Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Colours in my Sunset Paintings Look Dirty

The inspiration to paint a beautiful sunset could be quashed when muddy colours seem to come from nowhere and bright colours look garish. An oil painting intended to portray intense colours of a dramatic sunset looks more like a post apocalyptic scene. How can the artist recreate the drama of a sunset in painting?

Common Problems when Painting a Sunset

Clean Colours for Sunsets
Rachel Shirley
Sunset skies often set up contradicting dilemmas in the mind due to extreme tonal shifts and saturated colours that sunsets often feature. Before the artist can improve on sunset painting, the causes need to be pinpointed, which could be any of the following:
  • Trying to make a sunset look dazzling by using exclusively bright colours in a painting, such as pinks, mauves and oranges, resulting in a candyfloss and childlike portrayal of dusk.
  • Placing dark colours of sunset prior to the pales, causing contamination of the bright colours by the neighbouring dark colours.
  • Allowing two contrasting colours, such as violet and yellow or blue and orange, to overlap on the painting, resulting in muddy streaks across the sky.
  • Making generalisations about how sunsets should look, such as the gradations of colours when receding from the sun. This is often portrayed as yellow to orange, orange to red, red to mauve and mauve to blue.
  • Using black to darken a bright colour, such as red or orange.
  • Miscalculating the tonal values of a sunset scene in favour of the colour by making the assumption that blue is always darker than red, or yellow is always paler than mauve.
  • Portraying the landscape at the horizon as a cardboard cut-out black silhouette.
This video clip shows how I painted a dramatic sunset in alla prima. Due to contrasting colours, I had to be careful not to let one contaminate the other.


Secrets to Painting Sunsets

Dramatic sunsets often contain bizarre colours and tones (as can be seen in the video). In such cases, it is important to believe what the eye sees, and to resist toning down the colours, or to try to make the colours make sense. The following practices will help when painting sunsets.

Even the brightest sunsets contain sullen colours and neutrals. Without this contrast, the sunset would not appear so bright. Furthermore, apparently bright colours often consist of dark mixes. A blood red sky can be achieved by a mixture of permanent rose and burnt umber; bright orange often contains a hint of violet. Keen observation of tiny colour shifts in sunsets is the key to making it look convincing.

Tonal Values of Sunsets

Sunsets are often more about tone than colour. Half closing the eyes will break down the scene into basic tonal areas. Bear in mind that any colour can be darker or paler than another: yellow can be darker than blue; violet can be paler than red.

It is worth remembering that sunsets often invert the tonal values of a daytime sky, where clouds generally appear paler than the blue sky. At dusk, clouds will appear almost inky black against a bright sunset.

Apply the pale or bright colour mixes prior to the darks. This will prevent colour contamination of the bright colours.

Bin the black. Use a contrasting colour when darkening a colour. Red, for instance, can be darkened by the introduction of a little blue; yellow can be darkened with a little violet.

Colours of Clouds at Sunset

Look out for textures in sunset skies, such as the oblique sunlight skimming across the undersides of altocumulus or altostratus. Look for different types of outlines in clouds, where some will be softer than others. Cirrus, for instance, has feathery outlines; distant anvil clouds often have defined outlines.

Art Techniques for Painting Sunsets

Oil: Sunsets (HT101)
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Smooth areas of a sunset sky, such as the night sky between the clouds can be recreated by glazing the oil paint. This entails thinning the paint into a smooth even layer with a little linseed oil. Textures in the clouds can be recreated with thicker paint or impasto which will contrast with the smooth areas. A diversity of outlines can be created by blending misty clouds with a clean soft sable, and defining sharp clouds with a fine brush.

Look for diverse darks on the foreground landscape. Some will appear warmer than others. Some may have violets, others, smoky blue. Again, nearer objects will often have sharper edges than distant objects. This will help give the silhouetted landscape depth.

My video clip showing how I painted mists over the canyon might be of interest (apologies for the loss of detail on the sky half-way through, this is due to high contrast in the painting).

Links on Painting Sunsets

How do I Paint Ethnic Skin Colours in Portraits?

Painting portraits of people with dark skin could be a challenge for the portrait artist if normally painting people of white European origin. The beginner may simply add black or brown to skin colours, resulting in an unconvincing colour of dark flesh. How can the artist paint dark skin with realism?

Problems with Painting Skin Colours of Different Races

Pigments for Dark Skin Tones
Rachel Shirley
The portrait painter faced with painting a dark skinned person for the first time may feel challenged at the idea of using different oil pigments and ratios to the usual practice. Painting an Indian person, for example, may turn out unsatisfactory because of the following malpractices:
  • Rendering dark skin, such as African, Indian or native Aboriginal skin colour by adding black to a premixed skin colour pigment.
  • Introducing white to a very dark skin colour such as African to express highlights, resulting in grey.
  • Assigning a separate flesh colour pigment for different skin colours, such as using “flesh tint” for white skin, or “yellow ochre” for Chinese skin and “sepia tint” for Indian skin.
  • Having lots of earth colours, beiges and creams at one’s disposal for every skin colour imagined, causing a chromatically cluttered, confused and dirty result.
  • Making assumptions about the colour of different skin, such as using any brown that is handy and using it for a portrait of an African or Indian person.
  • Again, due to assumptions, using yellow pigment as part of the Chinese skin colour palette.
  • Neglecting to use light tones or bright colours on a portrait of an African or Indian person, even when apparent, because the notion of dark skin gets in the way.
How to Paint an Ethnic Portrait

I have found numerous oil pigments unnecessary for rendering different skin colours. I never use “flesh tint” and am much mystified to the popularity of yellow ochre, which in my view just makes the colours appear dirty and jaundiced. The basis of all skin colours, including ethnic, Indian, African and Chinese skin can be mixed by the use of the following limited selection of oil paints of various ratios.
  • Titanium white
  • Burnt sienna
  • Burnt umber
  • Permanent rose
  • Cadmium red
  • French ultramarine
  • Pthalo blue
Other colours can often be seen in dark skin colours, as they can be seen in Caucasian skin, such as violets, greens and yellows. But dark skin will appear to reflect bright colours more easily than white skin, due to the contrast. Look out, also for reflected light. This is reflections from neighbouring bright objects on the skin, causing shadows to soften. Reflected light is great for bringing out facial contours.

