pears study for SV Intro to Oil Painting lesson - featured

Still life study of pears

Recently when I bought a group of Sadie Valeri’s video lessons, I went ahead and purchased her Introduction to Oil Painting video. Even thought I’m not a total beginner, it seemed like a good way to ease into her oil painting instruction.

I’m really happy I got it! Even thought I’ve been painting with oils for a little while now, I learned new things from her. Her simplified explanation of the types of brushes (grouped into hog bristle and sable) was clarifying for me, as well as a process for which type of brush to use when. The approach she covers in the video allows for the painting to be done all at once or in 2–3 sessions.

pears study for SV Intro to Oil Painting lesson
Pear still life study, 9×12, oil on linen panel

I did my brown underpainting with raw umber one day, then went back to finish with the first and second color layers the next day. Thinking in terms of layers has been very liberating for me — even though I knew some people painted in layers I didn’t have a good working understanding of the spectrum available to us.

It was also really cool to see her color mixing strategy because it was structured around a basic process of local color, shadow color, and highlight, but she also showed how there’s flexibility within this framework. With painting landscapes, there’s a bit less emphasis on modeling form so my color mixing usually ended up all over the place. By working with still life and controlling the lighting, I’ll be able adopt a more coherent process for mixing colors based these logical strings of colors.

I’m excited to one day be able to combine fresh, loose brush strokes with accuracy and intentional mark-making. Basically to be able to control what’s happening on my canvas instead of overworking it. I think the best thing I can do toward that goal is to enjoy the process and keep practicing. And be willing to use more paint! Continuing to study Sadie’s oil painting curriculum will definitely help.

I think it’s going to be fun to experiment with different still life setups now that I have this nice box installed on my wall. I don’t care for the angle I chose for this painting very much, and next I want to try raising things up closer to eye level.

oil painting of mandarin orange Mar 15 2020 - featured

Simple mandarin orange still life painting

Every time I took one of these mandarin oranges out of the bag to eat, I had the thought that I’d love to paint one of them. Since this was the last one in the bag, today was the day to make it happen!

oil painting of mandarin orange Mar 15 2020
Mandarin, 8 x 10, oil on linen panel

I’ve been studying classic oil painting a little bit and wanted to try this with an old-masters-classic feel. I used an 8 x 10 oil primed linen panel that had been toned with burnt umber to a light value. To begin, I brushed a thin layer of burnt umber all over the panel and wiped out the light values to create a monochromatic block-in. The oil primed linen worked beautifully for this technique. I had also rubbed a thin layer of 50/50 Gamsol/linseed oil on the dry canvas before blocking in, which helped make the paint move on the surface nicely.

I used Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel Medium and my palette consisted of:

  • cadmium yellow light
  • cadmium yellow
  • cadmium orange
  • cadmium red light
  • alizarin permanent
  • yellow ochre
  • transparent earth red
  • ultramarine blue
  • burnt umber
  • ivory black

During my 9 mini landscape paintings project I learned that I like using an analogous color scheme as a color strategy. That’s what I used here: red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow. The surface the mandarin is sitting on is a very dull yellow.

oil painting of mandarin orange Mar 15 2020 - grey
The completed painting converted to greyscale to double check my values

It was fun to study this simple object and look for the nuances of color and temperature. The painting didn’t turn out as loosely as I had hoped, but I was generous with the amount of paint and took my time with it. It was a very enjoyable way to spend my Sunday afternoon!

Value to color studies of apple still life

value and color study of apple still life Apr 11 2019
Still life study in values, color temperature, and brushwork

Study topics

Value study from still life; color study based on value study; lost edges; mark-making; color temperature

Process notes

Set up two green apples with colored papers near a window with afternoon sunlight. Painted a 7-value black and white study (5 main grey values plus black and white for accents only) on Arches Oil Paper. Used Gamblin Portland Greys for the middle 3 values and mixed the remaining ones.

Divided my palette into 5 columns, one for each of the main values with the coordinating grey mix at the top for reference. Using ultramarine blue, naphthol red, cadmium yellow pale hue, and titanium white, mixed piles of green, blue-grey, and violet-grey, plus a single pile of tan. To increase fluidity, I mixed a few drops of safflower oil into each pile.

While painting the color study, I tried to strictly stay within my light and shadow families and not blend away brush strokes. I used a medium sized brush for the initial color application and switched to a smaller one for more detailed strokes. I also modulated the color temperatures for interest in the flat plane and shadow areas.

value study of apple still life Apr 11 2019
Initial value study in black, white, and grey oil paints

color study of apple still life Apr 11 2019 - black and white
My color study, converted to black and white

What I learned

The best part of this exercise was how much I learned about the value relationships in my subject independent of color. By constantly comparing one area to another, it helped give me a more clear roadmap for color mixing, and where lost and hard edges could go.

I painted the value study on one afternoon, and the color study on the next afternoon. Choosing to use natural light from the window made the timing tricky because I had to wait for the light to be in the same approximate position as it was when I created the original value study. Lucky for me the second day was also sunny!

