A walkthrough of my first serious oil painting! I hope this would be as exciting to view as it was for me to experience.
Remember, images can be clicked on to view in a larger size!
I spent most of the summer and autumn of 2011 practicing with the medium. It took me a while to decide which brushes sit best with me. Also, due to the start of my pregnancy in September, I turned my attention to water-miscible oils, so that I wouldn’t have to rely on harsh chemicals for glazing – my preferred method of painting – and cleaning-up. There are a lot of small adjustments in technique and use of mediums that are involved with using water-miscible oils, and in the end I am delighted with the results they yield.
For example, I thought I could paint oils on claybord, when really it is not at all ideal. While smooth as glass and therefore excellent for detail work, its surface is far too absorbent, resulting in oil paint becoming dull and chalky when dried. Here’s a small sample of the finch featured in “Sea Wings”, painted on claybord, using Holbein Duo Aqua Oils‘ cobalt blue and Neo-Megilp.
Very soon I discovered that traditional oil mediums such as neo-megilp and liquin do not work well at all with water-miscible oils, and it took quiet a bit of experimenting to finally convince myself that the Painting Mediums made specifically to pair with Holbein’s water-miscible oils really are the best option.
For “Sea Wings” I used -
I knew from the beginning that “Sea Wings” had to be large, so I went with a 30×40″ Ampersand Gessobord. Already acrylic-primed, it’s a wonderful, prep-free surface, with an eggshell-like texture that breathes life to a painting.
As always, I begin with a clean, highly-detailed draft. I do not sketch. And since I love drawing on paper more than anything else, I used Strathmore’s 500 Series Bristol Board in 30×40″ single sheet Plate, the same size as the Gessobord. The Plate option is a hot-pressed paper, providing a highly smooth surface for fine, detailed work.
Here is the girl in the first stage.
And here is to show the size of the work.
I only realised after I’d finished her face and body that she was perfectly to scale.
The birds come next. While I worked on them I also went back to fine-tune the face, so some minor differences might be detected from one image to the next.
The hair and seaweeds were quite easy. I relied mostly on my Staedtler Mars Flexible Curve to draft those long, curved lines.
Another image to show the scale.
Now that the draft is finished, I had to find a way to transfer the lineart to my gessobord for painting. I took the draft to Staples where fortunately they had a Xerox wide-format scanner. The image was scanned in at 600 dpi, and touched up a bit in Photoshop.
I then had to seek out a local printing company. There’s one great thing about living in Vegas, there’s no shortage of competition for printing all the signs, banners and billboards on and around the Strip. I finally settled with Colour Reflections, who are very kind to accomodate my needs amidst their large scale and volume of work.
The printer took from me the digital scan, as well as a 36″ roll of Cansons’ Tracing Paper. I still need to speak to someone from Blick so they might start carrying this item. Daniel Smith was not a good shopping experience as the first roll they sent me was badly damaged, and their customer service was acid.
Now what happened was this. The printers at Colour Reflections taped a 36×48″ sheet of my tracing paper to a sturdy board, so that the surface would be smooth and immobile, on which they printed the lineart using instant UV-drying technology. Here is the print on tracing paper, laid on top of the original draft.
So now I’m spared the time and energy of going over the draft twice.
I gave the gessobord the lightest wash of cobalt blue to establish a coloured base, something to tie in the environment.
To transfer the draft, I took the tracing paper, now with lineart printed on the front, covered the back of it with powdered graphite, sealed it with a good swipe of lighter fluid, taped it to my gessobord, and transferred the lines by running over them using a ballpoint pen. In short, it’s an old-fashioned form of printing.
Draft transferred. Also shown here is the light blue ground used for the painting.
Actual painting ensues! First layers were done in a blue that I concocted by mixing equal parts of Phthalo Blue and Ultramarine Deep with 1/3 part Cadmium Green, and a smidgen of Cadmium Orange to grey things out a bit. At this point I had done 2, maybe 3 layers of glazing with the same colour.
Now come the deepest darks. To create a more dynamic black, I mixed Dioxazine Purple with Ultramarine Deep, Cadmium Green, and Raw Umber.
While the beginning stages of the face is much more prominent here, at this point I had just completed the background. The lightest portion of the gradient was done using a mix of Cobalt Turquoise and Permanent White. The seaweeds were refined using Permanent White tinted with just the barest speck of Cobalt Turquoise.
The underpainting for the woman and the birds was all done in the same blue initially used for the background.
Closeup of the eye area.
Facial features completed.
A lot more done here. I like the sense of one “whole” environment that comes from a unified palette.
That hand was a joy to paint.
I started on the hair before finishing the remaining arm as its surrounding areas were still not dry.
Now that I was done with the woman’s underpainting, it’s time to glaze on more colours, to develop depth, lighting, and vibrancy.
Glazing is a form of painting enjoyed by many oil painters as it results in a luminosity that’s unachievable through any other method. It involves sheer layers of colour overlapping one another, accentuating light, shadow, and colour saturation. It can be very adventurous, as there is virtually no end to colour combinations.
I began with the eyes. For the darkest areas, I used Dioxazine Purple greyed with Cadmium Green. The lights were Cadmium Lemon greyed with an almost invisible speck of Cobalt Violet.
The result of purple and yellow laid over the underlying blue produces something quite wonderful – the violets are beautifully warmed and greyed-out, while the yellow shifts magically to green.
I proceeded with glazing the rest of her, going over the deepest darks of her skin with the same purple-based “black” I used for the background.
The red of her lips was tricky. It needed to be “fleshed” first with Naples Yellow, Luminous Opera, and a touch of Alizarin Crimson. This made it look rather odd and “orangey”, however this was quickly countered by glazing on a few layers of Cobalt Violet darkened with Dioxazine Purple.
The same method was more or less used for her nails, although much more subtle.
Here’s the palette I used for her face and skin.
The eyes were highlighted with Alizarin Crimson greyed with Cadmium Green, just to give them a bit of an edge.
Closeup of the lips.
Birds being underpainted. And some fun images showing how the painting progressed as I moved along with the birds.
Final underpainting. It took a week to dry. I owe much thanks to my good friend Sam Raffa who shared with me a lifesaving piece of advice, that more than anything, it’s sunshine and good outdoor ventilation that speeds the drying process. So as often as I could during that week, I laid the painting out in direct sunlight, for about an hour or two a day.
On to more glazing! I can’t even remember what exact colours I used for all the birds. I should have taken a photo of my palette… I do remember that everything was greyed with direct or triadic compliments, as in a bit of Cadmium Green Light was mixed with Luminous Opera (a very punchy pink), yellows for purples and blues for yellows, etc.
The hair was given a very thin glaze of luminous opera. It’s very interesting how a soothing violet comes from overlapping the blue underpainting.
Fine-tuning – going over the darkest darks and brightest highlights. My “black” was almost equal parts of Dioxazine Violet to Raw Umber, and my “white” was Permanent White with a tiny bit of Cobalt Blue.
This is the sort of painting that can be worked on for years, with layer upon layer of glazing to further develop depth and colour harmony. There’s still a lot I’d like to do for “Sea Wings”, however I’ve had to part with it as it was long-since requested for a show in LA. She can be viewed on the walls of La Galeria Gitana for the “Eastern Aesthetics” show, from 14th April to 15th June 2012.
Some closeups before we draw the curtain for this long and hopefully enjoyable walkthrough.
The finished painting can be viewed here in the site’s gallery.