Excerpt for The Ultimate Oil Painting Solution – for Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still Life (Three Books in One) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Oil Painting Medic


For Landscape Art, Portraiture and Still Life – Three Books in One

Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool?

Why do My Skin Tones Look Lifeless?

Why do My Ellipses Look Like Doughnuts?

Rachel Shirley

First Published in 2012 by Rachel Shirley

Text, photographs and illustrations copyright Rachel Shirley 2012 all rights reserved

The Right of Rachel Shirley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 Section 77 and 78.

No part of this publication may be republished, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the copyright owner. This book is sold subject to the conditions that all designs are copyright and are not for the commercial reproduction without the written permission of the designer and copyright owner

ISBN: 9781370250868

Dedication: To Harriet and Joseph

Book Sample of Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool?

Comprehensive troubleshooting guide on producing landscape art. Find a beginner’s section on landscape painting, including plein air painting, colour theory and mixing greens. Chapters include ‘my skies are bland and empty’, ‘my greens look artificial’, ‘my mountain art resemble pointed cones’ and much more. Tackles each issue in depth. Includes a step by step demo. 24,000 words and 120 images.

Book Sample of Why do My Skin Tones Look Lifeless?

Comprehensive troubleshooting guide on portrait painting. Find a beginner’s section on portraiture, as well as the essential pigments to capture skin tones. This is followed by constructive advice on painting eyes, different-coloured hair, noses and remedial techniques. Chapters include, ‘my ethnic skin colours look dirty,’ ‘the eyes on my portrait look like marbles’ and much more. With a step by step demo. 27,000 words and 150 images.

Book Sample of Why do My Ellipses Look Like Doughnuts?

Comprehensive troubleshooting advice on producing still life art including flowers, fruit and toys. Find a beginner’s section on painting still life, textures and shadows. Common issues such as ellipses, perspectives and textures are tackled. Including ‘why do my flowers look wishy washy?’, ‘the food in my still life resemble plastic toys’ and much more. Includes a step by step demo. 24,000 words, over 120 illustrations.



Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool? – Plus 25 Solutions to Other Landscape Painting Peeves

Why do my Skin Tones Look Lifeless? Plus 25 Solutions to Other Portrait Painting Peeves

Why do my Ellipses Look Like Doughnuts? Plus 25 Solutions to Other Still Life Painting Peeves


Paintings featured in this book

Books by the Author


This bumper oil painting ebook comprises three books: Why do my Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool? a problem-solver for landscape painting; Why do my Skin Tones Look Lifeless? a problem-solver for portrait painting, and Why do my Ellipses Look Like Doughnuts? a problem-solver for still life painting. Each book can be purchased singly if interested in only one subject area.

Each book comprises 26 common ‘peeves’ (in the form of chapters) associated with the oil painting area concerned, and therefore you will find 78 such peeves and suggested solutions collectively within.

Each book also possesses a step by step painting demonstration associated with the subject area. These are Castlerigg Stone Circle (for landscape art); David’s Oath of the Horatii (for portraiture) and painting strawberries (for still life).

The ‘peeves’ selected represent common problem areas that students have experienced in my art classes. Such peeves include the rendering of ellipses, darkening skin colours, suggesting rippled effects in water, painting clouds, mixing greens, suggesting soft hair, painting noses, reflections in eyes, moisture on fruit, portrait photography, measuring tones, darkening snow colours and the rendering of long objects in foreshortening. Many other peeves are examined.

As each book are in themselves separate entities, where applicable, similar information is presented in context of landscape art, portraiture and still life painting, although the information is presented differently. Examples of this are the art materials needed for painting and the nature of pigments. However, such occurrences are mostly confined to the introductory chapters of each book and occur seldom elsewhere.

Key chapters in this book cover the colour theory, perspectives, drawing ellipses, the golden section, tonal values, underglazing, art techniques, the nature of pigments, essential art materials, monochromatic painting, composing an arrangement, negative shapes, painting en plein air, drawing foreshortenings, creating mood, making a viewfinder, colour temperatures, drawing methods, the rules of reflections, painting on a budget, types of gessoes, skin colours and much, much more.

The aim of this book is to find a ‘cure’ for a given issue and enable the developing artist to improve in the future. Most of all, to encourage creativity and growing confidence.

Briefly, I have attained an Hons Degree in Fine Art from Kingston University, London and a PCET teaching qualification from Warwick. I have written numerous articles and books on oil painting, as I have painted since the age of six and have been involved in countless commissions and projects.

Oil Painting Medic

Why Do My Clouds Look like Cotton Wool?

Plus 25 Solutions to Other Landscape Painting Peeves

Rachel Shirley

Contents for Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool? Plus 25 Solutions to Other Landscape Painting Peeves

Introduction to Why do my Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool?

Solutions for Starting Out in Landscape Painting

Chapter 1 I haven’t the room or funds to pursue oil painting

Chapter 2 Oil painting techniques for landscape art seems complicated

Chapter 3 I don’t have the confidence to begin landscape painting

Solutions for Oil Painting Techniques

Chapter 4 My landscape painting looks childish

Chapter 5 How do I loosen my style for expressive landscapes?

Chapter 6 How do I get smooth effects for water and skies?

Chapter 7 What do I do about background to my landscape paintings?

Chapter 8 How do I erase a mistake from my painting?

Chapter 9 Painting impasto uses too much pigment

Solutions for Colour Mixing

Chapter 10 Why do my landscape paintings look dull?

Chapter 11 Why are my colour mixes dirty?

Chapter 12 Why do my greens look artificial?

Chapter 13 My landscape paintings look insipid

Solutions for Painting Sky Elements

Chapter 14 My skies are bland and empty

Chapter 15 My clouds look like cotton wool

Chapter 16 My moonlit landscapes look dingy

Chapter 17 My sunset paintings look tarnished

Solutions for Painting Landscape Elements

Chapter 18 My landscape scenes lack depth and drama

Chapter 19 My trees look like lollypops

Chapter 20 How do I make water look like water?