Guide to Skin Colours:

As guide, I have found the following skin colours can be mixed by various ratios of oil pigments. This is a guide only, but may help in getting the base colours for different skin types. A good range of art materials for portraiture of course would help. List of pigments begin with the most prevalent.

Pakistani and Indian Skin Colour

There are many casts of Indian skin, but generally I have found them to have warm colours from chocolate to warm coffee. The following oil pigments can be used:

Burnt sienna, ultramarine, white and burnt umber. Small amounts of pthalo blue can be added for shadows, and additional permanent rose for a little warmth. Be careful when using cadmium red or the skin colour could look orange. If this happens, tone it down with a little ultramarine and white.

If Indian skin has a cool cast, a little pthalo blue can be added, although I have sometimes found a greenish tinge in some Indian skin, in which case, I will add (the tiniest) viridian and burnt umber to the skin colour.

African Skin Colour

Generally darker, this skin colour often appears cooler, but shades can vary. The following pigments can be used for African skin:

Burnt umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine and white. Very dark skin can be achieved by the use of burnt umber and a little permanent rose. Ultramarine can be added for shadows. Pale colours may consist of burnt umber, a touch of permanent rose and white. Avoid simply adding white to a very dark colour (such as burnt umber and pthalo blue) or it will turn out grey. A little burnt sienna may take the coldness out of the skin colour.

Eastern and Chinese Skin Colour

Color Mixing Recipes for Portraits: More than 500 Color Combinations for skin, eyes, lips & hair
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Avoid using yellow or yellow ochre for Chinese skin. The following oil pigments can be used for more realistic effect.

Burnt umber, pthalo blue, white and burnt sienna. Olive skin can be achieved by mixing burnt sienna, a little burnt umber and white. Darken Asian skin with a little ultramarine for warm shadows. Take care when lightening Chinese skin or it could look too brown. If this happens, introduce more burnt umber and/or little pthalo blue with the white.

The Colour of Dark Skin

Dispelling presumptions about the colour of an ethnic person’s skin is the key to painting realistic portraits of ethnic people. A limited palette of oil pigments is all that is required. Close observation will reveal unlikely colours within ethnic skin, such as violets and blues, but the basis of all skin colours can be found within the aforementioned colour guide.

Speed Art on Painting Ethnic Skin

The final image.
See my Youtube clips showing how I painted the dark girl in Rossetti's the Beloved. This painting was completed in 2 glazes and therefore 2 sessions. Notice heightened depth of skin tones are reached on the 2nd glaze. Oil colors used were cadmium yellow, burnt umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine and varying amounts of white. Alizarin crimson was used on the mouth. The trickiest part was the complex skin color-shapes around the nose and cheeks. Fine sables were needed around the eyes.


The First glaze


The upper glaze.


Links to Advice on Painting Portraits

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

My Moonlit Landscape Painting Looks Dull

In an attempt to paint an evening landscape, the artist may automatically use lots of black paint. A little brown or grey may be included to provide variations to the dark colour, resulting in dirty monochromes that fails to convince. What colours should the artist use to paint a dark landscape?

The Problems with Painting Moonlight

What Colour is Night?
Rachel Shirley
The artist painting a moonlit landscape may experience a dilemma between what the brain knows about the scene and what is seen; the objects are bright in colour, and yet they appear subdued.

This may lead the artist to add black to all the colours normally seen in daylight, but this could result in dirty colours. In order to paint a convincing and atmospheric night time landscape, the following faulty practices need addressing:

  • Adding black to all the colours normally seen in a landscape. For instance, mixing green with black to render a dark meadow or mixing blue with black to express a seascape set at night.
  • Illustrating all objects in a moonlit landscape as being lighter on one side than the other.
  • Delineating silhouettes with the same black and using it in an illustrative way, such as painting branches or chimney pots, resulting in a painting that lacks depth.
  • Painting the moon merely white and without any variations in tone.
  • Flecking white dots over the night sky to express stars.
What Colour is Night?

Colours cannot be detected at night time, causing objects to appear monochromatic. But any light that shine upon an object will reveal its colour. This means that a partially-lit landscape, such as one set in the evening or by streetlight will consist of two colour palettes: monochrome and full colour. The degree to which the object is illuminated will affect how colourful it will appear. This means that an object lit under subtle lighting, will have soft colours.

But even a landscape painting illuminated by moonlight will have more colours than just black and white. In fact, I would use black sparingly. Close observation will reveal a multitude of neutrals, violets and earth colours that make up a moonlit landscape. The following pigments in any combination and in various amounts can be used for monochromes:

Ultramarine, pthalo blue, burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent rose and varying amounts of white.

