Creating my first portrait in oils

July 19, 2015

I thought if I document any process it should be this one. The thought of working in oils has always scared me. Maybe its the idea that I was so use to working well with acrylics after finally learning my style and technique the idea of starting over in such a revered medium seemed intimidating. However I knew instinctively that it was necessary for me. I think that most artists and collectors hold a high esteem for works in oils but at the same time works in oils are only as good as the artist that paints with them. Having said that I want preface this post with some information. I did my research on oils and also took a one on one lesson with Leilani Pinard an incredible oil painter. She helped me understand oil painting from a practical sense and eliminated my fear or at least reduced it. Once I had some added courage I was able to go into this painting with confidence, knowledge, and skill (from my experience in painting thus far).

 

Let's set up how I prepared this painting. I know that many excellent portrait painters begin by doing at least 6-12 sketches to work out composition and other issues that would become potential problems on canvas. I didn't go that route mostly because I don't have that kind of patience. However I did prepare by taking reference photos of the model (my 10 yr old daughter). The idea was to paint her as the famous artist Frida Kahlo for an upcoming themed show. After choosing the best photo based on lighting and position began choosing my colors. Now this is where my technique with acrylics is left behind and I began adapting to how oils require a certain level of planning and preparation. However I'm a firm believer in some form of spontaneity when painting. I knew that when painting I had to have sense of how I wanted the painting to look using this thought I planned in stages (allowing for drying time). To begin I focused on placing where her face would be and how large I wanted it to be. I wanted my daughter and Frida to share features without giving preference to one or the other. Having learned a bit about oils prior to beginning I worked from light to dark using warm colors and slightly using cold colors for balance. I didn't lay it on heavy so I could cut drying time while still giving me sense of proportion and flexibility. I would eventually get into a rhythm of working on the portrait and working on other elements like the hands and torso.

 

These stages occurred over two weeks with a few days in between each sitting. I think this is vital to working with oils. I recently had a great meeting with a mentor of mine and I asked him what is the most important thing to consider in an artists career. He said "think". He meant (and I'm paraphrasing) take time to think about what you are painting or creating in every sense don't get into a mode of painting to put out work like a machine. I took this into consideration during this process. One of my favorite things about working with oils is being able to take 15-20 min breaks and still being able to work the paint on the canvas without it drying. Back to the painting I started layering and matching colors I wanted in the painting with lighting and contrast.

 

The elements I wanted to focus most on the painting were the face, hands, and rose I would add in last. Having said that my goal of the painting was to create an impression on the viewer that seemed  like a memory. When we remember events in our past like people and places we always remember the details that are most important while other things are blurry at best and distorted. I went into this with that notion. At the same time I knew that I couldn't go nuts with my color palette like I normally do with acrylics. So any colors that would take priority needed to be balanced with subtle muted tones and complementary colors. Lastly the background was muted slightly and painted using a mixture of paint thinner and paints.

 

My final actions were just tightening up the painting focusing on contrast were I wanted the eyes to focus and blurring where needed to give it that "memory" like feel. I know it isn't the best portrait ever painted but its the best one I've done! I can only improve from here. I learned so much from this but more than anything the only reason I will continue to paint in oils is because I genuinely enjoyed it! I hope my experience gave you some insight into my thought process and (if you're not painting in oils yet and wish to) some added confidence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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