As a student, with oil paint on my brushPosted: October 28, 2016
I’ve been wanting to learn how to paint with oils, so I few weeks ago I enrolled in a night class taught by fellow LAA member David Kelavey. I like his loose approach to landscapes and city scenes, and even though in the past I have tried to learn a bit about oils on my own, there’s nothing like watching someone paint to really understand how it’s done. Even though these are quick 7″ x 9″studies, scenes of Charlevois, each done in under an hour, I thought I’d post them and explain a bit about the process.
The way David works is to start by covering the canvas or panel with a layer of burnt sienna acrylic paint. You can see it showing through on my sketches. From there he paints the darkest areas in with a thin layer of burnt umber acrylic, and then adds in the lights with white acrylic. He calls this step a “notan”, a term I wasn’t familiar with, but it is very much like the value sketch I often create in pencil or paint before painting a watercolour. I wish I had taken a photo of that step too, but I was a little too eager to put colour down.
When the notan is dry — and acrylic dries pretty quickly — we add colour, in oil, starting with the darks. You can well imagine that as someone who has working almost exclusively in watercolour, this is a leap for me. I always know before I start out where the darks will be but I usually build up to them instead of beginning with them. From there we work the various midtones (those are the burnt sienna parts in the underpainting) and end with the lightest areas in the painting.
Last week I was quite frustrated with the process. I think I mixed too much of each colour and painted a bit like I was painting a wall, but thicker. This week I watched David a little more closely, and realized I was mixing up too much pigment with my knife. I tried to mix a little more slowly and carefully with my brush, and this week I probably went in the opposite direction. Instead of having great gobs on paint on the canvas, I used layers of paint that may be a little too thin. Eventually I hope to get it right.
There’s no need to state the obvious differences between oil and watercolour. But there is one thing that I rely on when painting in watercolour and miss when painting with oil. Watercolour surprises you. It does stuff right on the paper, stuff you can’t anticipate, as pigments combine, granulate and dry. You’re always living a little on the edge of chaos as you paint. There are no surprises with oil as you put down the paint. I guess that’s a good thing too, but what I love about watercolour is the looseness you can achieve by letting water and paint do their thing. Looseness seems harder to achieve in oil because it has to be more deliberate. It is completely dependent on how you put paint down with the brush. I will have to work on that for sure. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying learning something new. Next week: the start of a bigger painting.