The Colour of Darks

A landscape under moonlight often contains a lot of blue, and sometimes violet. Mixing ultramarine and permanent rose with a little white will result in rich violets often seen on clear nights. Mixing pthalo blue and burnt umber with a little white will result in a bluish neutral colour often seen on moonlit snow. Rich darks, such as those found in deep shadows can be achieved by mixing pthalo blue with burnt umber, or ultramarine with burnt sienna. Darks also have different colour temperatures, some being warmer than others. Using contrasting darks will add richness to a moonlit painting.

How to Paint a Dark Landscape

It helps to paint dark to light when rendering a landscape set at night. This means applying a thin wash of neutral or grey colour over the art board prior to painting. This will help set the tones of the night time landscape, for painting straight onto white will give a misleading impression of the paints’ tonal values. Starting with the mid tones will help the artist accurately measure one tone against the other, which is what painting a moonlit scene is all about.

How to Paint the Moon

Close observation will reveal that the moon is not just white, it can be eggshell, china blue or even pink, depending upon the atmospheric conditions. A crescent moon will have tonal variations, not just a half-moon cut-out shape. Similarly, stars have different colours, some appear gold, others look blue.

Silhouette Painting

Light & Shadow / Oil: Learn to Paint Step by Step (How to Draw and Paint Series: Oil)
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Silhouettes of trees, rooftops or lampposts, consist of different darks and outlines. Silhouettes far away will have softer textures and darks than silhouettes that are close by. They will also have different brush marks, some softer than others.

The key to a convincing painting of night is close observation of the subject matter.

Relevant Links to Painting Night Scenes

Monday, 20 September 2010

My Portrait Painting has Teeth like Piano Keys

The portrait artist painting teeth for the first time may end up with pegs that look too teethy or goofy. The teeth look too square, white or harshly defined, creating an unwanted focal point to the portrait painting. How can the artist paint teeth that look natural in portraiture?

Problems with Painting Teeth

Oil Techniqes for Teeth
Rachel Shirley
Before making changes to faulty practices in painting teeth, the portrait painter may take stock and address the causes of an unconvincing teeth painting, which could be any of the following:
  • Allowing generalisations about teeth to leak into the portrait painting, such as the following: All teeth are square in shape, the gaps between the teeth are black and equal in width and all teeth emerge from red gums in equal measure from the top and bottom of the mouth.
  • Using only white to represent the enamel colour of teeth and then darkening the colour with black or grey.
  • Treating teeth as separate entities to the rest of the portrait.
  • Painting teeth as equal in size and shape
  • Not altering the tone or colour of each tooth, but using the same hue for each, resulting in flat-looking teeth.
  • Forgetting to check the photographic reference when painting teeth.
How to Paint Teeth in Portraits

The following tips on painting teeth will help contribute to the overall quality of the portrait painting and create a more desirable focal point along with the eyes.
  • Teeth are rarely just white but other pale hues. The colour of teeth can vary from ivory to tea-coloured. Even teeth within the same mouth will often vary in colour, whether locally or through shadows. Look out for blues, browns, violets and beiges in teeth.
  • Look out for shadows on various areas of the teeth, such as that cast from the upper lip and where the back teeth retreat into the mouth. Shading will also define the shape of each tooth, particularly where the edges round off.
  • Take notice of the different shapes and sizes of teeth. The bottom teeth are often a little narrower than the upper teeth. The two front incisors will often be the most prominent. If necessary, count the number of teeth in view on the photograph and echo this in the painting.
  • The colour of gums is often subtle rather than bright red. The divisions between teeth and gums are also soft and require a little blending to prevent harsh lines from drawing the eye. Shadows will often darken the gums almost to black. Highlights can often be found on gums too, which provides a great opportunity for the artist to make the gums look more convincing.
Take extra care when rendering outlines to teeth, which will easily look harsh and make the portrait jar. It may often be necessary to blend outlines with a soft clean brush. Similarly, it helps to view the lips around the teeth as an extension of the teeth, rather than as separate entities. Observe how the lips and teeth relate to one another in the painting, for example, how the tonal values of the teeth compare to that of the mouth.

Techniques for Painting Teeth

Fine sable brushes are crucial when painting detail around teeth. Start from the pale colours and work to the darks. This will prevent a neighbouring colour from contaminating the pale hues of teeth. Half-close the eyes to gauge the tonal value of teeth. Avoid loading the brush with too much paint or this will make the detail hard to manage. Wipe off excess paint onto a rag and mix a little linseed oil into the paint for the detail. Don’t use black to express outlines and dark areas. Instead, introduce a little violet into the pale colour and blend any gradations in shades. Apply the darkest areas and highlights last. If a mistake is made, blot the paint off or soften it with a clean sable.

The Colour of Teeth

Winton Oil Color 200 ml Tube Titanium White
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I often mix a little burnt sienna and ultramarine into my white to render teeth. With just the right amounts, this will result in a pearly colour most often found in teeth. Gradations in shades can be provided by adding a little burnt umber, or a mixture of ultramarine and permanent rose, which results in a cool violet, ideal for shadows beneath the upper lip and the back of the mouth. The finishing touches often are highlights, provided by dragging a little neat white paint onto selected areas of the teeth.

Links Relating to Portrait Painting

My Baby Portrait Painting Looks like a Small Adult

The novice portrait artist may illustrate subtle contour shifts on a baby’s face as lines or definitive shading, making the baby look more like plastic than soft flesh. Baby’s features are given outlines, such as around the eyes or mouth, resulting in an illustrative rendering of a baby, which may look more adult. How does the artist capture the essence of a baby’ face?

