpainting stain?
    3) when you say, "block in the mid-tones of the chicken. This is where it's helpful to have a black and white version of the photograph," can you elaborate a bit more about this? How do you get your mid-tones, do you start with the underpainting color and add black or white? Or use the different colors that appear gray on the B/W printout?
    And when you say "at this point the only thing to be concerned with [is] accurately drawing the chicken and getting the correct values" what do you mean by "values" - how dark or light the colors are? Any elaboration how to get these right at this stage of the project would be super helpful!
    Along those same lines, anything you can add to help get at/achieve, match, and "add in the darkest values of the painting" would also be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!
    Again, I love your Instructable and I can't wait to make a painting of my own!
    Great job!

    1 reply

    Reply 21 days ago

    None of these are stupid questions! They're all things everyone asks when they start out. :)

    1. I think technically you could get your wood panel form a Home Depot or Lowes, but I usually buy mine at art stores. They're a bit more money but then you don't need to worry as much about glue or sap seeping through your painting after. Not to mention, sometimes a chunk of wood from plywood can chip off.

    2. Most the time I use a burnt sienna as an underpainting colour when I'm depicting a landscape or something that leans more toward realism. One of my main sources of inspiration is Tom Thomson, a Canadian landscape painter. If you see his work you see these little pieces of birch board peeking through the paint and it's truly beautiful. But, sometimes I like to mix it up with a more wild underpainting colour like the Alizarin in this case. There's no right or wrong colour for an underpainting, it's purely preference.

    3. When I stain my panel I use a lot of solvent with my paint and spread it around with a paper towel. This produces a lighter variation of the colour. After that's dry I use the same colour I used for the stain, but less solvent for the mid-tones. In my third, I use the same colour but with even less solvent. This slowly builds up the underpainting.

    4. Yes! Values are the lights and the darks. When you do a pencil drawing you are essentially doing a value study of the object. This is why it can be helpful to have a black and white photograph as reference for your underpainting. Colour can sometimes pull tricks on you. You may think something is lighter or darker than it is. If you spend the time blocking in your values first you have a reference when you start to paint.

    To find your darkest values I usually squint at my photograph. This takes some practice to get right. Something else I did when I first started was to draw what I wanted to paint. It helped me familiarize myself with the image and to know where I needed to go darker.

    I hope that helps! And thank you for commenting!


    22 days ago

    I've never wanted a painting of a chicken so badly in all my life. This would hang in my family room above the tele. Such a fantastic work.

    1 reply

    22 days ago

    I never thought of doing that before. A chicken portrait, a portrait of the absurd look on a chicken trying to figure out what the heck you are doing. I will have to keep that in mind for next time I visit a farm. Must take my camera along. Thanks for sharing.

    1 reply

    Reply 22 days ago

    haha please do! And please share when you do :)