There are some brushes I always reach for no matter how many hundreds of brushes sit on my worktop. There are some colours I always reach for the matter how many hundreds of tubes of paint there are and there are some canvases that I always seem to be ordering. So here are my top 10 materials that I use every single day.
Why sometimes my oil paintings can look like watercolour even though water never goes anywhere near the canvas!
Oil paint - the breakfast of champions!
Or why I’m still an oil painter!
There’s no getting around it; oil paint is expensive.
It’s also a "dark art" with all those potions and bottles marked with “toxic”, all just for getting the paint onto the canvas and off of the brush!
And it’s smelly.
My most recent art supplies order contained a (small tube) of paint for £17.50. It’s acrylic equivalent would have been less than four quid! And the acrylic would be diluted with plain old water, and and brushes would cleaned with water too. Whereas my favoured solvent costs more than a tenner for just 250ml, and I buy it by the gallon!
No wonder many professional artists have left the favourite medium of the old masters behind them.
But not me.
I love love love oil paint.
I’m an oil painter and I’m proud. Here's why:
3. Control. Power is nothing without control. Oil paint is diluted with turpentine. Which dries pretty quickly. As you build up layers you mix the turps with linseed oil (which dries really slowly). You learn to have balance between turps and oil through the process. Like many oil painters these days, I have eschewed turps in favour of a citrusy version called Zest-it. It’s less toxic and smells lovely. Zest it makes its own oils too. Over the years I have learnt to understand the chemistry of zest-it solvent, oil and my paints, different pigments have different drying times too! It’s very hard to learn (which is one reason why it’s not favoured by hobby painters) but once learned, it gives me incredible control over how I paint.
4. Oil paint has so many techniques to its name. You can paint all in one go, known as alla prima, you can build up layers thick over thin and light over dark, you can add huge globs of it - impasto, you can blend layers that are semi-dry…
5.And that’s another reason why I’m an oil painter over acrylic - I’m all about the blend. Acrylic drys fast and is therefore great for crisp clean lines. But my skies need to be blended.
The variety of solvents and oil mediums means as your style develops you can manipulate paint accordingly. Fast drying mediums don't make oil behave like acrylic; it still takes a good while to dry, but you have control. There is an art itself to start understanding drying times. I can blend in a cloud when the underpainting of the sky is drying, but not completely dry. If I do it wet and I’ll end up pushing mud around the painting as all the layers merge together. If I do it complexly dry I’ll end up with a hard edge. Sometimes that’s just what you want, but for sky - I’m all about the blend!
6. Any colour under the sun. Oil paints have been going for so long, there isn’t a pigment you can’t buy…if you’ve got the cash!
7. Light fastness - actually not really a good reason anymore as top quality acrylic paint has good lightfastness too!
8. Go with the flow, I often use watercolour for sketching and in my workshops. I find myself saying thing like “let the water do the work”. In oil painting I can’t exactly say “let the oil do the work”, but I do try to go with the medium rather than fighting it.
And that’s really the key for any artist, finding the medium that works the same way you do, and you’ll start to produce better art. Fight and you’ll never truly be in flow with your work.
Will I ever change? Possibly, I use waterbased media for a lot of my sketching and planning, but when the final work begins- oil paint is the only thing between the brush and the canvas.
For years and years I've taught art to students under the age of 19 at GCSE and A level. And I've delivered lessons to improve their skills and develop their creativity.
So now that I'm a full time artist, I've been reflecting on the very best examples of teaching over the years and working out how to deliver meaningful, enjoyable, useful art classes to adults wanting to learn to paint.
One of my favourite classes (my favourite to teach and the students' favourite to learn) was traditional oil painting.
A bit of research told me that apparently there are too few art teachers teaching technique.
That might sound like a scientific approach, but perhaps courses on kickstarting your creativity, aren't what some people want. One gentleman, after going to an art class elsewhere, told my husband at work " I don't want someone to teach me how to be more creative, I want them to teach me how to paint properly".
So with this in mind I'm launching new art classes in oil painting - based on my old A level workshops.
During A level teaching we devoted one lesson a week entirely to learning new techniques in oil. It ended up being nicknamed the "technical bake" lesson, as it was on the same day as the Great British Bake off!
So each week, their portraits developed, along with their understanding, each time with me demonstrating the content required in the "technical bake", and them working on it.
It was intensive but incredibly enjoyable.
Something that became clear about teaching in this way, was the students' ability to apply the techniques they learned to other paintings later in the course.
They were intimidated by oils at first. That faded in time.
Oils are difficult and intimidating to get to grips with, there are a myriad of mediums and solvents, the paints themselves come in a dizzying array of quality, price, colour. Should you work on board or canvas, how fine should the canvas be? What does hue mean on the tube? Is that good or bad?
And once you've walked out of the art shop a couple of hundred pounds poorer, then what happens? Where to you start? You heard about the rule "thick over thin", but that's not really enough to go on!
Is it really possible to de-mystify the dark arts of oil, in just a few lessons?
Yes. Yes it is. I can give my students the benefit of my experience. I can help them use the techniques of the old masters with the joy of our knowledge of chemicals and solvents to help them create better paintings with developed skill.
I want to share the secrets of painting in a "grisaille"- the art of creating form through monochrome techniques. It can revolutionise the way you use oil. Then you have the foundation to add colour over the grisaille in glazes and thin layers. This creates depth in your paintings.
So are you ready to learn to paint?
I love teaching, I can help you improve your oil painting, I have a lovely studio for you to paint in, and I make a cracking cup of coffee. What more could you ask for?
My classes start on Wednesday15th October.
I'm really looking forward to my forthcoming exhibition at the Yard Gallery in Salisbury. So a bank holiday Monday is the ideal time to make sure I'm fully prepared for it. I've been varnishing today. I use "Zest-it", damar re-touching varnish and it's great. It really brings out a depth of colour that enhances some of my more colourful canvases. There's still much to be done, but the body of work I've built up, is really beginning to feel like a complete set of work, ready to exhibit!
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