Welcome! You’re probably arriving here from “Tea Time” my 5 part video series on how to paint a still life using oil paints.
If you didn’t watch the entire still life tutorial series you can find it here: https://youtu.be/Sh0D7sFLPlc
The video series details how I paint still life subjects through close study and calculated color measurements.
I’ve made hundreds of paintings since I started painting in oils around 1992-ish. At one end of the extreme painting instructors encouraged me to just start painting washes right onto the canvas with zero planning. No preparation what-so-ever. I also encountered instruction that encouraged long, complicated layering of the oil paints over time. These paintings started out with a grisaille (monochromatic underpainting) and then evolved very slowly through indirect painting methods of many glaze layers, etc…
Of course there were all kinds of painting-method variants in between these two extremes.
Eventually I arrived at what is my happy place for creating paintings. My method is not for everyone however. It does require you to have some drawing skills and much patience. One of the worst parts of teaching painting and learning painting is most people are just too darn impatient. They want to rush into the actual painting. I have learned to fall in love with the entire painting-making process and that often includes not painting at all!
The more experience you have with the subject matter the faster you can arrive at the moment you physically start painting. But, if you are a beginner and or new to the subject matter, I recommend slowing everything down. It will actually speed things up in the long run. Why? Because you’ll make fewer mistakes while painting which can be difficult and frustrating to fix.
My Painting Approach
I like to silo as much of the painting making process into their own phases as best as I can.
Imaging trying to build a house only you are trying to do everything by yourself all at once. While you’re installing roof tiles, you are also adding plumbing, installing doorknobs and trying to hang curtains… yep it’s overwhelming. Despite what you see in many popular videos around the internet you don’t have to solve all of your painting problems at the same time.
I worry about the composition and layout by itself during the drawing phase. I can erase and draw comfortably on paper. Next I calculate my colors and paint recipes ahead of time in the form of a color study. All I’m concerned about here is the color (hue / value / chroma) Thats it.
Before the actual painting begins I premix my oil paints on my large glass palette where it’s spacious and comfortable. I finally move all my paint strings over to my working palette (usually a handheld wooden palette) and begin the painting.
Because I studied the still life a couple of times with the drawing and the color study I am well versed in the subject matter and just focus on the painting process. I worry about edges and brush strokes. Many of the other problems such as composition, color and paint mixing have already been solved! In fact, because I’ve already figured out the color there really is no need to even paint an underpainting. Why bother? If I know the color I need and it’s already mixed shouldn’t I just paint it in place and move on? Of course I should…
Tools Used in the “Tea Time” Series
People always ask me about tools so I’m listing the exact tools I’ve used in the “Tea Time” painting series. Much of it is available from Amazon, but Amazon tends to be really expensive for art supplies… I find that the prices at Blick’s or Jerry’s are much more affordable. I’ve provided a bunch of links so you can see for yourself…
For medium and larger brushes I use flats and filberts of the Monarch line by Winsor & Newton. These brushes are synthetic so they last a really long time, but they simulate natural bristles like no other synthetic brush I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot. I don’t know why they are so darn expensive on Amazon but you can get them way cheaper at Blick’s here: W&N Monarch Brushes. I keep a few sizes handy (#10, #6, #4, #2 in flats and filberts)
For smaller brushes I really enjoy these Princeton Brushes
(they are labeled as watercolor, but they work fine in oils as detailing brushes as long as you use the tiny ones)
I use a variety of sizes (#3, #2, #1, #0, #00, #000)
Drafting & Transferring
I love a thin mechanical pencil for drafting out my paintings on paper. I used this mechanical pencil in this series. It’s the thinnest pencil I could find at 0.3mm.
These eraser sticks are really thin and help me draw with greater accuracy.
Having a thin, transparent ruler is super helpful as well. I have a bunch of these rulers in several lengths.
At the end of the 2nd video I transfer my drawing over to my canvas using this transfer paper. A lot of people have trouble with transfer paper. Remember it works best with a smoother, slicker surface… another benefit to oil toning/priming your canvas. My transfers go on like butter!
Paints, Canvas, etc.
For the “Tea Time” painting I mounted this Fredrix Canvas to MDF board and toned it to a neutral gray with oil paints. This canvas has a very tight weave and as such is great for really small paintings that you wish to have details.
I use a variety of oil paint brands:
- Michael Harding
- Windor & Newton
Williamsburg makes a bunch of neutral gray oil paints which are super convenient. They sell N2, N4, N6, N8.
I mix between each gray to get the odd numbered-neutrals.
These grays have become the foundation of my palette and paint mixing strategies.
Precise Color Matching / Mixing
If you really want to learn color you need to invest time into learning the Munsell color space. The Munsell color space quantifies color and makes it a learnable, replicable process. All artists conversations about warm and cool colors seem silly once you learn how to mix colors precisely. Mixing mud? Well that’s just another color that may or may not be useful. Color is just color. Buying a Munsell Book of Color is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my painting career. It has saved me countless hours because I can mix up colors accurately the first time instead of guessing and having to constantly fix the colors in a painting.
Sure it costs around $1000 but that’s no big deal if you are trying to make a professional career out of painting. People will spend $3 per day on coffee ($3 x 365 = $1095)… on a liquid stimulant but not invest in their art education/tools… it baffles me. If the book lasts you a decade you have paid 28 cents/day for it and most likely saved hundreds of hours in painting production time.
If you are brand new to oil painting be patient. It will take a while to feel comfortable in this medium. Spend more time practicing and less time on the internet listening to other people talk about oil painting. Keep your methods simple and go slowly.
You can read more about getting started with oil paints here. It’s a rather long article with a ton of information about oil paints.
Best of luck to you!