Chapter 21 The ripples in my lake painting look harsh

Chapter 22 My flower studies are garish

Chapter 23 My shadows look like black splodges

Chapter 24 How do I darken the colour of snow?

Chapter 25 The perspectives of my buildings look crooked

Chapter 26 My mountains resemble pointed cones

Oil painting demonstration on painting Castlerigg

Introduction to Why do My Clouds Look Like Cotton Wool?

Indeed why do clouds sometimes look like cotton wool in landscape paintings? And why do mountains sometimes end up resembling pointed cones topped with cream?

Such frustrations and many others are occasionally encountered by professional landscape artists and novices alike, whether it is to capture a bright sunset or the greens of foliage. It is all part of learning to paint.

If the issue persists, however, the problem is likely to become a creative block. This is where this book comes in.

With no-nonsense and at times blunt advice, each issue is tackled in-depth: a diagnostic of the problem, suggested solutions in the form of recommended art materials and remedial painting exercises, as well as an oil painting demonstration.

In total, twenty-six common “peeves” associated with landscape painting are tackled within this book, including why shadows look like black splodges, trees like lollypops and why flowers look garish. In five clear sections, a myriad of other matters relating to landscape painting are explained, such as the colour theory, the rules of perspectives and introductory chapters on the essentials of oil painting, in total, with over 100 full colour illustrations and several diagrams.

Some of the paintings within this book have been featured in my Landscape Painting in Oils, Twenty Step by Step Guides for clear instructions on how they were completed. If the problem sought after is not in this book, it might be in one of my other Oil Painting Medic books within this series due to come out in the foreseeable future. A list can be found at the back of this book.

Solutions for Starting Out in Landscape Painting

Chapter 1. I Haven’t the Room or Funds to Pursue Oil Painting

1: Oil painting can be cheap and simple. 2: Types of oil paint. 3: The essential pigments. 4: Types of art brushes and palette knives for landscape painting.

The prospecting artist does not need lots of oil painting materials or a huge budget to enjoy landscape painting, as can be seen in image 1. In fact, great artwork can be produced with minimal funds and oil painting equipment. But what essential art materials should the beginner buy?

Types of Oil Paint

Briefly, traditional oil paint is graded into two types: artist quality and student quality. Artist quality oils possess organic pigments which makes them more costly to produce and to buy. Student oils are cheaper because they are made with synthetic pigments, which have almost the same exacting qualities as its more expensive counterpart. Personally, I have found student quality oils perfectly suited for my requirements and have used them extensively in my oil paintings. Having said this, I always stick to an established and recommended brand such as Winsor & Newton, Daler Rowney or Grumbacher.

Oil Painting Colours

Some artists use numerous oil painting pigments, which is fine, but the beginner can mix any essential colour with just three primary colours and white. Additional colours will come in handy if the artist does not wish to keep mixing colours to obtain a particular hue. Earth colours for example are useful for adding atmosphere, tempering bright colours and for painting in monochrome.

Primary Colours

Primary colours are an essential ingredient to any artist palette, but the true primaries are not any red, yellow and blue, as one might think, but the colours found in scattered light. In terms of printing ink, these are magenta, cyan and yellow.

In reality, a true primary colour cannot exist in pigment terms, as impurities can always be found, even if it is one part per billion. This can never match the purity of scattered light. However, a close approximation can be achieved.

I have found permanent rose, pthalo blue and cadmium yellow (pale) to be close to the mark, and include them within my oil painting palette. More about colour theory can be found in chapter 11.

Essential Oil Painting Pigments

Collectively, the following pigments will produce just about any hue needed for landscape painting:

1. A large tube of titanium white (120ml or so), and 37ml tubes of the following colours:

2. Permanent rose

3. Cadmium red

4. Pthalo blue

5. Ultramarine

6. Cadmium yellow (pale)

7. Lemon yellow

8. Burnt sienna

9. Burnt umber

10. Viridian green: A much-maligned colour for its garishness, but has a strong tinting strength; when mixed with other colours, produces beautiful greens.

Art Brushes for Oils

Oil painting brushes are essentially divided into two types: stiff brushes, most often hog or ox hair for impasto (the application of thick paint) or for covering large areas. And soft brushes, usually sables for blending and detail.

Good quality sable brushes are essential for applying detail and soft blending, such as rendering flower heads or mists over water. Cheap sables that have no springiness to the hairs are not suited to the heavy properties of oil paint and will splay easily.

Brush Shapes

Kolinsky sables are robust and are excellent for controlling the paint. Brushes such as Sceptre Gold offer a cheaper alternative, as the sable hair is blended with synthetic substitutes.

Lots of brushes are not necessary. I use just two or three different shapes and sizes. Rounds are brushes that taper to a point. Sizes 1, 3 and 6 will suit most purposes for detailed work. Flats (or brights) have a blunt end for wider brush marks.

Filberts are similar to flats, but have rounded edges. Sizes 10 to 16 of either type will serve essential blending purposes. Some artists include a diversity of brush shapes for different mark-making, such as riggers (long thin brushes) for linear strokes such as branches, or fan brushes, for soft blending. Experimenting with different brushes will develop personal preference.

Image 4 shows the utensils used in oil painting. From the left: large, medium and small bristle, large medium and small round sable and small and medium palette knives.

Brushes for Impasto

Stiff brushes are traditionally made from ox hair and are used for robust artwork such as the application of large amounts of paint for cornfields or impasto for skies. High quality bristle brushes are not so crucial. The artist can save money by purchasing stiff brushes from DIY stores, but cheap ones that moult onto the painting must be avoided. Flats or filberts sizes 6, 9 and 12 are ideal for expressive oil painting.

Long-handled brushes are intended for artists who like to stand back during the painting process, but are difficult to store if space is an issue. Short-handled brushes can be tucked away easily and are cheaper.

1: Preparing your own art surfaces can save lots of money. 2: Suitable surfaces that can be used as an artist’s palette need to be non-porous such as plastic or china. 3: Used bristles and sables brushes can be ideal for applying art techniques. 4: Art mediums showing low odour artist spirits, linseed oil and impasto medium.

