First Attempt at Oil Painting
This post is about my very first attempt at oil painting. Well, really first ever attempt at any type of painting, which to my surprise was actually done this past weekend. I feel like I’ve been talking about this for years, but I’ve had “learning to paint” in my back pocket as a long term goal for quite sometime. It’s always been an undefined, vague goal though – I might occasionally say I’d like to learn when I retire, or possibly take a class when the kids graduate, something along those lines. I’ve kept this idea at arm’s length for a couple of reasons. First is that I am a creature of habit, and easily fall into routines. Drawing with colored pencils and then sharing them on this blog, for example, is a pretty well-established routine of mine. Second is that I’ve viewed the barrier of entry, in terms of skills, knowledge, and materials, to be too daunting to take a real step forward.
That all changed this past weekend. And it happened very suddenly, like so many of my random inspirational moments seem to. Late in the week, I was watching various YouTube videos on painting, which is really not all that unusual. But for some reason, this time I had the thought, “hey…I think I can do that.” I chewed on that notion for a bit, and finally decided that it was true. Not that I could hypothetically do it someday, but that I could do it with my current skillset right now. For some bizarre reason, I decided then that the primary thing I was lacking was materials, but that the other barriers weren’t relevant anymore. This is likely some combination of irrational, foolish, or naive, but I have to admit I’m prone to occasional bouts of foolhardiness.
So, Thursday and Friday, I placed some Amazon orders, and Saturday journeyed to a craft store with the kids to round out my equipment. Normally I would probably go through Blick Art Supply or Cheap Joe’s, but I wanted to strike while the inspirational iron was hot. And then Sunday morning, with my coffee at the ready, I took the plunge! I started with very basic outline on the incredibly thick and textured oil painting paper (or is it more of a board?). And once the paints and workspace were set up, I leaned heavily into lessons gleaned from the many oil painters I’ve watched such as Bob Ross, Alpay Efe, and others to start filling in this painting.
At first, I struggled a bit with mixing paints. Even though ol’ Bob Ross himself has repeatedly warned of how powerful blacks and reds can be, I still underestimated how far a little can go. The entire painting took just under three hours, which is definitely longer than my pencil drawings. But that does make sense. I have to say, the shock of how happy I am with the final result somehow overrides my surprise that I even tried this. I’ll share the portrait first, then talk more about the process:
I opted to go with a solvent-free experience, so no wet-on-wet/alla prima like my Happy Little Tree TV mentor always did in his show. I love the look and concept…but I also have a health history that warrants caution about carcinogens and other such things. In the future though, I may try some non-toxic mediums like linseed oil to thin paints when needed. After my rough outline, I somewhat followed the approach that Alpay Efe uses for his portrait paintings – starting with more difficult details (like eyes, mouth, and parts of the nose) to ride that initial burst of inspiration and excitement.
After getting major facial features, then I just sort of mixed and painted. I know that sounds like oversimplifying, but that’s exactly how it felt. Very natural and normal. I think that the last five and half years I’ve spent regularly drawing actually helped me here more than I expected. My style of colored pencil blending is very heavy, and almost resembles painting at times. When painting with oils, I followed similar patterns and movements, following shadows, musculature, and color variants.
I actually found oil paint to be much more forgiving than colored pencil! That was yet another surprise in this experiment. Although pencil can be erased, it’s much harder to do so (and paper’s tooth is destroyed) when it’s layered as thickly as I prefer. Oil painted areas were relatively easy to fix when I messed something up. I also found the blending, once I got past the initial learning curve, to be easier and more satisfying. Granted, this is only one painting – I hope I always find paint mixing and blending to be so enjoyable.
Usually, I talked about what went right and what went wrong in this section. Well, I keep saying the words “surprised” and “shocked,” but I am both of those things when it comes to how satisfied I am with the final painting. I know it sounds like hyperbole at this point, but I really expected something much more rough looking. Of course, there are always areas for improvement – I need to work on better defined color areas for hair, more precision in the eyes, and some other things. There are also off-the-page areas that I need to research more thoroughly, such as how to clean brushes and palettes. But, in totality, much more went right than I ever could have imagined.
I’ve embedded a progression video here with some narrated discussion. I’ll admit, this video is not great. I was so hyper-focused on learning and engaging with this new experience, I completely forgot some old lessons about filming (like locking focus on the paper). Also, the camera angle is absolutely terrible, so that’s another aspect I need to work out. But at least I managed to record/capture something, even if it’s perhaps not useful.
So, let me come back down to Earth here for a second. Obviously, this is no masterpiece – it’s a beginner’s portrait from an amateur who’s literally trying to learn from watching videos. But, I like the result a lot, which is very encouraging. I love the unique textures and visible paint flow often found in oil paintings, and this thing that I actually created has that! That’s really so thrilling to me – to see something I’ve admired in other art in my own work. I feel a sense of excitement about the prospect of doing this again, which is quite significant to me. Yet another surprise, that I’d feel this way about painting.
If you’ll pardon some cheesiness, I really get now what Bob Ross meant by “The Joy of Painting.” I mean this very sincerely – it really is a joy to do, and I can’t wait to get back into it. Unfortunately, because setup and cleanup are so much more involved, and life’s schedule always seems to be full, I probably won’t be able to paint again for a few weeks. But I’m definitely looking forward to the next one!