Learning how to handle oil paint

home page

previous page

If you can't put the paint down properly, how can you paint anything?

Oddly enough, in order to paint, you need to know how to handle the paint! And what that means exactly is you need to be able to control putting the paint onto a surface. That is all that it means, nothing else. What you are painting, the subject, is irrelevant. It is the physical act of putting paint down on a surface you need to learn first. Everything else follows from that skill, all of it.

So, here at Fine Art Studios, once you have drawing and tones well under control, we move onto the handling of oil paints.

But, how do you do that? The first thing you must learn is how to apply paint to the canvas, and how to keep the brushes and yourself clean, and keep the paint under your full control.

The first several classes in learning how to handle this slippery stuff give you those basic skills. Before you go any where near an actual painting of a subject, you drill how to put the paint on the canvas, how to move it around once it is on the canvas, and how to take it off. You learn how to set up your palette, how to load paint on the brush, how to hold the brush, how to physically put the paint on the canvas, all with the goal of getting you familiar and confident that you can control doing just this, and nothing else. There is no setup or subject, just you and paint and an old beat up canvas to practice on.

Here a student is learning how to put paint down. In this particular image, the student is learning how to work the edges of the paints so the edges between the tones can be varied, softly blended or hard and sharp. It is an essential skill much missed these days, but it is quite vital.

I guess I need to find more images of students doing these basic drills to put up here. There are many, many of them you need to do before you actually try to paint a subject.

Once you have done the above mentioned but not illustrated drills, you are ready to do something with your newfound skill! Yahoo!

The first paintings you do are 'tone paintings', paintings done in brown and white, and have no colours. You will have a very simple setup, as seen in some of the images below, and you will paint that subject only in the brown and white paint, no colour.  You've learned how to draw, you learned how to see the tones and make your work look three dimensional, and now you are learning how to control the paint so you can get on the canvas what you want on it.  And, if you cannot do it in brown and white, you sure as hell cannot do it in colour either, can you. So, you get the basic skills of how to apply paint to a canvas by doing just that, without the added confusions of colour.

This approach works wonderfully well! Brilliant!

Below are images of students doing their first sets of paintings, tone paintings, done in the brown and white.

The setups are always very simple, so that any difficulty the student has has to do with the application of the paint onto a surface, not because the setup is complex. At the studio, you tackle one thing at a time. Each painting is designed to help you learn a specific skill or technique. So, in order to learn THAT particular skill or technique, everything else is kept simple. Once you have that skill mastered, then we can make the subjects more complex.

Simple subjects don't get in the way of the student learning basic skills and techniques. When in doubt, paint a lemon and a cup! You'll learn much faster than trying to pull off a masterpiece right away.

Once a student has some basic control over applying the paint, we then put in little things, such as how do you paint something that reflects, such as metal, or clear glass, or the texture of a cloth? These are a little bit more involved, so the student thinks, and help the student sharpen their skills in applying the paint with increasing control.

Age is irrelevant. Children and adults all go through the same leaning processes. Some children as young as 5 and 6 are into oil painting! The factor is one of responsibility, not age.

home page

previous page

Some browns are 'warmer' than others, so we do both. Usually 'raw umber' is a cooler brown, and 'brown madder' is a warmer brown. We use both in the tone paintings. Which you chose is personal. Some times we use black and white, no browns, to do the tones skills.

At some point, when I can see that the student is getting control, and the student is feeling more confident, we move onto setups that will make them sweat a little. Now their attention is coming off, 'how do I handle this slippery stuff', and more onto, 'what can I do with it?' These are the first steps.





home page

previous page

This tone painting is done in only raw umber and white and black. Unfortunately, I took the photo, so it is pretty crappy, but it does show you how far you can go with only a brown and a white and black, no colours.

Below are details shots of the above painting. You can see that even though there is only one colour, brown, with black and white, you can do anything. It is the ability to apply paint to a surface, not the subject you are painting, that you need to learn. If you accomplish that, the rest will follow. If you don't get those basic skills, you may as well watch tv.

home page

previous page