Oil Painting For Dummies book cover

Oil Painting For Dummies

By: Anita Marie Giddings and Sherry Stone Clifton Published: 02-05-2008

Nobody ever said that oil painting was easy. But it gets much easier and a lot more fun when you follow a step-by-step approach that starts you off on the right foot, helps you build your skills one at a time, and gives you plenty of exercises to develop your craft. That’s what you’ll find in Oil Painting For Dummies.

Completely free of arty jargon, this full-color guide has all the hands-on instruction you need to master the basics. You’ll see how to plan a painting, build an image in layers, mix colors, and create stunning compositions. You’ll also find everything you need to know about oil paints, solvents, and pigments; brushes, palettes, and painting surfaces; and how to keep costs down at the art supply store. Discover how to:

  • Choose the right supplies
  • Set up your studio and care for your equipment
  • Handle your materials safely
  • Develop your design and composition skills
  • Make practice sketches and studies
  • Use broken stroke, dry brush, glazing, scraffito and other brush strokes
  • Try out different compositions
  • Mix any color you want
  • Simplify tricky still-life subjects
  • Paint landscapes and common objects out doors
  • Paint portraits and the human form

Complete with handy color chart, basic materials list, and a very useful viewing square, Oil Painting For Dummies is the fun and easy way to discover your inner artist!

Articles From Oil Painting For Dummies

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10 results
Oil Painting For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-24-2022

When you're ready to start your oil painting project, be sure to gather and organize all of the necessary supplies. If you're trying to decide on colors or want to mix your own colors, refer to the color wheel for help. Making and using a viewfinder will help you stay focused when painting a still life. And as with most things, a little maintenance love goes a long way: Your brushes will last longer if you clean and maintain them properly.

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The Basics of Oil Paints

Article / Updated 11-11-2021

Oil paint developed in the early 15th century in northern Europe. Until that time, artists primarily used tempera, an egg-yolk-based paint. Artists "discovered" oil paints when they began adding linseed oil to the egg tempera to make the colors transparent. This discovery was a great leap forward for artists. The linseed oil allowed for a buildup of transparent layers of paint to create subtle and glowing colors. Oil paint has been the epitome of painting ever since. Today, the paint you purchase in the store is a blend of pigment (the material that gives paint its color) and binder (which "glues" the pigment to the support). In the case of oil paint, the binder is linseed oil. When you buy a tube of paint, the proportion of pigment to binder, the quality of the pigments used, and the way these two substances are mixed together determine the quality of the paint. You have the benefit of centuries of experimentation at your disposal. You have so many grades, colors, and types of paint to pick from, and almost all are top-quality paints. In years past, artists were subject to unstable paints that changed color over time, as well as some very toxic pigments! The popularity of oil painting and the good work of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) have provided you with the assurance that your paints are tested and safe. Some toxic colors are still available. They have unique qualities that can't be perfectly substituted with safer materials. Artists who use materials such as lead white (or flake white) and Naples yellow (or antimony yellow) must be aware of the dangers of the materials and take precautions. You have no reason to expose yourself to toxic materials to pursue oil painting. Oil paint is safe and easy to work with if you always look for the ASTM seal on the tubes of paint that you purchase and if you handle the paint in the appropriate manner. The ASTM D 4236 seal assures you that the product is properly labeled for health hazards. You can also take precautions as you work. (And no matter what you see van Gogh do in a movie, don't eat your paint!) Here are some precautions to take as you work with oil paints: Don't eat anything while you're painting. Don't drink anything while you're painting. Don't smoke while you're painting. Use adequate ventilation. Never sand an oil painting; the dust particles from the pigments are particularly dangerous. Don't paint with your fingers. The first three activities in this list may seem harmless to you, but they all increase the chances of paint accidentally getting into your mouth.

