January 12th, 2012


Oil painting: second class

Today was the start of my next five week long oil painting class at the Soane museum. Today our goal was to do the dark part of a a still life. We started by touring the museum to look at how Hogarth painted still lifes within The Rake's Progress, the lesson learned being that basically the highlights you add afterward can totally make the painting.

Back in the basement, the instructor had a few fruits and vegetables sitting in front of each work area. He demoed what we were going to do in the back room: I took copious notes. We were really supposed to get through all of this in 90 minutes?

We arranged the fruits to suit ourselves (I removed the apple) then did a sketch of onions and lemons focusing on the shadows (as we were going to do the darks today) to use as a reference (as we might have the set up bumped between tonight and next week when we finish the painting). I liked my sketch.
Then we prepped our boards (not canvases today) with an undercoat that was just burnt umber mixed with lots of turpentine, thin but not runny. After we'd covered the board with an even layer of the thin brown we wiped away the shape of onions & lemons using a paper towel (I never knew you could remove oil paints so easily before taking this class - I would have never though it! - but until dry they are quite malleable). This picture is a space wiped off for one lemon. Notice the background of the thin brown paint (it is really a very thin layer). You can see how the brown has stained the board just a bit so it's not just plain white.

This is the entire still life area wiped clean (no need to wipe away where the major shadows will be, note extra wiping for the highlights).
oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clemens

Our next task was to block in basic dark colors. The paint used for this blackish brown is ultramarine (blue) plus brown (burnt umber), diluted only with turpentine (not oil) but diluted less than for the brown wash. This base was used to make the shadow areas under the fruit (and for me some spots on the onions and lemons). He advised being extra careful with the turpentine, to do a "light touch" so it didn't run. (I used a small brush so I could get right up next to the edge of the white area.)

For the red of the red onion, blend (alizarin) crimson, ultramarine, and burnt umber with just a little turpentine. Color goes on as a glaze. He said we should go for hogshead brush for textured areas but used synthetic for smooth parts of the onion. Today was just the under color: I have no idea what we'll do next week but you can see my reds, which I kept fiddling with until we were basically told to put our brushes down and clean up.

For lemon, he recommended a very different technique than for the onion: it's a glazing technique where you do undercoat in a neutralish color (such as grey or light browns) then go over it (when it is dried) with a glaze of the final color. So all we were doing today was putting in the shadows of the lemon and a bit of solid color with white in it that the yellow glaze will pick up next week.  (You'll note I "wiped" in a highlight area on one of the onions: it's cool that you can just erase oil paint with a paper towel.)

To make the lemon "shadows" I used yellow ochre with ultramarine to make it dark & touch of red to brighten it up (and a bit of turpentine to make it spreadable) which created a yellow toned neutral palette for shadow underpainting. Then add white to the "neutral" to make the undercoat for what will eventually be the bright yellow part of the lemon. And then I kept fiddling, smoothing out the color transitions, adding a bit more of a dark edge (per his suggestion) to the upper side of the lemon and the onion, expanding the shadows a bit so the dark went right to the edge of the lemon.
First night's oil painting: final

Anyway, it's still all a grand experiment, but I am having fun, even if my onions are funny shapes.