Surfaces for Oil Painting

Wood, canvas, card and even paper make suitable surfaces for oil painting so long as they have been sealed with a gesso or similar size (usually glue). A simple option is acrylic polymer primer, a water-based gesso that can be obtained from art stores and hobby shops.

Priming your own art surfaces saves money on purchasing prepared surfaces. A two-coat application via a household brush is all that is required. Because the primer is water-based, is odour free and brushes can be washed in warm soapy water afterwards.

Reasonably-priced stretched, primed canvas, art boards or textured paper can also be obtained with shrewd shopping from certain stationers and supermarkets. Sizes are usually in Imperial. The beginner may try small painting supports for quick oil sketches. Anything from 8”X 10” (203mm X 254mm) to 16”X 20” (406mm X 508mm) would be ideal for producing landscape paintings that are easy to store.

Oil Painting Mediums

Artist solvents serve the purpose of cleaning the brushes and thinning the paint for washes (or glazes), rather like water to watercolour.

Industrial solvents must never be used for oil painting for their powerful odours and severity to the brushes. Low odour artists’ white spirits or Sansador is preferable. To prolong the life of the brushes, I will lather the bristles afterwards in neat washing up liquid before rinsing them under a hot tap until the water runs clear.

Linseed oil is used for thinning the paint into smooth glazes and for adding lustre to the pigment. It is ideal for applying flat washes for mists or clouds. Liquin is an alkyd medium that offers a quick-drying alternative to linseed oil. Liquin leaves a matt finish if lustre is not desired.

By contrast, Oleopasto is also an alkyd based medium that can be mixed with oil paint to add bulk for impasto techniques. This can save money on using lots of oil paint when trying to emulate the Impressionists or create texture in oil paint. All these mediums are explored in more detail throughout this book.

Handy Palettes

Any non porous material can be used as a palette. A china plate, varnished wood or plastic will do. Cling film stretched over a stiff surface via bulldog clips can be affixed to a drawing board to free up the artist’s hands. When I am finished, the used cling film can easily be disposed of by folding it into a ball without mess.

Mobile Easels

Easels can be dispensed with by resting the painting surface onto a backing board via bulldog clips and propping it against a table edge or lap. Alternatively, a tabletop easel or small sketching easel would be fine.

Most of the art materials mentioned can be stored inside a tool box, a cheaper alternative to an art box. The tool box is sturdy and opens out in tiered drawers, ideal for the landscape artist’s mobile studio.

Simple Materials for Oil Painting

The artist need not purchase everything mentioned to begin oil painting. I have often completed an oil painting by the use of two brushes, a couple of colours, a small canvas and no mediums. The artist may purchase additional materials as to requirement or to achieve a particular effect.

As can be seen, landscape oil painting remains a realistic pursuit regardless of the funds or storage capacity available.

Chapter 2. Oil Painting Techniques for Landscape Art Seems Complicated

Oil painting techniques. 1: Alla prima. 2: Glazing. 3: Sgraffito. 4: Impasto. 5: Scumbling and 6: Pointillism

Confronting oil painting techniques for the first time may overwhelm the beginner on the diversity on offer. But the artist may keep the practice as simple or complex to suit. Each art technique is great for achieving a particular effect in landscape painting. For informative purposes, the following describe the main techniques for oil painting.

Alla Prima

Alla prima (image 1) simply describes a painting completed in one session and therefore in one paint layer. Quick oil painting sketches of landscapes or skies, for example, are typically completed in alla prima. Such a technique requires the application of neat oil paint straight onto the painting surface, without the need for mediums.


Glazing (image 2) describes the completion of an oil painting by the application of several layers of translucent oil paint and over several sessions.

Each layer or “glaze” can be used to modify the colour beneath, to enrich the colour or to alter its tone. The paint will usually be thinned with linseed oil or an alkyd medium such as Liquin. Many old masters practiced glazing, applying as many as ten or more layers before satisfaction with the result. I rarely find the need to apply more than three paint layers to achieve the effects I want.


Sgraffito (image 3) is an etching technique where mark-making implements such as combs, toothbrushes or pencils may be used to cut into the paint to create a sense of movement and energy. Applying a conflicting colour beneath the paint surface can be used to add contrast when etched into.


Oil painting impasto (image 4) complements alla prima, in that a thick paint layer can be used to enhance brisk brush marks or other textures within the paint. Impasto (meaning thick paint) can be manipulated with wide bristle brushes, palette knives or other mark-making instruments to create ridges and troughs in the paint.


Scumbling (image 5) is an oil painting technique that gives a broken finish to the paint, adding atmosphere to clouds or landscapes. Neat paint scuffed over a rough painting surface is the usual practice. Landscape artist John Constable practiced scumbling in his later coastal paintings.


Applying small marks of varying hues in various patterns (image 6) when viewed from afar will come together to create an image. The post impressionists, such as Seurat and Signac used this method to suggest light and atmosphere.


Tonking is named after Sir Arthur Tonks who developed the technique for undoing an area of painting the artist is unhappy with. By blotting off the area concerned with newspaper, the paint can be lifted off without affecting the surrounding area. Tonking is explored in more detail in chapter 8.

Wet into Wet

An art technique mostly associated with watercolours, wet-into-wet is the application of runny oil paint onto a wet glaze. Interesting colour-bleeds result, ideal for skies, water and foliage, and which also encourages “happy accidents.” Wet into wet is explored in chapter 5.

Which Art Technique?

With different oil painting techniques at one’s disposal, the artist can create a diversity of effects in landscape painting without difficulty.

Several techniques can be combined within one painting to provide contrast in approach. But the beginner may try alla prima or impasto before venturing into more challenging techniques such as wet into wet or glazing.

Chapter 3. I Don’t Have the Confidence to Begin Landscape Painting

1: The under-drawing 2: Mark-making onto a doodleboard. 3: How colours appear different against various backgrounds. 4: A first landscape painting can be simple. 5: Using expressive brush marks in oil painting. 6: Allowing imperfections to remain in the paint layer.