How Not to Paint a Baby Portrait

How to Paint Babies Faces
Rachel Shirley
Baby portraiture is a particularly challenging subject matter, such as the subtle contours and colours of a baby’s skin. But before facing such challenges, faulty practices in painting babies must be addressed, such as the following:
  • Treating all features of the baby’s face, such as eyes, mouth, nostrils and nose as separate entities and outlining each with a line.
  • Expressing in a linear way contour shifts on the baby’s face, such as cheekbones, Cupid’s bow, ball of the chin and temples.
  • Again, using lines to express creases on the baby’s face, such as a furrowed brow, smiling lines or double chin.
  • Mixing white with red or using a tube of “flesh tint” for the skin colour of a baby and then trying to darken the colour with black or dark brown for shadows.
  • Applying any blue, brown or green for the baby’s eyes and using white for the eyeball area in a “painting by numbers” fashion.
  • Rendering the baby’s hair with linear brushstrokes that look the same all over.
Working from memory or poor photographic reference, forcing the brain to fill in the gaps and make assumptions, resulting in a baby painting that looks more like a small version of an adult than a true rendering of a baby.

How Not to Photograph a Child

Working from a poor photograph will not help the artist paint the baby accurately. This may be due to:
  • Flash photography. This will bleach out the baby’s features and any facial contours, resulting in a flat representation of a baby’s face in the painting.
  • Blurred photography. This will make it impossible for the artist to bring out detail, such as the eyelashes, highlights or dimples.
  • A photograph showing baby’s face too small. Again, this will make it impossible for the artist to portray the baby accurately.
For this reason, I often produce my own photographs when commissioned to paint a baby portrait (since baby’s have a habit of fidgeting). The following tips on child portraiture will help.

How to Photograph Babies

The best photograph of a baby is ideally under natural lighting, such as outside or near a window. Avoid backlight, as this will make baby’s face look dark. Sidelight will bring out the contours of the baby’s face. Sunlit conditions may benefit from a fill-in flash or a reflective surface to soften shadows. Use a high resolution setting to capture detail and take several photos rather than just one.

How to Paint a Baby’s Face

The following tips on painting a baby’s portrait will help the artist get to grips with the challenges ahead.
  • Baby’s features have different proportions to an adult, as the features are closer together and cheeks, brow and chin consist of flat planes with few lines. To avoid adult characteristics from creeping in, remember to keep looking at the photograph. If necessary, turn it upside down. Keep standing back from the painting to get an overall impression.
  • A tonal shift in the baby’s skin is better expressed by adding a little complimentary colour (or opposing colour) to the skin colour itself, which in the case of a warm fleshy pink, will be blue or violet. Reserve black for the baby’s pupils.
  • Baby’s faces rarely show lines. It is better to introduce a little white into the mix and illustrate any small creases beneath baby’s eyes or mouth as paler than the surrounding area and then mixing a slightly darker colour and applying it to selected areas to suggest depth.
  • Baby’s eyes will exhibit many variations in colour, such as highlights, reflections and colour shifts. The eyeball is rarely just white but darkens where it disappears into the eye socket.
What Colour is Baby’s Flesh of Different Races?

Look for unlikely pigments in the colour of baby’s skin. This may include violets, blues, brown and even greens. Mix the skin colour of the baby from scratch and avoid using more than three colours for any mix and avoid using tubes of “flesh tint”.

Depending upon the race of the baby, I find the following oil pigments provide a good foundation for child portraiture. These are suggestions only. In real life, some colours may be omitted and other colours may be found.
  1. Caucasian baby: White, cadmium red and burnt sienna for warm colours and highlights; permanent rose, burnt umber and ultramarine for cool colours and shades.
  2. Half cast or olive skinned baby: White, burnt sienna and a little burnt umber for warm colours and highlights; Burnt umber, burnt sienna and pthalo blue for cool colours and shades. A tiny amount of viridian green can sometimes be found in dark skin.
  3. Black baby: White, burnt umber and ultramarine for warm colours and highlights; burnt umber and pthalo blue for cool colours and shades.
Art Techniques for Baby Painting

Soft brushes such as sables are a must for child painting. I often complete the baby or toddler portrait in a series of thin glazes. This entails mixing a little linseed oil with the paint and allowing each paint layer to dry before applying the next layer. I often work from mid-tone to dark and light, finishing off with the highlights and the darkest shadows of the baby’s face.

Links Relating to Portrait Painting

The Eyes on My Dog Portrait Look like Marbles

The key focal point to a dog portrait will rest on the eyes, which could ruin the artwork if they stare lifelessly from the oil painting as though made of glass. In some cases, they appear stuck on the dog’s head like pieces of paper, in others, they lack expression or character. What tips for the pet artist will create realistic and expressive dog’s eyes in portraits?

Common Problems when Painting Dog’s Eyes

Technique for Dog Painting
Rachel Shirley
In order to diagnose problems with painting eyes in dog portraits, the artist must first identify culprit practices that spoil dog portraiture. This may be:
Subconsciously allowing human characteristics to leak into the eyes of the dog portrait, such as illustrating idealised almond shaped eyes, painting pupils and irises too small on the eyeball and painting eyelashes as curving from the edges of the eyes.
  • Using merely white to illustrate the eyeballs and reflections on the eyes.
  • Rendering dog’s eyes in a “painting by numbers” way, such as: representing a round black dot for pupils; filling in the irises with any brown, blue or green at the artist’s disposal, and finishing off with a dark outline around the eyes.
  • Leaving areas around the eyes blank, such as the dog’s brow, temples and bridge of the nose.
How to Paint Dog Eyes with Realism

The following advice for pet artists on painting dog’s eyes will help capture the true essence of a dog’s character.

