Painting Without Planning – Using Up Leftovers

One of the many unexpected questions that arose as I started learning to paint was, what do I do with extra paint on my palette when I’m finished? I’m about 10 paintings into it now, and I still don’t have a great sense of how much paint I’ll need. But that was especially true with the first few paintings – I wildly overestimated how much I would need. Following my second painting, I decided I should actually make use of all this extra paint rather than just getting rid of it. After all, using oil paints for portraits is certainly a notch or two up on the cost scale compared to colored pencils. That’s even considering the fact that I’m using cheap oil paints versus mid-tier Prismacolor pencils. Probably best to be as frugal as I can with these paints.

So, I decided to try to find some use for these leftover paints. But a couple of additional challenges popped up from that notion. A big one is that I simply didn’t have any additional paintings sketched or planned. Even when using colored pencils, I am not normally someone who works on portraits without a bit of advance pre-work (finding a good reference, considering an approach, any new aspects to practice/work on, outlining, etc). That habit has naturally carried over to painting. But as I said, I had nothing ready after this painting of my kids. That brings the post title into focus – the double dilemma of using up leftovers and painting without planning.

I’ve seen some incredibly talented painters like Cynthia Sheppard, Yupari, and others create amazing portraits with these loose, more gestural style starting points. I am obviously no where near the level of artists like these, but I figured why not try something like that? A brownish outline that I can refine as I go. That’s one of my favorite things about oil paints – you can rework your painting over time. As long as your paint is still wet, it can be re-blended, re-shaped, and essentially molded as you go along. Even after the paint is dry, you can just layer more paint on if that’s what you want (that seems to be a bit trickier in some respects in terms of color matching).

All that being said, I decided to just go for it. I found a couple of references that I’d loosely follow, without worrying too much about making the painting look like that person. After all, really my overarching goals right now are to 1) get more practice/learning time with oil paints and 2) have fun painting. And of course that smaller, situational goal of using up my excess paint. Here are the resulting paintings:

Practice/Excess Paint, Woman in Profile. Oil paint on paper, linseed oil solvent.
Practice/Excess Paint, Man Looking Down. Oil paint on paper, linseed oil solvent.

Right from the top, I’m fairly surprised they even turned into something worth sharing. My expectations were pretty much non-existent, as I was truly just trying to get practice in and not waste materials. I started with sort of a light brownish/earthy tone to roughly approximate features, which is something I’ve seen other artists do. Then, came back with black to highlight the darker portions of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Then, I just went wild blending and painting!

For the portrait of the woman’s profile, I went through a few configurations before I found something that passed visual inspection, but most of it was done in the same sitting to maximize the “wet on wet” properties. I think there were some significant proportion challenges that perhaps I never truly overcame, but fortunately it did at least end up looking passable. Early versions seems to have too small of a mouth and too large of a cheek area, but thanks to miraculous properties of oil paint, it did get better.

The portrait of the man looking down also went through some changes over time, but less so regarding proportions/structure and more when it comes to color and shadow. This one also became two primary painting sessions, partially because I just ran out of painting time. An interesting thing about painting is that it does seem to require more of a devoted block of time; it’s definitely harder to do a little and come back later, as I could do with pencils. Which is funny to consider, as I’ve become so enamored with painting, yet it’s harder to schedule time to do it. initially, I thought I’d keep the guy clean-shaven so as not to muddy my practice with facial features. But during the second session, I had the notion that eventually I would want to do a self portrait…so perhaps I should practice facial hair.

The bottom line for these, to me, is that they were successful in all the ways I wanted them to be. The paintings themselves look just fine, but I also got some great practice in, and used a great deal of the leftover paint I had on my palette. Of course, I don’t want to make it seem like I’ve mastered paint allotment – I certainly had to resupply with a bit of paint here and there (especially white).