The beginner in landscape painting may find it difficult to pick up a paintbrush and make a mark. A fear of failure fuelled by an inner art critic could cripple all creativity before it has a chance to express itself into a sky sketch or a lake study. How can the novice artist produce satisfactory landscape art for the first time?

Creative Blocks to Landscape Art

Worrying about getting the first mark perfect could cause the artist to continuously false-start the painting in an effort to capture a particular green colour mix or realism in clouds. Unchecked, this inner perfectionist could sap all confidence from the artist, creating a negative learning experience.

However, there are easier ways of overcoming the transition between a non-painter and a landscape artist.

Learning a new skill often entails being lenient and landscape painting is no different. This means learning to accept that mistakes will be made, some of which may turn out to have interesting effects that may enhance a future painting. Alternatively, every mistake is a learning process.

The Doodle Board

One’s first painting need not be ceremonious. Begin with mark-making on a primed piece of card or paper (image 2). Squeeze out a cherry-sized dollop of each colour and about twice as much white onto the palette.

Place a finger’s width of artist solvent into a jar and arrange all art materials to hand.

Use each brush and try out each colour in turn. Aim to cover the painting surface with different marks in a sort of doodle board. Try out different brushes, palette knives, old combs, toothbrushes or sponges. View oil painting as a child learning a new skill. But above all, have fun and experiment.

Use paint neat, dry, runny and thick. Mix two colours, then three. Try blending two colours into one another to create chromatic gradations. Lighten a colour by adding white, then try darkening it by adding the colour’s complementary or opposing colour (in the case of red, this will be green). See chapter 11 to find out more about opposing colours.

Context of Colours

Experiment with how colours look when placed against different backgrounds (image 3).

Spread different colours over the card and allow each to dry over a few days.

Apply thinned paint on top. The upper glaze will modify the colour of the paint beneath like stained glass. This technique is known as glazing and can be used achieve deep, rich colours. Notice the effect is different to simply mixing the colours together.

The artist will further discover that a dark colour will appear pale when painted on a darker colour, and a pale colour will appear dark when placed on a paler colour.

Such lessons on colour behaviour will come in useful when judging colour relationships within a landscape painting, such as clouds on a blue sky, or shadows over water.

Oil Painting Exercise

Keep a first landscape painting simple with manageable goals. Experiment in private if need be and bear in mind that if the painting does not work out, it does not matter for this is all part of the learning process. A step by step guide on painting Castlerigg Stone Circle can be found at the back of this book which may help.

Begin by using a limited palette of three primary colours and white. In the case of oils, pthalo blue, permanent rose and cadmium yellow (pale) can be used. Use a small painting surface of approximately A4 in size. Copy a photograph consisting of simple elements such as a field, a tree and sky. A river and a cottage or a copse would also be ideal. The aim is not perfection, but simply to complete a painting. Set aside ample time for the exercise to ensure the painting will be completed in one go as opposed to going back to it later.

Learning to Paint

Resist the temptation to make comparisons with landscape artists as seen in fine art books, such as the Impressionists or the Surrealists. These comparisons would be unfair and could nurture an inner despair. Artists such as Constable and Monet could only reach the pinnacles they had by intensive practice fuelled by a passion for painting. Even they at some point would have produced an unsatisfactory landscape painting and made mistakes. Of course, fine art books continue to show only their best works.

Textures of Oil Paint

Try not to agonise over every aspect of the painting in an effort to get it right, for this could leave the painting feeling rigid.

Allow imperfections to remain, which might be brush marks, streaks of colour or irregular lines. Oil Painting is often about suggestion rather than illustrating every object in full, although high detail can be achieved. Cloud sketches and forest paintings for example, often contain broken glazes and thick impasto, which adds atmosphere and movement to the painting.

Becoming a Landscape Artist

Completing a first landscape painting is a big first step and may spark the inspiration to embark upon a series of others. A painting that does not go to plan however can be worked over, which is the beauty of the forgiving properties of oil paint. Alternatively, it can be put to one side and another one begun with a different approach which might be suggested in this book.

But learning to paint means learning to accept mistakes will happen, and with the right view, provides the path to improvement, whether it is to capture reflections in water or snow caps on mountains. Either way, it could be the beginning of a long and exciting journey.

Solutions for Oil Painting Techniques

Chapter 4. My Landscape Paintings Look Childish

1: Unlikely hues can be found in skies such as pinks and indigoes. 2: Lightning provides opportunities for exploring high contrasts in skies. 3: Definite hues can be found shadows rather than black. 4: Preparing a toned ground (known as an underglaze) can be used on which to key tones.

The artist who strives for realism may experience dissatisfaction if a painting of trees or rivers looks cartoonish. Mountains or rivers appear cut out, shadows resemble dark smudges and trees idealised. How does the artist create paintings that look convincing?

A Naive Landscape Painting

A childish rendering of a landscape scene is such a common affliction, this theme can be found echoed throughout this book. Needless to say, is often the reason a landscape painting is consigned to a bottom drawer or even the artist to give up. But this need not be the end.

The reason why a painting ends up lacking realism is often down to one thing: the dictatorial part of the brain. This bossy little inner voice believes it knows better than what the eye actually sees. It may insist upon illustrating symbolic versions of objects regarding lines, shapes, colours and tone, which could be some or part of the following:

A clear sky is blue, shadows are black, snow is white, the grass is green and all mountains resemble cones.

When it comes to what the eyes see, the above is often not true: skies can be silver, indigo or pink, as can be seen in the cirrus painting (image 1); snow can appear blue or violet, shadows can be orange, grass can be red and mountains can be lots of shapes.

These are simplified examples, but the dictatorial part of the brain may interfere with the painting process in very subtle ways which the artist may not always be aware of, such as how a line curves or the chromatic shift of the sky. The foreshortening effect of something pointing at the viewer, such as the limb of the tree describes such a dilemma at its worst. The brain knows the object is long, and yet it appears short to the eye.