Close observation is the key to painting realistic dog’s eyes in a portrait. Turning the photo upside down will help the artist override the dictatorial part of the brain that favours painting by numbers and making generalisations about how a dog’s eyes “should” look. Doing so will break down the area into abstract tonal shapes and colours. The following tips will also help.
  • The eyeballs of dog’s eyes are rarely just white, but contain a multitude of other colours, including blues, violets, earth colours and crimsons. Dog’s brows will cast shadows over the eyeball, and may darken it to almost black at the point where the eyeball disappears into the eye socket.
  • Highlights and reflections within the eyes are not merely white or round in shape, but often contain gradations of other colours, often blues and crimsons. Look out for objects reflected on the eyeball, creating odd shapes.
  • Similarly, the colour of the dog’s irises will vary according the shadows and reflections falling over them.
  • The degree to which the eye is open or the shape of the upper eyelid will have a fundamental effect upon the expression of the dog and therefore its character. Revealing too much upper pupil will make the dog look surprised; revealing too little will make the dog look sleepy. Pay special attention to the contours around the dog’s eyelids to capture the dog’s expression and character.
Pay attention to veins, tear ducts, upper eyelids and lower rims of the eye, which often appear droopy, as in bloodhounds. Not all such tissues are red, but can apparently appear crimson, blue, brown or even black.
Treating the skin around the eyes as an extension of the eyes themselves will help capture dog’s character and make the eyes look more convincing. This entails breaking down the area of the temple, brows and bridge of the nose into abstract shapes and lines and rendering them truthfully.


How to Capture a Dog’s Character in a Dog Portrait

Painting a dog’s eyes accurately is the key to capturing a dog’s character. This entails dispelling any preconceptions about how dog’s eyes should look and using close observation. Turning the photo upside down will help curtail assumptions. The oil pigments I most often use for painting dog’s eyes are as follows:

Burnt umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium yellow and white. For highlights I will use white, ultramarine, permanent rose and burnt sienna. I reserve black only for the darkest area of the pupils.

At Techniques for Painting Eyes on Dogs

Soft fine round sables are essential for detail around the eye area. Sizes 3 and 6 would be ideal. Begin with the larger areas and work down to the small. Avoid applying paint too thick, or it may smudge or contaminate the neighbouring area. Thin the paint with a little linseed to make it more manageable and wipe off excess paint with a cloth. I often work from dark to light in a series of glazes, allowing the previous paint layer to dry. Highlights are applied last, via little strokes of neat paint. It is vital to keep looking at the photo when painting a dog.

Related Links on Oil Painting

How Can I Make Oil Painting Cheaper?

The speculating oil painter may be bombarded with numerous products and conflicting advice on the essentials of oil painting, giving the impression that a complete oil painting kit should consist of dozens of oil colours, art brushes, solvents, mediums and a studio easel. But this need not be the case. In fact, oil painting can be made cheap and simple.

Where can I Get Cheap Art Materials for Oils?

Inexpensive Oil Painting
Rachel Shirley
Thankfully, times have changed since the days of the old masters and their exacting processes, and there have been many innovations, not least in how the oil paints have been manufactured. Nowadays artist oil paints, containing organic pigments, have a cheaper alternative in the form of student quality oils, which contain synthetic substitutes. Numerous oil pigments are not necessary. In fact, the only oil colours I use for all my painting are as follows:
  • A large tube of titanium white.
  • Cadmium yellow (pale).
  • Lemon yellow.
  • Ultramarine blue.
  • Pthalo blue.
  • Permanent rose.
  • Cadmium red.
  • Burnt sienna.
  • Burnt umber.
  • Viridian green: A much-maligned colour for its strength, but when mixed with other colours, provides beautiful greens.
Avoid purchasing preselected sets of oil tubes, as they often contain unnecessary colours, such as numerous earth colours or secondary colours. A one-off purchase of the aforementioned oil tubes will spread over dozens of medium-sized oil paintings, and will last years.

Beginner’s Set of Oil Brushes

Art brushes for oils are essentially divided into two types: stiff brushes, most often hog hair for rough impasto, and soft brushes, most often sables, for blending and detail. The artist may save money on art brushes by purchasing the stiff brushes from DIY stores. But it is worth investing money in good quality sables that last. Kolinsky is a well-established brand, but brushes containing a blend of synthetic and sable provide a cheaper alternative. Two or three different sizes of each will suffice the artist for many art techniques. The following starter kit of art brushes will not break the purse strings.

Sable brushes Sizes 3 and 6 rounds. (Rounds are brushes that converge to a point for fine lines).
Hog hair brushes sizes 6, 9 and 12 flat. (Flat brushes are brushes with a flat, blunt end for wide brushstrokes).

Where Can I Get Cheap Art Boards?

The purchase of canvases and art boards can make the cost of oil painting skyrocket, but preparing your own is simple and will save lots of money. Simply purchase a tin of acrylic polymer primer (sometimes labelled “gesso primer”), which is essentially a white acrylic, water-soluble paint that dries water resistant. Applying a coat or two of acrylic primer onto thick paper or card will provide a stable surface for oil sketches.

Textured paper, such as “not” watercolour paper will provide interesting effects for painting. MDF or hardboard can be used for larger oil paintings. But if stretched canvases are preferred, stationers will often stock them at the fraction of the art shop’s price.

