Traditional oil painting 1



I’m learning a historic oil painting technique, or rather a collection of historic oil painting techniques, from my instructor, who in his own way is as interested in traditional techniques and materials as I am. I’m lucky to have found an instructor from whom I can learn and supplement my knowledge in this area, and with whom I can actually have a conversation about this stuff.



As far as art materials go, we’ll be using both traditional and modern materials. That’s okay – what I’m after is the techniques themselves. I think a lot of the techniques developed by the old master artists had much to do with overcoming the limitations of the palettes they had to work with – the limited gamut, the expensive materials, etc. Once I’ve got some practice with these techniques, I’ll work with them in conjunction with the historic materials I prefer, and hopefully really get the most out of them.

This is a layered technique that we’ll be working on for at least two quarters. This quarter we’re doing the initial three layers of the paintings (there will be three of them – two portraits and one figure). We’ve just finished up with the first portrait for this quarter. The three layers are: the imprimatura, the drawing, and the piambura. The imprimatura is simply a toning of the canvas. The drawing is finding the shapes and also getting in the shadows. The piambura is the bringing out of the lights using just whites, lead white for the more transparent areas, titanium white for the more opaque, brightest areas. The top image on the right is the first two layers, imprimatura and drawing, and the second image is piambura. The idea is to provide a foundation for further layering – he’s actually supposed to look a bit metallic at this stage. We’ll call a couple of the models back and continue the paintings on into next quarter, adding a verdaccio layer and then final glazes. This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been wanting to start practicing.

We had to purchase some materials for this class that are a bit pricier than what I’m used to – though it wouldn’t be a problem if I weren’t dead broke at the moment. The oil-primed linen panels are from Utrecht, their “Master’s Panels” – at eighty-odd dollars for three panels (16X20 and 18X24) they were the least expensive oil-primed linen panels I could find. (Their Renaissance oil-primed stretched linen is simply undoable for me at the moment.) I can see why we’re using these, the linen is a lot smoother and more brushable than canvas, it makes modeling form using only whites a lot easier. Also, according to AMIEN, linen is stronger than the duck canvas everyone is using, possessing longer interwoven fibers that will be more durable over the long run. I have a lot of stretched duck canvas sitting in the garage – I mean a lot – and I’ll keep using it for my paintings because I can’t stand to just throw it all out, especially when I’m this poor. But as I go through them, I’ll also be buying the oil-primed linen as I may, and trying to use that for any professional work that comes along. Brushes: Escoda sable brushes, rounds and filberts, which came out to over a hundred dollars. Again, these were the cheapest acceptable materials I could find.

As I’ve been shelling out money I don’t have during this financially challenging time, the thought crossed my mind that I’d better make a good painting with this stuff – if I don’t, I’m throwing away a decent chunk of change, and not just a couple of bucks spent at Michael’s. And then of course, I wondered if artists of past times, who could not take their materials for granted, and who also spent significant amounts to support their craft, ever felt the same way. I think if an artist is forced into a genuine respect for her materials, then a greater care and respect for her art may follow. Just a thought. These days, when one can grab a tube of bright, saturated and lightfast oil color almost for the price of a cup of coffee, there’s no real reason to respect materials.

Unfortunately, despite my feeling that I’d better do good stuff with this, my first attempt is a little disappointing. That’s all right – it’s a completely new way of thinking for me, and I’ve no doubt it will take a few tries, or more than a few tries, to start getting the hang of it. We’re doing two more this quarter; I’ll post them as well, assuming they’re not absolutely dreadful, and then I’ll post the continuation of these into next quarter.


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6 Responses to “Traditional oil painting 1”

  1. Robot Geisha Says:

    I think respect for the materials is key, but at times I also find it intimidating to start putting the paint onto the canvas. Each semester costs me a cool grand that I don’t have, and I dislike very much making academic work…apples, still life, etc. It would be so great to have easy money to paint and not worry about the “bad” art. I look forward to reading more of your insight.

  2. sunsikell Says:

    Thanks Lisa – I know what you mean. One of the nice things about living in this era is that we do have less expensive materials we can use for “practice” – but even then things can add up quickly. One reason I’ve determined to jump in and start trying to sell some artwork is so that I can pay for all my art supplies!

  3. Robot Geisha Says:

    Your work is reminiscent of the old masters. I know your work will sell. I read that you get some of your supplies through Utrecht, have you heard of Daniel Smith? They have a little more extensive paint selection and some from traditional mineral pigments in the oil and watercolors. I have used the Daniel Smith line of watercolor paints and have found the colors rich and very smooth to work with. You might want to use them as a source for supplies as well: But your work is very powerful. i look forward to seeing more. Do you have a website setup for displaying your work? I have a very simple one for now. I opted to go with an already created framework and plug in the information. I never really conquered Dreamweaver nor flash. I have to tell you though I was finally able to get my hands on the latest, “newest” Wacom tablet. It has made creating art a joy. I look forward to working with it in the future in illustrator. Do you do much with computers anymore? Have you obtained your masters degree in Fine art or are you in the process? I am finishing up my BFA – duel major; art education and painting. I will be applying for a masters program around 2012. Finding the right fit for me will be tough. My work is not edgy in any way. I work very simple and true. It will be hard to find schools that want that kind of work. Multi-media and digital media seems to be the big winners right now. Best to you in you art endeavors. And the art is beautiful and timeless.

  4. sunsikell Says:

    Thanks Lisa. Much of this discussion I’ll take into E-mail land. But as far as the Daniel Smith line: I’ve been aware of their PrimaTek natural-pigment watercolors and oil paints for a while, but haven’t yet tried any of them. While I’m mainly interested in colors that can be made from local sources, and only to a lesser extent natural pigments shipped in from overseas, some of their colors certainly do look juicy. And really, at this point almost any push toward the natural and traditional is welcome with me. I’m sure at some point I’ll pick up a few of them and give them a whirl, and when I do I’ll probably post a review here.

  5. SA Says:

    To learn the methods proper, research Sir Joshua Reynolds or Titian. Heavens, many others as well as it was a common technique for ages.

    • llawrence Says:

      Hello SA,

      I am most sorry, but I posted your comment with some parts removed, as they seemed more inflammatory than I would like for this blog. I do appreciate your comment though!

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