Achieving Realism in Art

What is the solution to this dilemma? The theory is simple, the practice is more difficult: Shutting off this dogmatic advice. Viewing a scene honestly not only helps the painting process, but the whole business of creating realistic art, which might be reflections in water, the featheriness of cirrus clouds or mountain outcrops.

Capturing the Reality of Landscapes

Capturing the true essence of a landscape can be achieved by the following strategies:

View the subject matter in front as abstract shapes and lines rather than what the object actually is. A river is no longer a river, but a jigsaw of colour and tone. Half-closing the eyes will help simplify this jigsaw.

Keep looking at the photograph or subject matter in front. Not doing so allows memory to sneak in, and memory is the enemy of realistic art. Memory is where the dogmatic part of the brain takes over.

If copying from a photograph, turn the photograph and painting upside down to break it down into abstract shapes.

Stand at least ten feet from the painting now and again. This will help the artist appreciate the painting as a whole rather than in its parts.

View the painting through a mirror. This will reveal hidden errors in the painting when in reverse.

Take half an hour’s break from the painting session and return with a fresh view.

Make comparisons regarding shapes, tones and colours. Is a line, for instance straighter or more curved than this one? Is this colour darker or bluer than that one?

Tonal Values in Painting

In the same way, working on a white painting surface will mislead the artist on the true tonal values of colours. Pale orange for instance will appear dark in context.

Working on a toned ground (image 4) will enable the artist to judge tones more accurately. This entails the application of a thin wash of oil or acrylic paint over the painting surface, which could be grey or brown. This will kill the off-putting white and give a more accurate indication of the colour’s tonal value when applied on top. The under-glaze should be allowed to dry before embarking upon the oil painting.

Extreme Tonal Values

Comparing one tonal value with another will help the artist capture the true essence of a landscape. I try to include all tonal values in my paintings from pale to very dark to prevent the painting looking washed out. Brilliant lightning (image 2) or a dazzling sunset provides great opportunities for exploring tonal contrasts at their most extreme.

Oil Painting Techniques for Realism

Overriding the dictatorial part of the brain in favour of what the eye sees will help the artist produce authentic and candid landscape studies. But art techniques can be used to further recreate realism.

A high finish akin to photographic effects can be achieved by applying thinned oil paint in a series of glazes, ideal for smooth expanses of water or skies. This translucent paint layer will enrich or deepen the colour beneath or create smooth gradations. Mixing paint with medium, usually linseed by equal parts will produce a paint layer akin to coloured glass. Blending brush marks away via a soft sable will help attain a uniform finish.

Once the glaze is dry, detail can be applied on top via a fine sable. Just a few touches are often all that is needed to emulate realism. This might be snow cracks on a mountain, sun-dappled wavelets or a ribbon of lightning. Achieving smooth effects is explored in more detail in chapter 6.

Resources for Realism in Art

As well as the approaches described, the following materials are vital if the artist hopes to capture realism in paintings:

1. Good quality photos.

2. A good range of oil colours that include the primaries.

3. The best fine sable brushes.

4. Linseed oil for thinning the oil paint to glazes.

5. An internal “off button” to presumptions about objects rendered in the painting.

6. An alert artist.

Chapter 5. How do I Loosen my Style for Expressive Landscape?

Ways of loosening up painting style. 1: Close up showing broken glazes in the oil painting. 2: Wet into wet technique is good for injecting a fluid quality to the painting. 3: Using a contrasting hue for the underglaze to the overall hue of the oil paint. 4: Pasting on thick oil paint via wide bristles.5: Moving brush marks in the direction of the subject matter.

The artist striving to paint impressionist style may agonise over every brush mark which may inevitably stifle the painting of all expression. How can the artist loosen up and create expressive paintings with movement and energy?

How to Paint Impressionism

Breaking old habits of the fastidious artist’s steadfast practices often entails identifying practice at fault, which could be any of the following:

Sitting too close to the painting. This could mislead the artist into believing each brush-mark has more significance than it actually has.

Painting onto a white surface. This will make pale colours appear dark by contrast resulting in a pale painting with insipid colours.

Using fine sable brushes throughout the painting session and filling the painting with small marks.

Over-mixing the colours until they are completely even and then applying the paint as though emulsioning a bedroom wall.

An aversion to vibrant or pure colours could cause the artist to temper them with greys or neutrals.

Fiddling with the painting until it loses life.

Producing Expressive Landscapes

Allowing imperfections to remain in the paint is key to achieving a painting with movement and energy. This does not mean imperfections that spoil the painting, but those that add character; broken glazes, brush-marks or colour bleeds for creating movement or add mood, as can be seen in the composite images. Wet into wet (image 2) is one such technique to try.

Wet into Wet

This system involves applying wet paint onto a wet painting surface, resulting in colours that run into one another and creating liquid effects, as can be seen in this lake painting.

If this seems daunting at first, wipe an un-tinted layer of linseed oil over the painting surface in a sort of colourless glaze. This gives the artist more control over colour bleeds without the fear of unwanted contamination.

With more confidence, the wet paint can be applied onto a tinted glaze. Avoid using a glaze consisting of a complementary colour to the overlying colour glaze, as this could result in muddy mixes.

Loose Brushstrokes

Further techniques for loosening artist style may help break the habits of the over-perfectionist:

Exclusively use hog brushes no smaller than no.10 on a small painting surface. This will force the artist into using economy with brush marks and curtail linear detail.

Use every tonal value from pale to very dark within the painting. Working on a toned ground of grey or brown will reveal the true tonal value of each colour and enable the artist to manipulate tones more effectively.

Half-close the eyes to generalise and simplify the view. This will encourage the practice of using loose brushwork, ideal for skies and water.

Don’t use black to darken a colour but the colour’s opposing colour. Red for instance, can be used to darken green. This will add vibrancy to darks.

Try not to over-mix colours. Allow some colour streaks to remain on the brush when applied.

Get up and view the painting from a distance. Turn it upside down or through a reflection to reboot the brain on what is vital about the painting and what is irrelevant. This will also give the brain a boost of oxygen and stimulate it out of a fug of complacency that sitting for long periods may nurture.