See my YouTube clip on preparing your own art boards


What Art Mediums do I Need for Oil Painting?

The artist can get away with using only linseed oil and artist thinners. Linseed oil is essentially for thinning oil paint for glazes or detail. Artist’s solvents such as Sandador or Turpenoid are used for cleaning the brushes or applying washes. (Never use household or industrial solvents for oil painting as this will kill the art brushes and emit powerful odours). Used artists solvents can be made to last longer by allowing the paint residue to settle at the bottom of the jar and siphoning the clean solution from the top into a clean jar.

Stanley 016011R Series 2000 16-Inch Tool Box
Tool box for art storage
click to buy from Amazon

Advice on Saving Money on Art Materials

Any non-porous material can be used as an artist’s palette. A china plate, a piece of plastic or veneered wood would be ideal. I stretch a piece of cling film over a sturdy surface via bulldog clips. When I am finished, the used cling film can easily be disposed of.
Easels can be dispensed with by resting the painting surface onto a backing board via bulldog clips and propping it against a table edge or lap.

All the art materials can be stored inside a tool box, which is a cheaper alternative to an art box. The tool box is sturdy and opens out in tiered drawers, ideal for the storage of oil paints, drawing materials and art mediums.

Links Relating to Art Materials

Saturday, 18 September 2010

What is the Secret to Horse Painting with Realism?

An artist’s first encounter with equestrian art may produce a stuffed-looking horse, with hair and mane that looks too perfect or stiff and eyes that stare lifelessly. In other cases, the artist may fail to get to grips with the horse’s elongated features, allowing an empty space to stretch between the horse’s eyes and snout. How does the artist paint horses convincingly?

Common Problems with Painting Horses

How to Paint Horse Portraits
Rachel Shirley
Horse portraiture may simply require practice, for pet and human portraiture are likely to occur more frequently. However, addressing the culprits of a poor horse painting is a good way of moving forward. It may be any of the following:

Making idealised assumptions about how a horse “should” look like and subconsciously allowing this dictatorial part of the brain to interfere with the creative process. For instance, a horse has four legs (from certain angles, only three may be visible); a horse’s mane resembles a fringe that festoons the length of the horse’s neck and emerges between the ears; all horses have long teeth; the horse’s snout is always black and has two nostrils of equal size (again, both may not be in view, and may appear to have different shapes), and all brown horses are chestnut in colour, etc.
  • Using poor photographic reference, forcing the artist to guess-work areas of the horse’s portrait or body, and allowing the aforementioned dictatorial part of the brain to fill the gaps.
  • Using only white to illustrate horses’ eyeballs around the irises and the teeth.
  • Illustrating the horse’s hair by linear strokes via a thin brush and using the same brush marks to cover the horse.
  • Using premixed pigments such as a particular brown, black, beige or white for the horse painting and using the same colour to illustrate various elements of the horse.
  • Leaving areas around the horse’s features blank, such as between the horse’s eyes and snout and the between the eyes and ears, resulting in a two-dimensional impression of a horse.
Producing Great Horse Artwork

Horse’s features often contain complex elements the novice artist may overlook in favour of the facial features alone, but which may be the key to painting a realistic horse. For instance, horses’ faces possess complex contours including little valleys, ridges and textures due to sinews, muscles and tendons just beneath the surface. Illustrating these in a tonal way will create a three-dimensional impression of a horse’s head or body and will also prevent the horse portrait from looking flat and unrealistic. This entails the following practices:
  • Not every contour appears as a line. Sensitive observation will reveal that some contours consist of abstract and subtle shifts in colour and tone. It is wise to half close the eyes in order to simplify these shifts into basic areas and to work from the simple to the complex. Stand back periodically to gain an overall impression of the horse painting.
  • Look out for reflected light on the horse’s face. Reflected light is when a shaded area is illuminated by reflections from a shiny surface, such as a wall or mirror. Reflected light might be most apparent around the horse’s snout or ear.
  • Horse’s eyes, snout, hair and ears should not be denoted by mere outline. Close observation, will reveal that eyes and ears have rims and tucks; hair has localised shadows and the nostrils are surrounded by undulating flesh.
  • The horse palette may possess the most unlikely colours, including blue, violet or crimson. Highlights often contain ultramarine, horse hair may contain maroons, and shadows over the horse’s teeth may require a little earth colour or blue.
Art Techniques for Equestrian Painting

The Allen Book of Painting and Drawing Horses
click to buy from Amazon
Many oil painting techniques are suitable for equine art, from impasto to alla prima, but to achieve realism in a horse painting, I will paint onto a toned ground, or imprimatura. This entails using a neutral-coloured ground rather than a white painting surface. I find this helps me judge tones more accurately. A thin wash of acrylic paint (usually blue or brown) should be applied over the canvas or primed art board.

It is vital to sketch the horse precisely, or the painting will be ruined. Paint from the large areas and work down to the detail. Soft sable brushes are vital for blending and applying glazes. Fine brushes of sizes 3 or 6 are good for detail, such as the horse’s eyelashes, hair and highlights. Wide soft brushes of size 9 upwards are ideal for blending areas around the mane and nose. Linseed oil can be added to thin the paint to apply detail or soft glazes.

I will often work from dark to light, which means rendering the dark colours on the horse first, and then finishing off with the highlights, which can be found on a shiny horse’s coat, eyes, ears and moisture around the snout.

