Methods

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I now have a brand new website - Please click to visit landscapepainting.gallery

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Ken Bushe 2014

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Oil Painting methods and techniques

A brief description of some oil painting techniques I use in my work.

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Commission Dec. 2010   75x90cm   Oil Painting on Canvas                       Commissioned work

Click the palettes below for a series of images taken during the painting of this work.  Click on the work above for more on the commission itself

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In Progress - Commission Dec. 2010

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Light For the River  20x30ins, Oil on Panel  850        Click image for more info.

I used this painting to illustrate an article on Oil Glazing for the Summer 2010 edition of Artists and Illustrators Magazine

“There Is No Such Thing As A Grey Day”......painting the sunrise without sun. 

8.00
Arrive at my observation post, panting from the bike. I empty the rucksack.
Camera, lidded palette, plastic paints box, karrimat to sit on, brush case, canvases, and my knee board that I put the canvas on to keep me clean.

8.10
I'm ready.
Each long brush is handle pushed into the earth at my feet, pointing up ready to grab. The kitchen roll pegged down ready and a jam jar of spirit upon it... ready.  My white's prepared, ready and now I'm just waiting to mix the first traces of colour that appear in the sky ...I'll blend into this colour a little time element, some experience and a lot of guessing so that I’ll have a dollop or two of the basic colours that might appear in the sky 15 or 20 mins from now.
Waiting for the first colour to appear. Dawn's first tracery if you prefer. (I like that) I'm waiting for the day to appear between my feet, splayed out as they are upon the grass. A bit like Stonehenge I think my feet are, on mornings like this at my post.

It's elusive this morning though....Dawn's Tracery is elusive I mean, and I spend the time guessing what shapes will appear. I can't make any out yet, let alone any colour other than grey.
(That was 8.15)

8.20
I've forgotten my sketchbook. I usually spend this time sketching the formations of clouds as they exist in the half-light before the sun trots out between them.
It doesn't matter though because there aren't any this morning. There's nothing to draw. Two feint blurred grey bands have suggested themselves grudgingly across the sky, one two. Grey upon another grey. I wonder if this is enough to start a painting with.

8.30
A minimalist at heart, it's too minimal even for me. It's too empty even for a nihilist. Deconstructed though. Yes, it's Dawn Deconstructed. Conceptual then. Hey I could do that.
It seems to be a bit brighter than it was 30 minutes ago.

8.31
A quiet time. Contemplative.  I'll look at some seagulls. There are three white dots about 1/2 a mile away. I could watch the ducks and swans but there aren't any. It's a Monday morning I suppose even for them. Soon though, the street light beside the cycle path will go out. I find myself looking forward to this.
There's ...well ...nothing.
No sun no colour, a basic monotone and no shape. It's not even cold.
Or warm. There's not much wind but it's not still either.

8.32
Thank you god for giving me this opportunity to know myself better.
I empty my mind of all thoughts and I value the blank canvas that this form of inner peace creates within me but the trouble is, god it's a bit boring. Especially after a minute or two.
Overcast is it?  "There's no such thing as a grey day" I seem to remember writing recently in this website and now my own words seem to dance alone upon this beach like a mocking squirrel raised upon its hind legs prancing, taunting me. The wee b****.
I'd throw stones at it but there aren't any.

8.33
That's it I'm off.

My Palette

Hand held palette.

Oil Paint - Quality and range of colours

Tubes of oil paint

 ”Old Holland” and “Michael Harding” make the best quality paint available in the UK.

I use the best quality paint I can buy as my work often depends on being able rely on the paint to obtain the maximum purity even in relatively muted colours. Muddy colours in the sky especially will stick out like a sore thumb and dead colour can kill any painting.

I use Old Holland and Michael Harding colours, and would recommend them equally.