I believe every painting is allocated a limited number of brush marks before it becomes overworked. Make every brushstroke count. As soon as the artist starts to “fuss” over the painting, stop.

Vibrant Colours in Painting

Don’t be afraid to use colours neat from the tube. Juxtaposing bright colours against neutral or sombre colours will make the bright colours appear more vibrant rather than garish. Monet’s sunsets, for instance, contained lots of neutrals which provided the stage for the bright colours.

To create focal points in colour, place contrasting colours against one another. Sunlight and shadow, for instance contains warm and cool colours; shadows often contain blues and violets, and sunlight, creams and oranges.

Furthermore, working onto a bright-coloured under-glaze will create interesting contrasts against overlying subdued colours. Using the same technique for complementary colours will make the painting appear to shimmer. This can be seen when using a red under-glaze for a blue sky, as can be seen in the painting in progress of snow (image 3).

Allowing some of the colour beneath to show through in a broken glaze will enhance the effect. The Fauves and the Post Impressionists used chromatic contrasts in this way to extremes, which made colours almost seem to vibrate against one another.

Chapter 6. How do I Get Smooth Effects for Water and Skies?

1: The initial glaze of the oil painting needs working over before smooth effects can be attained. 2: Panel smoothed over with fine glasspaper forms the ideal surface on which to conduct soft blending. 3: Working paint over a contrasting underglaze is not ideal for soft effects. 4: Smudging oil paint via utensils such as cotton buds or soft rags.

The artist aspiring for a smooth finish to an oil painting could be disappointed when patchy areas persist even after blending the oil paint with soft brushes. A blue expanse of water betrays unwanted brush marks; a clear sunset exhibits dirty colour streaks. How can the artist achieve an airbrushed effect with oils?

Saboteurs to Smooth Effects

Achieving smooth effects in paint will create a high finish to an oil painting, which may be desirable for realism or enhancing mood, but the following practices may make smooth blends more difficult:

Completing an oil painting alla prima or in one go. This initial layer of oil paint will often leave an unfinished or broken look, which gives oil painting its freshness, but is not compatible with creating a smooth paint layer.

Using hog hair or bristle brushes are more likely to leave ridges or troughs on the paint layer due to the stiff bristles’ scratchy texture.

Trying to blend a thin layer of oil paint over a contrasting colour (image 3) will reveal the uneven nature of the glaze, for example when applying green paint over a red under-glaze.

Working in impasto, or applying the oil paint too thickly will leave unwanted brush marks on the paint layer, particularly when using impasto medium.

Trying to create smooth effects with oil paint could be made difficult when applying the paint onto a rough surface, such as dried impasto, or coarse canvas. The dragging effect on the paint layer leaves an effect akin to “scumbling,” an oil painting technique explained in chapter 2.

Trying to blend pigments that have insufficient oils in them due to being dried out on the palette or within topless tubes could result in a chalky consistency to the paint, not ideal for blending purposes.

Achieving an airbrushed effect with oil paint is possible when applying several translucent layers of oil paint. This is known as “glazing”.

Glazing Oil Paint for Smooth Finishes

Apply the first layer of oil paint onto a smooth painting surface such as MDF or panel (image 2). The area concerned may be a large expanse of sky, a misty canyon or snow.

Treat the paint as through it were going to be the last, even though it will never be perfect. Blend the paint and brush out any ridges, troughs, tonal or chromatic divisions. Use a soft sable brush throughout.

Allow the paint to become touch-dry over a few days. Apply the second coat with a little linseed oil. This adheres to the fat over lean rule, which is a way of adding flexibility to the upper layers of oil paint and prevent it from cracking. Adding linseed oil also adds transparency to the paint which will add depth to the colour beneath and reduce the appearance of imperfections within the under-layer.

Again, blend the paint layer until a smooth finish is achieved. Repeat the process a third time if necessary. I often find three glazes will suffice, although some artists use more. The old masters applied a dozen glazes or so to their oil paintings in order to perfect their finishes.

Smudging Oil Paint

Another way to achieve an airbrushed finish to oil painting is a technique I discovered by experimentation. After applying the paint with a soft brush, I dab over the layer with a soft, clean rag (image 4).

Apply pressure evenly and consistently, adjusting the rag to a clean area whilst working over the painting. Don’t worry if the rag inadvertently smudges detail, it can always be reapplied afterwards.

Like glazing, repeat the process once the first paint layer is dry. This dabbing technique is great for smoothing areas on mists, skies and other large areas of colour. Creating a smooth colour gradation in painting can be achieved by shifting the colour mix in the glaze as you go along.

Smooth Blends in Oil Paint

Glazing is a technique that requires practice but is worth the effort when smooth gradations are achieved in skies or water. Glazing or dabbing paint as described can also be used for smaller areas of the painting such as a tree, a drystone wall or distant mountains.

Chapter 7. What do I do About Backgrounds in My Landscape Paintings?

1 and 2: giving equal consideration to background and foreground shapes such as shadows, cliffs and tin mines will enhance the composition. 3: Using linear echoes to draw the eye to a focal point. 4 and 5: Expressing patterns in the background can add interest to empty areas, as can be seen in these rippled clouds and the sea foam.

The background to a painting is often a forgotten element when a composition is set up. An empty and featureless area creeps in unforeseen until the completion of the painting. This could ruin the artwork, regardless of how well the objects have been painted. How does the beginner overcome the problem of empty backgrounds in a painting?

Backgrounds Good and Bad

The following practices are often the causes of unsatisfactory backgrounds in landscape painting:

Giving sole consideration to the main subject matter, and none to the background elements within a composition.

Viewing non-solid objects, such as clouds, reflections and shadows as incidental.

Using a neutral or pale colour for backgrounds, or using one colour to represent the entire background, such as green for distant trees or blue for the sky.

Conversely, having too much going on in the background, robbing the painting of any focus.

Painting the background from memory in an effort to fill blank spaces resulting in idealised background elements that fails to convince.

Negative and Positive Shapes

A good composition in painting can be achieved if the background is given equal importance to the foreground (images 1 and 2). These two elements to a composition are known as “negative” and “positive” shapes.