Oil Colours for Horse Art

Numerous earth colours are not necessary for horse painting, and may even cause dirty or dull colours. The oil pigments I use most are: burnt sienna, burnt umber, French ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium red and white, but do look out for other colours.

Links Relating to Animal Painting

How to draw a horse
Earth colours for horse art
Books on oil painting techniques
Demonstration on painting zebras
Glazing technique for oil painting

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Why are There Dull Patches on my Oil Painting?

The surface of a freshly completed oil painting will often dazzle the eyes with deep, saturated colours and a glossy finish. A week or so later, however, the wet look has gone and dull patches begin to appear on the oil painting. Colours lose their vibrancy, particularly dark pigments. How can the artist put right an oil painting that has become dull or patchy?

A Sinking Oil Painting

A Glossy Finish to Oil Painting
Rachel Shirley
The artist may feel disheartened when dull patches begin to form on the oil paint surface. Parts of the painting remain glossy, as though just painted, but others become matt, creating an unpleasant patchy finish to the oil painting. What is the cause of dull patches on an oil painting and what can be done?

Known as “sinking,” a patchy oil painting is often due to the oil in the paint being sucked into an absorbent painting surface beneath. The following practices will cause sinking.
  • Painting straight onto an unsealed surface, which may be canvas, wood, board or paper.
  • Using cheap industrial or household primers to prepare the painting surface.
  • Not sizing the painting surface properly, such as over-thinning the primer or gesso, or spreading it too sparingly over the painting surface.
  • Using too much solvents with the oil paint mix, such as when applying glazes or oil washes.
Some pigments will dry with a more glossy finish than others. Dark colours, such as burnt umber and ultramarine often dry matt. Crimsons, such as permanent rose often retain their gloss when dry, which may account for a patchy oil painting.

The Best Sealant for Oil Painting

The artist need not worry if the painting surface has been properly sealed (or sized). This might be a gesso size, rabbit skin glue or (what I most often use and would recommend) artists’ primer, or acrylic polymer primer. This is sometimes labelled “gesso,” which is confusing, but acrylic polymer primer is a white water-based paint that dries water resistant, providing a tough, waterproof seal onto which the oil paint can sit. Applying the primer with a wide brush and allowing it dry before applying a second coat is all that is required. The great thing is, the paint brushes can be washed in warm soapy water afterwards without having to use solvents.

Oiling Out Dull Patches in an Oil Painting

However, if the fault lies with an absorbent painting surface or insufficient sizing, the artist may “oil out” the painting by a simple process:
  1. Firstly, allow the oil painting to dry thoroughly. This will take at least six months.
  2. Dribble a little linseed oil onto a dry, clean, soft cloth.
  3. Gently apply the linseed oil onto the dull areas by using soft strokes. This will help nourish the parched area with fresh oil.
  4. Allow the oil on the painting to dry for a few days.
  5. If the dry patch returns, repeat the process.
  6. Several applications might sometimes be necessary, particularly if the painting support is very absorbent.
How to Nourish an Oil Painting

Gamblin Refined Linseed Oil Painting Medium 2oz bottle
Linseed oil
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In most cases, a patchy oil painting will be corrected by the application of artists’ varnish, which will reinstate the oil painting’s previous wet, vibrant look. Many artists consider the varnishing process to be the final touches to an oil painting, but oiling out as described above will nourish the painting prior to varnishing.

Which Oil Painting Varnish

Most artists use gloss varnish for oil painting. This will certainly rid of the dull patches. But if the artist does not wish for a high gloss, as is often the case with abstract art or contemporary art, matt varnish or even satin (a finish somewhere between gloss and matt) can be used. In both cases, the patchy appearance of an oil painting will disappear once the varnish has been applied.

Advice on Oil Painting Remedies

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Hair on My Portrait Painting Looks Wiggy

Painting hair on a portrait could cause dismay if previous results look too perfect or uniform. In some cases, a head of hair may look more like one object rather than thousands of strands that yield to the touch. In others, the hair may look as springy as nylon where each root appears rather too abruptly at the hairline. How does the artist paint realistic hair?

Problems When Painting Human Hair

How to Paint Human Hair
Rachel Shirley
In order to paint hair with realism, the artist must first identify painting practices at fault and make changes. Culprits to painting unconvincing hair could be any of the following:
  • Using the same brown, white, beige or black colour to represent a whole head of hair.
  • Trying to illustrate every strand of hair with fine linear brushstrokes.
  • Painting the hair in accordance to an idealised root pattern, such as one that converges from one point at the top of the head.
  • Treating the hair as a separate entity to the rest of the portrait.
  • Using the same tone or colour to represent whole strands of hair from roots to tip.
  • Using only white to represent the highlights on hair.
  • Trying to illustrate eyebrows and eyelashes in a purely linear fashion or using the same colour throughout.
  • Using black dots to represent stubble or shaved hair.
How to Paint Human Hair Realistically

Whether the artist is painting from a photograph or from life, it is important to make sensitive observations when painting hair. This means not making assumptions about how hair should look like and to paint what the eye sees. In order to paint convincing hair in portraits, the artist can make improvement by the following tips.
  • Not every strand of hair will be visible from root to tip. Some will tuck under or undulate at various points. Others will stray from the head, due to static.
  • Human hair often contains strands of different shades and even colours. Blond hair, for instance often contain darker strands in the lower layers. Dark hair will often appear bleached on the upper layers due to sun exposure. Some heads of hair contain flecks of salt and pepper.
  • Hair will often contain the most unlikely colours. Black hair, for instance, may appear blue at the highlights. Brown hair often contains crimsons or even violets. Blond hair often contains honey shades.
  • The tonal value of hair will often appear to vary according to the thickness of the hair layer. Areas around the hairline, edges of the eyebrows or at the nape will appear paler than where hair is thicker.
  • Good photographic reference will help when painting hair. This means working from a sharp photo in order to maximise realism.
But one of the commonest mistakes when painting hair is to illustrate each small strand in a linear way. Stubble, for instance should never be illustrated as dark dots. From afar, it will often appear as a tone between the flesh colour and the colour of the stubble, which may be grey. The same rule applies to eyebrows and hairlines.