Colours I tend to have on my palette are - Cadmium yellow pale, Cadmium yellow, Cadmium Orange, Scarlet Lake, Cadmium Red deep, Bright Violet, Dioxazine purple, Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, some varieties of Phthalo Blue and Green. Earth colours I group seperately and use Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Raw Umber

I use two whites - Titanium white for strong opaque colours and Zinc white for transparent painting. They can be mixed together to make a white with more or less transparency as required,

Oil colours blending on Palette

Good paint is expensive but has far stronger tinting power. This means that you use less when mixing together with a white (which is relatively cheap) - so it’s not as bad as it seems - the tubes last longer.

As in every field, you get what you pay for and oil paint is no exception. It is perfectly possible to use cheaper paints provided you know their limitations and don’t try to make them do things that they are not capable of.

Most of the brighter colours will fade over time and this tendency to fade is more pronounced if the paint film is thin.

Cheaper paints either use less expensive pigments or they use a base filler to bulk up the volume. Pigments are not ground so finely.

Cheaper pigments are also used as substitutes in expensive colours like the Cadmiums, Cobalt blue etc.

Don’t use them for transparent glazes or for paintings which are intended to last.

Don’t expect to mix and control subtle colours. OK as long as the sucess of the painting doesn’t depend on this.

This can result in the “undertone” of the colour being very different from the colour of a thick blob and it can look quite unpleasant. A good example is cheap orange which tends to turn greenish in mixes and yellows that go green or brownish when mixed with other colours.

If a painting is to use thick paint, bold colours and a direct method of application - cheaper paint can be a practical proposition.


Broadly speaking the oil painting techniques that I use can be divided into two categories -

Transparent Oil Painting and Opaque Oil Painting

These two ways of painting are quite different but can easily be combined in one painting or even in the same area in a work.

Transparent oil painting is similar in principle to transparent watercolour but can achieve more brilliant luminous effects because the fine layers of pigment are bound up in an oil based matrix. Pigments must be chosen that are transparent i.e. they can be brightly coloured but do not block light. (Like stained glass).

Glazing oil painting - Oil painting methods

A detail of the painting “Blue and Gold” where transparent oil glazes are applied in separate layers over thick white highlights

Click Blue and Gold to see this whole work, use “Back” button of your browser to return

Like transparent watercolour, this method relies on the pure white of the underlying primer or light coloured underpainting reflecting back through the colour to the eye of the observer.
This is generally called "Glazing" and is a very old method of working. Glazing can be applied over solid thick opaque painting, and often is, especially in the final stages of a painting. Old masters used this a lot.

Transparent oil painting - Oil methods

This work - “The Millpond” was painted almost entirely with transparent glazes, beginning with a fairly dark glaze overall. The “drawing” was done by removing this in the lighter areas. Subsequent coloured glazes were worked into this underpainting when wet. Highlights were added later in thicker more opaque paint.

 

One good thing about working like this is that there is no separate drawing stage. The composition and basic tones are worked out first as a unified whole, and the work develops in a much more organic way.


Opaque painting application can be as thick as you want (a good example might be Van Gogh's work). Paint is strongly coloured and will block light or colour from underlying layers.

The white used is also opaque (Titanium white is most often used nowadays).
Paintings like this can be much more direct and spontaneous but may lack the luminousity of transparent work.

Opaque oil painting - oil techniques

This work used quite a limited palette of Cobalt and Pthalocyanine blue, Cadmium red deep, Cadmium orange, and Cadmium yellow.

Just to be a real pain... it's possible to "Scumble" opaque paint and give an illusion of transparency. It's like the "drybrush technique" beloved of interior decorators in the early nineties. It relies on dragging or scrubbing an almost dry brush very lightly loaded with colour over dried, previously painted  layers.

This allows the underlying colour to show through the top layer and with practise, the top layer can be graduated like a glaze, but without the same precision. 

 


Click link for an step by step account of this painting’s construction - Glasgow Commission

Some of the accidents that happen on the palette can really make you stop and look.