An emerging theme with painting is that apparently I get so consumed with it, that I forget to capture any sort of progression images or video. For some reason, that was never a problem with colored pencil. It seems with pencil drawing, there are more moments to pause and see how it’s going…but paint just sort of builds momentum and keeps rolling on. Then, by the time I remember to take a photo, it’s already almost done! But for these two, I did at least remember to capture some images as I was painting the woman in profile.

I’ll wrap up with a status update, to keep track of where I am in sharing this painting journey. This post covers my 3rd and 4th paintings overall, and I’ve now completed 10 total. The next one to share chronologically is one of my wife, followed by a rare (actually my very first) scenery subject. That’s right, I actually painted something with no people in it! A surprising development even to myself. Then, I round a corner with a couple of actor portrait studies where I think I actually show some solid improvement. More to come soon, or at least as soon as I can get to writing!


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  • Chuck those pencils out, those portraits were great but these latest ones with the paint, even the scrap leftover paint – bloody fantastic !!

    Both of those were tricky angles to capture by the way, let alone the fact the face lighting is superb. You’re continuing to impress 😀

    • Haha thanks man! For real though, those poor colored pencils might start to collect dust because painting is just too enjoyable. I’ve been trying to be better about conserving paint and not letting it dry/go to waste. As someone who’s experienced with paints, do you have any tips for a rookie on that aspect? I did buy an “air tight” (so it claims) box to keep my palette in, but I’m not sure if it’s actually doing anything.

      • Best advice to prevent wastage? Watercolour 😹

        Let them dry out, go back a decade later and you can still re-wet the palette and start where you left off.

        However, for the acrylics I also put out too much paint. I’m getting better though and judging a bit better.

        I also made a palette from a Chinese food container. It’s a good size, just have several layers of soaking wet tissue paper, then a couple of layers of tracing paper on top of that for the paint to sit on. Once the lid is on then it’s airtight and creating it’s own watery eco-system for the paint to not dry out.

        In your case however, you’d need water-based oil paints (that concept messes with my head) to do the same.

      • Well played indeed! Haha, yes I was sort of holding out hope there was some way to “revive” old paints…but it doesn’t seem to be reality in the case of oils. And I guess acrylics are similar in that way? Ah, so much yet to learn. Maybe I really should try watercolors – I love the look too, but it would certainly be more cost effective.

        And…water based oil paints? Man, you just blew my mind! I think I need to get back to some googling…I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

        Have you ever done like an instructional run down of your painting set up? It sounds like you’ve had the benefit of experience to find what works for your set up. It would be interesting to read about (and see photos) of stuff like your palette solution and so forth.

      • I haven’t done any instructional run down, or a post on my set-up. And the main reason for that is that I still consider myself as a newbie to painting – though I guess that I’m now a few years into it and have done enough of it now that people want to part with their hard earned cash to hang some of my stuff on the wall.

        It’s strange, I hadn’t even considered it that I guess I could consider myself a painter until you just mentioned it… It’s like it’s crept up on me 🫢

        I don’t think anyone could (or should) learn anything that useful from my methods as I don’t consider myself to know much but if I can I’ll add some more detail to the process on my posts. I used to take progress shots but haven’t done it so much…

        Look out for a “dog painting” post coming up, I’ll include as much detail as I can remember and also how I changed the whole look of it after I’d considered it finished and signed off only to be told “it’s the wrong colour”. Watch this space 😁

      • Perspective is such a strange beast. From this end of things, I consider you an expert on several mediums (including acrylic paints). More specifically, if I wanted to explore paintings of cars/bikes/other vehicles, Steve Kidd is a name that would pop into my mind right away. And plus, by definition you are a professional artist – as you said, people buy your artwork!

        I will definitely keep my eye out for this dog painting! Looking forward to it for sure

      • Here you go, I hadn’t planned to post anything on this just yet – and certainly not in any level of detail but as you asked so nicely…

      • This turned out so great, Steve! The painting itself, but also the details of the post are excellent! I’ll comment more directly on your site, but absolutely fantastic

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