Positive shapes are the objects themselves. This might be a village church, a Lakeland tarn or Cornish tin mines.

Negative shapes are the spaces in between, which might be skies, distant hills or weathered cliffs. Such backgrounds have features of their own, such as shadows, reflections and contours.

With this in mind, the following suggestions on what to do with negative shapes may help solve the problem of what to do about the backgrounds in paintings.

Linear Contours

As well as looking at the shapes of the objects within a painting, give equal consideration to the shapes of the spaces between the objects.

Look out for an imbalance in distribution. For instance, is there a large area of negative space within one area of the composition such as the sky or foreground? If so, rearranging the objects or shifting the viewpoint might be the answer.

Linear echoes can be used to create visual contours and textures and to draw the eye to selected focal points (image 3). Avoid however of repeating these elements in one part of the painting or its concentration will make it visually weighty compared to the rest of the composition.

Spread them out; mix negative and positive shapes regarding size, contour and orientation. Imagine the composition stripped bare to a simple jigsaw pattern. Look out for any area that contains too many of one shape type. Move them around until a balance is achieved.

Background Ideas

Simple elements make effective backgrounds, such as moss-riddled stone, harvested cornfields or a rugged coastline. Drystone walls, climbing ivy or gnarled tree trunks, particularly under oblique lighting, add a textural element to backgrounds.

Striking backgrounds are those that add contrasts in hues, textures or contours. A background containing a cool palette for instance, adds interest to a foreground consisting of warm colours. Here, the swirly foam breaks up a flat area of the sea, setting the stage for this rocky outcrop.

Juxtaposing complementary colours such as violet and yellow, or blue and green will create chromatic focal points in backgrounds. Similarly, conical mountain peaks provide textural contrasts against flora or cornfields.

Exercise awareness of backgrounds. Examine snapshots and look for background elements which the photographer may not have been aware of. Use the same practice when deciding on a background for a painting.

Alternative Backgrounds

Non-solid elements within a painting could create effective backgrounds if given equal consideration to solid objects. Textures in clouds, reflections in water and dappled shadows could provide interesting elements normally overlooked.

Further ideas for backgrounds might be unusual clouds formations, such as a mackerel sky or cirrus. Alternatively cascading foliage, sun-dappled trees or ripples on a lake cannot fail to add interest when handled effectively.

Chapter 8. How do I Erase a Mistake from My Painting?

1: A muddled area of oil painting can be undone by a technique known as tonking. 2: Firstly, press scrap paper onto the offending area. 3: Lift excess oil paint off. This process can be repeated until no paint can be seen on the scrap paper.

An otherwise effective oil painting could be spoiled by a garish tree, a black splodge or a grey expanse of water that is not in keeping with the vibrant colours of the painting. In an attempt to put the painting right, the artist may fiddle with the area, overworking the paint until it looks a muddy mess. How can the painting be put right?

Culprits to Oil Painting Mistakes

Few things are more frustrating to the artist than completing a satisfactory oil painting, except for a particular area. The view holds true that an oil painting is only as good as its weakest point. No matter what the artist does, the offending area will continue to draw the eye unintentionally. The undesirable option of scrapping the painting and starting again may seem to be the only option. The following culprits may have brought the artist to this point:

Completing the painting in one go, causing the final part to be rendered when tired or in a rush.

Guesswork an area of the subject matter by painting it from memory. More about the perils of painting from memory can be found in chapter 4.

Trying to work from a poor photograph or one that has incomplete elements, such a tree obscured by shadow or a sky that is out of focus.

Fiddling too much with an area of the painting, causing the area to lose life and become muddy.

Trying to cover up a mistake by adding ever thicker layers of oil paint resulting in an unwanted impasto area.

Having insufficient colours within the palette to express the colours required, causing the artist to use substitute colours which are unsatisfactory.

Using cheap brushes that do not control the paint properly.

Salvaging an Oil Painting

Scrapping the painting need not always be the only option, unless the overall painting is unsatisfactory. If only one area is at fault, the following may be worth trying:

If the area is quite large, such as a lake or area of sky, for example, carefully wipe the paint off with a clean soft rag or palette knife. Keep wiping the area until most of the paint is removed.

With a little linseed oil on a clean rag, wipe the last remnants of the oil paint from the painting surface. Then with a dry rag, wipe away any remnants of oil. Leave the area to dry for two days or so.

If the offending area of the oil painting has completely hardened, the area can be lightly sanded down with fine glass paper to remove any impasto effects and ridges until smooth. Use a dust-buster or vacuum cleaner to prevent the dust from lodging into another area of the painting.

Tonking an Oil Painting

If the aberration is close to an intricate area of detail, the artist may use a method known as “tonking,” named after Sir Arthur Tonks who came up with the idea. It is quite simple and is akin to blotting (see images).

Cut or tear a piece of clean paper (newspaper will do) into roughly the size and shape of the offending area.

Tonking Step by Step

1. Place the paper over the area and press down with the palms of the hands.

2. Gently lift the paper off.

3. Repeat with more clean paper.

4. Lift off again.

5. Repeat until no paint can be seen lifting off with the paper.

6. The painting can be left to dry over a day or so and new paint can be reapplied over the area.

Turning Back the Clock

Mistakes are unavoidable and are part of learning how to paint. However, the following will help minimise mistakes from spoiling an otherwise effective oil painting:

Good quality artist’s resources, such as clear photographs or sketches.

Including the primary colours for colour mixing.

Having good quality sable brushes for detail.

Sticking to recommended oil painting manufacturers rather than cheap imitations.

Composing the picture properly before applying the paint.

When tired or time is running short, don’t rush it, put the painting away. It can be completed the next day.

Chapter 9. Painting Impasto Uses up Too Much Pigment

1: Working paint thickly can use a lot of oil paint. 2: Thick areas of impasto can be practiced cost-efficiently with impasto medium, shown in image 3. Impasto medium can be used to thicken the paint. 4 and 5: Surplus oil paint can remain usable for a few days if the mixing palette is covered with a Tupperware tub.

