Tag Archives: Oil Painting

Brush Work

I’ve been doing more studying about art than actually making art. One thing I learned is that most of my brushes aren’t meant for oil painting. Since I’m transitioning into oils from acrylics, I thought I ought to transition to the appropriate brushes too. Everybody seemed to be telling me that there are important differences between oil painting brushes and water media brushes. Water media includes acrylics, which was my primary media until recently.

One of my Youtube mentors instructed that sable brushes (real or synthetic) are no good for oil paints because the abrasiveness of the paint will grind away the soft hairs. (Poor, sad brushes). He said, “A brush with no hair is a stick, and you can’t paint with a stick.” He also said that I shouldn’t be using short handled brushes, because those are for watercolorists who work close to their work at a table. For oil painting at an easel, he said I should be using long-handled brushes. He recommended buying the expensive brushes and the cheapest paint. His rationale was that all paint is basically the same, but that the quality of your tools affects the quality of your work.

Then I watched another artist’s video and she used short-handled brushes of all types for both oils and acrylics. She recommended buying the cheapest brushes (though not so cheap that the bristles fall out), and the best quality paint. Her rationale was that the brushes are going to wear out regardless of how well you care for them (faster if you aren’t fastidious with cleaning) and they’ll get tossed and replaced frequently, but the paint becomes a part of the art you create, so you want it to be the best you can buy.

Both sounded like reasonable conclusions. Before I came to any conclusions of my own, I wanted to try out the boar bristle brushes that the arts & crafts stores sell as “oil painting brushes,” because I had little personal experience with those. The experience I did have with them was generally bad. Taking a look at the brushes for sale at a local shop, I determined that my issue with boar bristle brushes was because I had only ever used extremely cheap ones that are about the poorest quality you can get.

Looking at the photo above, a difference in the quality of these brushes — both new — is obvious. The brush on the right is the type I had tried in the past, and I only own it because it came in a large set of miscellaneous brushes. I probably paid around $5 for more than a dozen brushes in that package. The one on the left was a mid-range quality that sells for about $15 per brush, but I got it on clearance for around $4. The nicer looking brush is also more flexible, yet stiff enough to move the paint where it needs to go. The straighter, more even bristles allow it to hold paint and let it flow onto the canvas evenly. There is no way I could control the application of paint with that splayed mess of bristles on the cheap brush.

Now that I’ve tried the better quality boar bristle brushes, I’ve formed some opinions of my own:

  • Price matters much more with boar bristle brushes meant for oils than with soft hair brushes meant for water media.
  • Boar bristles are definitely the better way to go for oil paints, which are much thicker and stickier. Trying to paint with with oils using a soft synthetic sable brush is like trying to push a paperweight around with a peacock feather — it ain’t goin’ nowhere.
  • Oil paint is much, much easier to wash out of brushes — whatever the quality of the brush. Score one for oils over acrylics. (Watercolors are still the easiest to wash out though.)
  • Short handles work fine for me, even when I’m working at a canvas on an easel, because I have to stand pretty close to it anyway. Darn progressive lenses!
  • Walking around the room looking for your glasses while holding a loaded brush in one’s teeth is a very bad idea.

I Lassoed The Moon

Full Moon in the Western Sky at Dawn
18″ x 24″ oil on canvas

I hope you all had a great Christmas, and I wish you a prosperous 2019. I finished this painting on December 9th, and it’s dry enough to handle now, so I attempted to get some good photos. It’s somewhat larger than I usually paint — 18″ x 24″. I’m very happy with how the moon turned out. So happy that I plan to paint a picture of just the moon for a future painting. NASA will have to help me out with the details… literally. I found one of their moon photos on my phone and held it up next to my canvas to paint this moon and get the details roughly correct. I wouldn’t want to put my Sea of Tranquility next to my Keplar Crater — that would be just silly.

Full Moon in the Western Sky at Dawn - Detail 1
Detail 1

Here’s what I learned from this painting: 1. I need a better camera for photographing my art. My phone takes a fairly good photo, but it isn’t up to capturing the subtleties of color that are in paintings. 2. I like painting in oils, and I’m getting used to them, but the drying time isn’t helpful business-wise. By the time the paint cures and I can varnish it, and then the varnish cures enough that it can be boxed up for shipping, it will be summer. Fortunately, I will be able to display it at an art show or deliver it locally much sooner than that. (If you’re interested it’s $432 +tax — message me, even if you just want a closer look.)

