From water to oil

I am not really sure where to begin with this post. There’s so much to say about trying oil painting for the first time and I’m not sure I have completely processed what I did today. My friend Marc Holmes offered to give me a lesson and share his paints and brushes with me for this first foray into the medium. How could I refuse such generosity?

It goes without saying that painting in oil is so vastly different from what I am used to in watercolour. You can paint from dark to light, add white, correct your mistakes… the list is long and seems so obvious it needs no explanation.

For now I will simply make some observations:
1. We both worked with pretty thick paint, in a very loose style. Working that way seems easy, and in fact it is, in the beginning, as you plot in the big shapes (and I have to mention that both of us worked with no preliminary drawing). But as you get down to the smaller details the paint on the board is already quite thick, so as you apply more, you are in fact picking up what is already there instead of putting down what is on your brush. I’m really not used to that.
2. It’s great not to be worried about the colour of the paint changing as it dries. And great to know that you can take a little break from the work and when you get back it is exactly as you left it. I’m really not used to that.
3. I am a slob and Marc is really neat. At one point I looked down at my hands which were suddenly covered in paint and then over to Marc whose hands were spotless. I had a pile of crumpled up paper towels and his were neatly folded in piles. My palette was covered in a big grey smear and he had neat little areas of colour, each very distinct. This is going to take some getting used to.

One thing I am sure of is that I want to try this again. I have a lot to think about in terms of how to apply the paint and how to mix the colour (hopefully more neatly than today) but I really enjoyed this. Below are both of our paintings. Mine is the street scene and Marc’s is the bikes in snow. Excuse the blurry iPhone photos. The paintings weren’t dry enough to scan or even bring home.



25 Comments on “From water to oil”

  1. Marion Perrault says:

    I love both of them. As a former oil painter I am impressed with how well you adapted. Marion


  2. Chris Rusk says:

    Pretty great first time execution.

    I can’t wait to see your upcoming rocky shore paintings in oil.

    Your work is always a treat that I look forward to.


  3. Jody says:

    Shari your first try with oil is pretty darn nice. We watercolor painters have some real advantages in the beautiful way WC moves in wet on wet, semi wet and dry on the different papers available. I always get a chuckle when folks tell me how hard WC is to master, etc. James Gurney uses casein for outdoor painting because it is opaque like oil, but cleans up with H2o. Your watercolor sketches and paintings are so beautifully done, no doubt you will get a handle on oil. I enjoy your daily blog post, be it pencil, ink with wash, straight WC and now looks like oil will be added. Thanks for sharing and inspiring us, Jody Bryan


    • Thanks so much for commenting Jody. Yes, I think it will take me a while to get used to oil but I too have no doubt it will come in time. I do look forward to mixing things up a bit with my work. It’s great to try new things and new ways of working. And much easier to do in the winter in Montreal!


  4. John Wright says:

    well…I guess if you can paint, you can paint.

    Pretty impressive first stab Sari. What was the size of the, whatever you were painting on Whatever the surface the not quite square , tallish shape is interesting.

    You both caught the grey slushy mood. Gald my bike isn’t out rusting in the snow!


    • Thanks John. We were both painting on 14″ square wood panels. There is an upcoming show that we both want to enter and this is the required format. The theme of the show is paintings of Montreal. This was just a quick first try but I will do more for sure before I decide what to enter.


      • wrightottawa says:

        At the risk of being an armchair quarterback…..use an eggtimer and work fast Shari. I fear that it you slow down you’ll take the life out of it.

        What you posted was very atmospheric because of your understanding o colour…just go with it and go on!

        Cool place for a painter to live, Montreal, btw.


      • The egg timer is a good idea John. Somehow I think that if I do paint more in oils they will still be quite quick and spontaneous. I get bored with anything if I have to work on it longer than three hours. In that time if it’s not done then out it goes. But this one did take at least that amount of time if I don’t count the time we took to eat lunch. Much longer than watercolour. Or at least the type of watercolour I do.


  5. Ross says:

    At first I thought I had a computer glitch and that I had been directed to the wrong site… but then I realized that it was your site and decided that you must be getting restless… too many years of watercolour paintings and a mid-life crisis perhaps?
    Then I looked at the painting and thought “oh dear, that is pretty ordinary” but then I remembered your photographic skills and decided that it may actually be OK… and then MTH posted his version. I don’t think he paints better than you but he does photograph better than you… I revised my assessment of your photographic skills (from poor down to very poor!) and decided that the painting wasn’t too bad after all. So, I guess if you are going to have a mid-life crisis, there are worse things that you could do.
    BTW… square format paintings… what a great idea.


    • Yes, restless midlife crisis. I guess oil painting is cheaper than a sports car or a Birkin bag, so that’s a relief. Well my generous friend Marc did send me his GOOD photos which are now posted so there’s one complaint of yours that is resolved.
      I’m surprised that in your long rant you didn’t suggest that I take a photography course instead of taking up oil painting. Wait a minute, I think you have already suggested that.
      As for the square paintings, there is Montreal-themed art show that both of us would like to have paintings in, hence the format.
      As for where this goes from here, I hope to continue with a bunch more pretty ordinary oil paintings.


      • Ross says:

        I had to look up Google to find what a “Birkin bag” was … and then I saw the price, which I thought had to be a computer glitch is decimal point placement… but no, it was real!!!! I have seen house extensions that cost less than those bags!
        As for your description of my longish comment (which JW kindly referred to as an “artform”) as a “rant”. So how exactly does that qualify you as a “polite” Canadian?


  6. wrightottawa says:

    Oh Ross, new depths of sacasm.
    That too is an artform, Sahri will just chuckle after all you hecking!


  7. Impressive Shari.

    I too have been working with oil paints (struggling actually) in addition to watercolor (also struggling) and admire your perseverance and ability to take on a new challenge. For me, I have to stop drawing and start painting (another struggle).

    At the risk of being a jerk (one who suggests things that aren’t asked for) this west coast artist’s web site has been helpful in understanding a little about oil painting, especially her videos.

    I think your color work is superior to hers, but she does know how to put on the paint.

    I will be following for suggestions and inspiration

    Ross Sutherland (Mackay 42 on flickr)


    • Hi Ross,

      Thanks so much for this! And please don’t apologize for giving useful advice (and really respectfully offered too!)

      I have learned so much from people’s comments on the blog and that is why I continue to put my sketches and paintings online. If I am foolhardy enough to publish my first go at this, I certainly am leaving myself open to suggestions. I guess I should probably have taken a course at my local art center but I figured I would just dive in and wait to see what happens.

      You are right about Peggi Kroll’s work (which I like a lot) — she certainly knows how to apply paint and I will be studying the paintings. I love the way she simplifies shapes.

      I had a look at your drawings on Flickr. You have that beautiful architectural sketching technique that I admire so much.

      I hope to hear from you again.



  8. robbieokeeffe says:

    Woww, I love the painting style you’ve used in this, great work!


  9. Lee Kline says:

    Send the bicycles right away! I love them.


  10. Joanna says:

    I really really like these!! I haven’t tried oil paints before, but I’m eager to start now, the style is beautiful!xx


  11. I’ve never tried oils myself. It looks like you had a great time. Your paintings are excellent. I had the opertunity to share with an artist friend from Japan a bit about watercolor this weekend. She normally works with pastels. It was amazing to watch her work. With only a little guidance she produced a beautiful painting. It was her first time ever with watercolors. I applaud her and your fearlessness to jump in and try something new.


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