I didn’t like how smooth and blended the brushwork looked on the value study, so I made a serious effort to avoid that on the color study. I didn’t really worry about going back into an area more than once, but I did load more color or wipe my brush off after each stroke. This helped me vary the colors instead of plowing over large areas with a single color. I thought more about how it would look from several feet away versus painting-length away.

I’ve been doing some timed studies lately, but for this one I gave myself no time limits. I really enjoyed my time at the easel with the pressure of the ticking clock removed. Those timed exercises are valuable and can be fun, but I need to avoid adding that constriction arbitrarily. Slower and methodical is a more intuitive pace for me, generally speaking.

It was shocking how intense the colors were when I started laying them down next to each other on the oil paper. To get them dialed down to the intensity I wanted, I added in the complements and the colors felt a lot better to me. I really enjoyed working with the color temperature, especially with opportunities for lost edges and the warm sunlight shining onto the objects.

Thinning the paint with safflower oil worked well for me, but next time it would be good to mix it into the paint before mixing all of the individual piles.

“Twisted Twenties” exercise

twisted twenties - simple apple still life exercises Apr 6 2019
The bottom two were timed at 20 minutes each, and the top two weren’t timed (I’d guess about 30–40 minutes each)

Study topics

Twisted Twenties” exercise from Sarah Sedwick (three-color palette, quick studies, simple subject)

Process notes

Set up the first three subjects near a window but no direct light, and the last one with a direct light. Rotated the subject with each study for slightly different views and shapes.

Trying out my new Arches Oil Paper with synthetic brushes and solvent-free gel medium. Scrubbed some Gamsol/Safflower mix onto the paper before starting each study with a synthetic brush to help the paint flow better and not drag over the surface.

Premixed the colors from yellow (cadmium yellow pale hue), blue (ultramarine), and red (alizarin permanent for first two and naphthol red for second two).

What I learned

My goal was to keep the brush strokes simple and unfussy, and that is so much harder than it sounds! There are a few things I can try next time to move in this direction:

  • focus on value and temperature, and be less concerned with exact hue
  • limit myself to one brush stroke in each color shape
  • organize my palette with more clarity when mixing colors, and mix enough steps for the light family and shadow family to turn the form with single strokes instead of blending edges together
  • shift my brain from seeing a specific apple with all of its particular dull spots and color markings toward being inspired by the apple and simplifying it
  • do preliminary black and white studies and then do color versions based on what I discover about the value relationships

I appreciated seeing the differences between soft window light and a direct light on the subject, and the impact of the different lighting conditions on the shadows. It was definitely challenging to find the terminator line on the setups with window lighting.

It was also good to be able to see the difference between my two reds, alizarin and naphthol. The alizarin made a cooler red that was more like the subject, which was very evident in the shadow side of the apple. This is a good case for having both a warm and a cool red on the palette, but also what got me thinking about exploring a focus on value and temperature over exact hue.

This apple’s best days are behind it and it’s lost any sense of vitality…I noticed this while painting the studies, but forgot the important principle of “don’t just paint it exactly as it appears in nature — make a good painting”. Or as Carol Marine says in her book Daily Painting: Don’t Ever Use the Line “But It Was Really Like That”.

Ten-minute apples challenge

10 Minute Apples exercise Mar 31 2019
Ten-minute apples (minus the upper left)

Study topics

Ten-minute apples exercise from Daily Painting by Carol Marine — Painting from life; color mixing; time limit; simplified brush strokes

Process notes

Divided an 11×14 sheet into 12 units and toned it with a warm mid-tone color. This sheet was a poster board that had two layers of acrylic gesso, lightly sanded, plus a layer of acrylic matte medium to reduce absorbency. Premixed the basic colors before starting. Sketched in each apple with same color I used for the toned background on a size 2 Silver White filbert brush. Used primarily a mix of size 4 synthetic bristle brushes and a safflower/linseed oil mixture to make the oil paint flow well off the brushes.

Set a timer for ten minutes before painting each apple, except for the first one in the upper left which I used no time limit for. Painted them in two sessions, changing the lighting conditions and background after the first session and rotating the apple every once in awhile.

What I learned

Yikes, ten minutes goes so fast! I got hung up with details quite a bit, and didn’t complete very many of them. Next time I would probably try painting the basic shapes of light and shadow families, then go back with the more specific areas of light once everything was blocked in. The way I did these, I basically adjusted the paint color with each stroke as I worked around the apple and ran out of time because of it. This would also help me gauge things like the value of the reflected light because I consistently made it too dark. 
I really like that by painting the same thing repeatedly I became familiar with it and learned from lots of little mistakes quickly. There were some areas where I kept trying the same thing over and over, but it wasn’t working well. Eventually I came to see that I could suggest and simplify what I was seeing without being so literal about it.
Using the matte medium over the gessoed paper was an experiment and I was so happy with how it turned out that I’m going to prep some other sheets like this for studies. It was easy to tone, and before it dried I could wipe out lighter areas with a rag. I also read about a recipe of 50/50 modeling paste and acrylic gesso to help reduce absorbency that I’m trying out as well. 
Another little breakthrough I had was with the synthetic bristle brushes: it had been difficult for me to get the paints to flow off of them like I wanted, and using the safflower/linseed oil helped tremendously. Curious to see what the additional oil does to the drying time…