Full Moon in the Western Sky at Dawn - Detail 2
Detail 2

Now I have to decide what to paint next, and I’m having a hard time with that. I think I need to just clear the table in my studio and paint away without being concerned about painting anything worthy of sharing with the world. (I wonder how many paintings Rembrandt or VanGogh tossed on the rubbish heap?) I will probably try out my new watercolor brush pens next, or maybe pastels.

I was at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago yesterday getting inspiration. They had some new Cezanne and Renoir works on display that I hadn’t seen before. They haven’t reassembled all of my favorite Sargents in the room that was my personal happy place last year, but some of them are now being displayed downstairs, so I was appeased. I also brought some inspiration home — two books from their gift shop — one about Rembrandt and one on Impressionist portraits. It was a glorious day of self-care… also self-indulgence at the Potbelly Sandwich Shop across the street. Their mixed berry milkshakes are heavenly.

I read that in 2019 the Art Institute will have a couple Rembrandts on loan. And at the end of May they will open an entire special exhibit of Édouard Manet works. I can’t wait to go back! Many thanks to my Sweetie for getting me a membership for my birthday again. Closer to home, I saw on Facebook that the Midwest Museum of American Art right here in Elkhart will be putting their large collection of Norman Rockwell lithographs back on display. I’m going to get a membership there and make several visits to study those. I hope you all have plans for 2019 that you’re excited about. Happy New Year, Everybody!

Finished At Last!

Still LIfe With Hydrangea No. 1 and No. 2

The oil on canvas version of Still Life with Hydrangea (on the right) that I started back in mid-summer is finally finished.  It just needs some drying time and a coat of varnish.  The acrylic version on the left was finished last month, but I thought I’d wait until both were done to “unveil” them.

I started with oil paints that are water-miscible (water-mixable or water soluble — all three mean the same).  I determined that they weren’t all they were marketed to be.  Some colors/brands mix with water better than others.  Some mix better with turpentine substitute (mineral spirits).  Some don’t mix very well with either.  Most colors got gummy at some point and resisted spreading.   I ended up giving in and buying a bottle of Turpenoid® and a set of inexpensive conventional oil paints — the supposedly noxious chemicals that I’d been avoiding all my life for fear that they were dangerous to work with.

I found that I had been silly to wait so long to try oils.  I had always assumed that oil painting required a big bucket of solvent. For that I blame Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting… also my unpleasant experiences with oil-based house paint.  I bought a nifty little stainless steel cup with a spill-proof lid and a grate inside for rubbing the brushes against to clean them.  It only needs a few ounces of solvent and it can be reused over and over again before needing to clean the cup and change the solvent, because the paint solids sink to the bottom under the grate. I can’t believe in all my years of making art, I never learned about this.

I’m sure you knew all about this and you’re shaking your head at my ignorance.  Anyway, I’m very happy with how both paintings turned out and I will be posting them for sale shortly — the oil version will need to dry first.  And I’ll need to keep my fingers out of the paint while it does.  I seem to be getting better at that.

Instructed and Inspired by My Medium

No1 and No2 - both in progress

Still plodding along with the still life.  When I used the wrong mixture for glazing and had to set aside the oil version (on the right) back in August, I expected that it wouldn’t be dry enough to paint the next layer until Christmas.  But it surprised me, and it appears that only a couple months was necessary.  In the meantime, I started on the acrylic version of the same still life (on the left) and it has been going well… mostly.  I’ve experienced some frustrations with the paint drying too fast on the canvas.  (That’s situational irony, right?  My 9th grade English teacher really tried, but I’ve always been a little unclear on that.)

So it wasn’t the subject matter that drove me to give up temporarily on the first canvas, it was the medium.  And while working on the second canvas, the medium is making me itch to go back to work on the first canvas.  I’m learning a lot, and relearning some too, about my mediums.  (Or media, if you prefer–both plurals are correct in an art context; I checked.)  That was pretty much the goal of this project–to learn the properties and possibilities of my materials.

So, even though I’m not finished with either version, I’m already thinking about Still Life with Hydrangea No. 3. I’ve got a whole room full of art supplies.  I could do watercolor next.  Or gouache.  Or ink.  Or watercolor over ink.  Or pastels.  Or charcoal.  Or colored pencil.  Maybe Crayola crayons will suit my mood?

OH, HOLD THE PHONE!  I just recalled that single sheet of art paper that I bought on clearance this summer.  (Only 15¢–I’ll never get out of an art supply store that cheaply again.)  That paper is a rich muted red and that would be the perfect support for a pastel painting of that still life!  I think it maybe the time is approaching to try out that box of pastels.