Techniques for Painting Hair

Various oil painting techniques are suitable for painting hair, depending upon the effect desired. It is often better to suggest detail than illustrate every strand, or the hair could end up looking harsh. Begin by blurring the eyes to get an overall impression of the hair, breaking it down into basic areas of highlight, shade and colours. Apply large areas of colour and tone first. Using glazes will help achieve a high finish by smoothing gradations and creating rich colours in the hair. This can be done by mixing a little linseed oil into the oil paint and applying the colour in layers, allowing each to dry. Blending is also important.

If realism is the goal, picking out selected areas of the hair and illustrating them will help give the impression of overall detail and avoid the hair becoming an unwanted focal point. After glazing, drag neat paint over a selected area with a fine sable. This can be used to illustrate flyaway hair or hairs that stray over the face.

Oil Painting Materials for Painting Hair

I personally use the following oil colours for hair: burnt umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium red, cadmium yellow and white. Fine sables sizes 6 for applying glazes and 1 or 3 for detail are ideal. Linseed oil or alkyd medium is ideal for thinning the paint for glazes. Of course, good photographic reference or a patient model is essential.

Related Links on Portrait Painting

Why is My Oil Painting Cracking?

Weeks after completing an oil painting, hair cracks begin to form on the paint layer. The dry paint may begin to flake off or become powdery to the touch. The upper layers seem to become brittle and dull. The reason for a cracking oil painting can go back to improper preparation.

Why Cracks Appear in Oil Paint


Reasons for a Cracking Oil Painting
Rachel Shirley
I believe oils are the most robust and durable of all art mediums and little attention is required. But a cracking oil painting is a problem the artist most fears. The cause of cracking often goes back to poor practices in oil painting and associated materials. How can the artist prevent cracks appearing in an oil painting?

Oil Painting Do’s and Don’ts

Investing a lot of time in an oil painting deserves the best art materials, or the time will be wasted. The following advice will help prevent the frustration of a cracking oil painting.

As with anything, never use a substitute product for the one that is designed for oil painting. For instance, avoid using household emulsions or cheap primers to prepare the painting support. Some of these may not provide a sufficient barrier against the absorbent properties of the canvas or board. The result of this is that the still-absorbent support will suck the oil vehicle from the paint, causing it to brittle, and cracking may result. Stick to a recommended oil painting primer, such as Winsor & Newton or Daler Rowney, although a good quality acrylic primer is fine for oil sketches or quick studies.

Do not use mediums and solvents designed for household or industrial use in place of those specifically designed for oil painting. They can affect the permanence of the pigments. Turps, paint strippers and household varnishes will also ruin art brushes and emit powerful odours. Stick to artist’s agents such as Sansador or artist oil painting varnishes.

Never combine mediums with varying drying rates, such as stand oil (which dries slowly) with alkyd mediums (which dry quickly) in the same painting. This will cause stresses in the painting layer as it dries and inevitable cracking. Stick to the same medium in any one painting.

What is the Fat Over Lean Rule?

When working in layers such as when glazing with oil colours, introduce a little more oil medium into your oil paints. This practice merely entails mixing a little oil with the pigment before applying it to the painting. Known as “fat over lean” or “flexible or inflexible,” this practice provides flexibility to the upper layers of paint and will prevent it from cracking.

Linseed oil is most commonly used for fat over lean, but other oils are suitable, such as stand oil, safflower oil or oil of spike lavender. However, it is best to stick to the same oil medium for each painting as this will prevent conflicting drying rates in the paint.

Proper Use Of Oil Painting Products

Always read the manufacturers’ instructions properly, as some art products might require special preparations. Items such as rabbit skin glue or oil primers often need to be used in a specific way.

Never varnish an oil painting until it is thoroughly dry. Oil paint that is not quite dry could adhere to the varnish layer and cause it to “move” with the varnish as it dries and contracts, causing the oil paint to crack. Further problems may present themselves in the future when it comes to removing the varnish for cleaning, as some of the oil paint may come off with it the varnish.

Art Materials to Prevent Cracking in Oil Paint

Winsor & Newton Refined Linseed Oil 75ml
Linseed oil
click to buy from Amazon
It is essential to use proper artist products for oil painting rather than those designed for industrial use. Linseed oil, Sansador, Stand oil or Turpenoid are suitable for thinning the paint and cleaning the brushes. Similarly using proper artist primer for sizing will prevent the absorbent painting support form sucking the oil from the oil paint. Artist’s gesso or acrylic polymer primer is most often used.

Any oily art medium can be used for the fat over lean rule to prevent the upper glazes of oil paint from cracking but linseed oil is most often applied. Artist varnishes are available for any finish from matt to gloss, so long as the oil paint is thoroughly dry (after six months or so). With this in mind, oil paint is a very forgiving medium, and few artists have encountered cracking in their oil painting, even with short cuts.

Links Relating to Oil Painting Practices