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.
- Wood Panel
- Black Acrylic Paint
- Linseed Oil
- Brush cleaner
- Round size 1
- Flat size 2
- Filbert size 4
- Oil Paints:
- Titanium White
- Cadmium Yellow Pale
- Yellow Ochre
- Cadmium Orange
- Cadmium Red
- Permanent Alizarine Crimson
- Cobalt Violet
- Cerulean Blue
- Burnt Umber
- Burnt Sienna
- Lamp Black
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.
- 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.
- Gesso the front of the panel. Paint in the direction of the wood grain. Wait to dry.
- Add a second coat of gesso to the front of the panel. This time, paint across the grain. Let dry.
- Optional: If you like to paint on a smooth surface, you can give the painted gessoed surface a light sanding.
- 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:
- Hue: Identify the hue and see which of your paints are closest to that colour and could act as the base.
- Saturation: Determine whether that colour needs to be neutralized if so add it's complement colour.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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Art Skills Challenge