LearningJournal: Oil Painting

Having never painted with oil paints before, the thought was a little daunting but skills are never learned and improved by being nervous and scared to try new things. After attaching the canvas to the easel (first the wrong way around, canvas must be primed for use otherwise the oil from the paints soaks through the material leaving the paint to dry and fall off) and choosing a photograph from a previous lesson to draw (a rather abstract swirling design made from paper but was a great example of shadows and contrast) we were talked through the process step by step, before being let loose to make a mess… I mean, create some beautiful work!

Oil paints were created in the 1300’s and were used by many artists. At that time though there was no easy way of transporting the paints (glass bottles and pig bladders were used, but these were not sturdy containers) so many artists would sketch from a primary source, and perhaps even use watercolours to get an idea of the colours they wanted to use then return to their studio, or art space, and paint there with oil paints. This all changed in 1841 when tubes were invented, this allowed painters to easily transport paint so they were able to take their oil paints with them and paint on scene. This invention directly assisted the emergence of the Impressionist movement, where artists like Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh were able to create their masterpieces with their oil paints on hand.

Oil paint is a fantastic material to work with if the goal is to slowly blend colours or change things while the paint is still drying as it is a very slow drying paint. This is because it is mixed with oil. The colour pigment is mixed with a binder such as linseed oil (or liquin if the artist requires a faster drying time) and a solvent such as turpentine or white spirit to somewhat dilute the paint and alter consistency. Having never used oil paints before my first inclination was to dilute the paint to an almost water consistency and essentially treat it as water colour. Unfortunately when a canvas is almost vertical on an easel, watery paint runs. Or in this case, white spirit soaked pigment runs, leaving a few unsightly streaks in my work. This was easily remedied by using thicker paint, and less white spirit. The more i painted and layered colour, the more I found that I prefer the look of thicker paints, the texture adds to the contrast of shades and tones. Materials used in our session were as follows; Canvas and easel, masking tape to secure the canvas, oil paints (I used white, black and brown and mixed various shades), white spirit in a glass jar, brushes, newspaper, tinfoil, pallete knife, a pencil to sketch on the canvas, and rags.

The whole experience of using oil paints, and also painting something not of my choosing but rather a piece based from a photograph taken of a sculpture made earlier in the course, was at first quite intimidating. I approached the work with the idea of learning about the materials and experimenting and was not at all focused on the finished product. I think because of this I was able to enjoy the process of painting rather than stress about what the final piece looked like or get distracted by small parts of the piece not turning out perfect. I used brushes initially, and used a very thin layer of paint. As I grew more confident and as there was more paint on the canvas I used thicker paint, and after some discussion with another tutor I decided that brushes weren’t giving me the blended effect I wanted so I used my fingers to paint with. This added to the texture because I had to use more paint, but also the strokes were smoother and did not contain brush marks. In some parts of my painting I left the canvas almost bare so the granular texture is visible. In conclusion, I look forward to working with oil paints a lot in the future, they are a very versatile and malleable material and can produce a wide range of effects on canvas.

The finished piece..

 

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