key on nail painting by John Morfis

Theodore’s Key Painting

key on nail painting by John Morfis

Thank you to Lava Soap for sponsoring this post.

At 8-1/4 inches by 6 inches this is a small painting.  When working this small I prefer to mount my canvas to a thick panel such as 1/2 inch or even 3/4 inch MDF (medium density fiberboard).   This is as opposed to the usual stretched canvas that many artists including myself would paint on top of.

Mounting canvas to a panel also gives me greater control over the painting’s dimensions and therefor the composition as a whole.  When working with stretched canvases one is limited to the sizes available.  Even when stretching the canvas from scratch manufacturers only make a limited selection of stretcher bars.

Try finding a 8-1/4 inch stretcher bar?   … my thoughts exactly!

This was the second key painting I attempted.  Not only was this key similar to the first key, Mertie’s Key, but it came from the same batch of keys.

Click the link above to read more about these keys and their significance.

As with any painting that I intend to be highly refined I begin with a solid plan.  This means a I draft a drawing that accurately incorporates the subject matter’s proportions.  I also pay special attention to the separation of light and shadow.

Because both key paintings were small I drew them both on a single piece of paper.

drawings of keys
I can’t state enough how important it has become for me to figure out as many aspects of the painting ahead of time.  While some might enjoy the drawings on their own the are really just a means to an end.  As an artist I can’t help myself with a wee bit of hatching but from a painting-creation standpoint this isn’t even necessary.  As long as I visually delineate my shapes, forms, and values I’ll be in a good position to create the painting without too much trouble.

After transferring the drawing over to my prepared canvas panel I created an underpainting in only raw umber.  This allowed me to establish all of the major value changes right from the start.  This also lays down a layer of oil paint and most experienced oil painters will agree that painting over or even into oil paint is a joy… it’s way more appealing than painting on a bare ground.

For this key specifically I let the underpainting dry.  After a day or so I began laying in all of the actual color.  Working with a really small, pointed round brush I painted the key from top to bottom.  Eventually I grabbed a larger, flat brush and knocked out the background.  I tend to work this way… painting the object first, the background second, and finally reworking and perfecting the object until it’s just right.

With a good plan it didn’t take too long, most things were worked out ahead of time in the form of a simple but accurate line drawing.

Here’s the finished key painting.


key on nail painting by John Morfis


Remember, when cleaning up your hands and brushes it’s a good idea to pick a soap that is effective at removing oil.  Lava Soap will help you remove stubborn oil paint off your hands!  Lava Soap is available at Walmart or you can find a retailer near you on Lava’s website, as well as print off a coupon.

using lava soap

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