The artist who ventures into painting impasto may paste the oil paint on thickly for impressionist skies or landscapes, using up lots of costly oil paint. The result is that there is little of the paint left in the tubes for another painting. How can oil painting be made cheap when using impasto?

Wasteful Oil Painting Practices

Producing an oil painting with impasto paint can work out expensive if the artist is wasteful with oil paint. This can be a problem if using a palette knife or wide bristle brushes for relief effects in skies or cornfields. The following practices could make impasto techniques costly.

Exclusively using artist quality oil paints and applying liberal amounts over the oil painting to produce relief effects.

Depositing liberal amounts of oil paint onto the artist’s palette and then simply disposing of the residue at the end of the painting session. Such a situation may occur when putting too much oil paint on the palette in relation to the size of the oil painting, for instance if the impasto work is small.

Cost Efficient Way of Impasto Application

A great technique when working in alla prima, impasto can suggest energy and give vibrancy to large expanses of an oil painting, such as skies, water, seascapes and mountains. But few artists wish to worry about how much paint to use when working in impasto, for impasto techniques are all about freedom of expression with paint.

But the artist can take measures to make impasto paint more cost efficient without affecting artistic freedom.

Avoid depositing large amounts of a pigment onto the palette in the first instance, for surplus paint cannot be put back in the tube. It is better to squeeze out a little at a time rather than one big splodge.

Don’t dispose of the leftover oil paint on the palette at the end of the painting session, for the medley of colours can be mixed to make lovely neutrals or add bulk to a future impasto painting.

Place a Tupperware lid over the palette and seal with cling film. If placed in a cool place, the paints will remain workable for up to a week (images 4 and 5).

Alternatively, allow some of the oil paints to thicken on the palette over a day or two. This will result in a thick, pasty consistency, ideal for impasto techniques.

Impasto Medium

A large impasto painting may benefit from the purchase of impasto medium or Oleopasto (image 3). This is an alkyd based medium that can be mixed with the oil paint to thicken the paint and make it go further.

Impasto medium is often sold in tubes, and when squeezed out, a brownish substance will emerge. Once mixed with the pigment, it will not affect the colour, but will thicken the consistency of the oil paint.

Mix the impasto to about one part to four. Adding too much may take the tinting strength from the oil paint. The impasto mixture can then be used for palette knife techniques or sgraffito with textures.

Impasto Painting without Limits

Impasto techniques with oil can be made inexpensive with a few adjustments to how the artist applies the paint. Avoid throwing out old tubes of paint for these can always be used for adding bulk to future mixes. Save artist quality paint for the detail on top rather than the initial layer of paint.

Surplus paint on the palette can be saved for a future painting if sealed under a cover and placed in a cool place. Impasto medium can alternatively be mixed with oil paint to thicken its consistency and make it go further, helping to cut the cost of oil paints.

Solutions to Colour Mixing

Chapter 10. Why do my Landscape Paintings Look Dull?

1: Using complementary colours side by side creates contrast. 2: Employing established brands of oil painting pigments is recommended. 3: Lots of pigments in oil painting sets are unnecessary. 4: Working an oil painting in more than one glaze will deepen hues.

In an attempt to copy the old masters, the artist may temper vibrant colours in the belief that an oil painting should look sombre. In other cases, the artist may strive for vibrant paintings and instead finds garish colours. How can the artist paint vibrant oil paintings?

Causes of a Dull Oil Painting

The traditional view of an oil painting is often one that contains numerous earth colours. The prospective artist may therefore purchase a set of oil paints dominated with lots of browns and neutrals. The following may also cause a dull painting:

Trying to darken colours with black. For example adding black to green to darken foliage or to purple for mountains. Black and any bright colour often results in dirty colours.

Poor understanding of the colour theory may produce unwanted colour mixes that may spoil the painting. The colour theory is discussed in depth in the following chapter.

An absence of fundamental colours within the artist palette may compel the artist to mix substitute colours which that fail to hit the mark.

Painting alla prima can sometimes result in an oil painting that lacks depth of colour once the painting is dry.

Over-mixing oil pigments will often cause the colours to lose its life.

Using more than three pigments for a colour mix.

An unsuitable frame may make an oil painting look cheap and amateurish. A thin gold frame or black plastic strip does little justice to any painting. A wide rustic wooden frame will compliment most landscape studies.

Painting like the Old Masters

The beginner might be forgiven for believing that the essence of an oil painting lies with the old masters, which are noted for heavily shaded areas, known as chiaroscuro. The early masters were restricted in the colours they could use, as blue pigment (lapis lazuli) was costly to produce, which is why early paintings appear subdued. In other cases, bright pigments dulled with time.

Furthermore, the precursor to oil colours was egg tempera, which is essentially ground pigment mixed with egg yolk. Mixing colours was almost impossible, as each colour had to be blended separately before applying onto the panel. This meant many of pigments were necessary for painting.

Modern Oil Colours

Thankfully, times have changed and oil colour manufacturing processes means that these restrictions have been taken away. The artist may use any colour desired and mix the colours on the palette for the painting. In this respect, less oil pigments are necessary.

Some artists will strive to emulate the old masters, having lots of earth colours within the palette. However, such a practice may not be suitable for vibrant oil paintings.

Colours that Cause a Dull Painting

Many oil painting sets contain unnecessary oil pigments, particularly earth colours, which is why I purchase the tubes separately. Unless I wish to add bulk to paint or mixing neutrals, I have found the following earth colours lie dormant within my painting kit and many cause dull colour mixes:

Raw sienna, raw umber, yellow ochre (overrated in my view), brown ochre, sepia and Vandyke brown.

Other unnecessary oil colours I feel are cadmium orange, flesh tint, Paynes grey, Davy’s grey, sap green, olive green, lamp black, cadmium orange and Naples yellow.

Redundant Oil Pigments

These colours however, may prove invaluable for a watercolour or pastel kit as the nature of these mediums mean that colours behave differently to oils. In oil pigment terms, fewer colours are needed.

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