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Exploring Glazing in Oil Paintings

Article / Updated 11-11-2021

One of the advantages of painting in oil is that you can work in layers of color. The big overall term for this technique is glazing, in which you can see two distinct colors at the same time. In the following sections, you can explore some interesting properties of oil paint. Because oil painting owes a lot of its knowledge to the Renaissance artists, you get to discover some fancy Italian painting terms as well. Bringing out the undertones: Imprimatura Imprimatura refers to starting with a colored surface instead of a white ground. Use it to establish the undertones. To achieve imprimatura with a pre-made canvas, stain it with a fast-drying coat of paint. You can leave a uniform field of color or wipe some color off in a pattern for your initial drawing of your image. Allow the paint to dry just a little bit, and then take a rag or a clean, dry paintbrush and wipe away some of the paint to establish the light areas of your image. Let it dry completely before continuing with the painting. Scumbling and sgraffito Scumbling is a thin or transparent layer of paint that's rubbed or scraped off. Start with an area of your painting that's dry and apply a thin, wet layer of oil paint. Then rub or scrape off enough so that only a residue is left behind. This technique works well with opaque colors, especially a light color over a dark color. Sgraffito is similar to scumbling, but you scratch off the paint to make definite marks, lines, or textures. Trying the dry brush technique Dry brush is the application of a stiff, dried paint with a dry brush on a dry surface. The effect is small specks of paint that stand up on the surface. Use a light touch and a stiff, dry brush as you drag the brush over the painting. Hold the brush at a shallow angle in relation to the canvas. The paint sticks only to the parts of the painting that are prominent. A rough-textured surface is more effective than a smooth canvas, and it produces more specks. This technique works best when applied with a slightly hard brush over a textured surface. Adding texture with impasto Impasto is painting with thick paint to add texture to an image. You can apply impasto with a painting knife or with brushes. Use the paint right out of the tube or make it heavier and stiffer by adding purchased impasto mediums to the paint. You can also dry the oil paint before application by first mixing the approximate color that you want to use and then leaving the paint to sit until it becomes firmer. After an hour or two, transfer the paint to your palette and apply it with a brush or a knife to the canvas. Impasto painting sticks up above the surface and adds dimension to the painting. It creates an expressive and fragmented dramatic quality in the work.

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Four Painters You Can Learn From

Article / Updated 11-11-2021

You already know famous painters like Leonardo da Vinci, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Claude Monet; well, here are four well-known artists that you may not be so familiar with. Look them all up and don't pass over any just because you don't like to paint the same subject matter. Be like a sponge and soak up what they can teach you. Rene Magritte (1898–1967) Belgian artist Rene Magritte (ma-GREET) was a Surrealist like Salvador Dalí. Dalí painted eerie landscapes with melting clocks. On the other hand, Magritte combined unrelated objects and ideas in creative, unusual ways. Locomotives emerge from living room fireplaces; cloned men in bowler hats seem to rain from the sky. He created mysterious paintings that seem like dream images. Magritte's paintings are imaginative and innovative. He used color masterfully to make solid, realistic forms and establish moods that range from fun and lighthearted to dark and sinister. Looking at how he combined images in creative ways can help you boost your own creative abilities. Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) Mary Cassatt (ca-SAHT) was an American painter associated with the French Impressionists. Because she was female, she didn't have the same freedoms to move about as her male colleagues did, so she painted scenes of home life. Her paintings are peopled with members of her family going about their daily routines. She's especially known for the tender manner in which she painted children. When you look at her work, pay particular attention to her colors. Look at the overall color composition. Also look at the colors she used in light and shadowed areas of flesh tones or in the folds of fabrics. Jan Vermeer (1632–1675) Jan Vermeer (ver-MEER) lived and worked in the same era as his more-famous colleague, Rembrandt van Rijn. Dutch painters of that time specialized in painting specific kinds of images, called genres. Vermeer specialized in domestic scenes, but he painted a couple of beautiful landscapes as well. Vermeer is interesting because of the patterns of light and dark in his paintings and his use of color to create mood. The patterns in his paintings are so strong that you could reduce many of his paintings to just pattern and still have beautiful, abstract artworks. Wolf Kahn (b. 1927) Wolf Kahn is a German-born American who paints landscapes that straddle the line between realism and abstraction. They look like landscapes, but they emphasize fields of color rather than details. He studied under Hans Hoffman, whose ideas about color have guided many contemporary artists. The colors in Kahn's paintings relate to the natural colors in the environment, but they're much stronger than the colors you see when you actually look at the environment. For example, subtle violet shadows become strikingly electric under his hand. When you look at Kahn's work, examine the shape and color choices he made. His shapes are similar to those you might make if you were working from general to specific but stopped before you developed the specifics. He keeps his colors fresh and immediate without overworking or muting them too much.

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Creating Flesh Tones for Oil Painting

Article / Updated 11-11-2021

Because human flesh runs the color gamut from light to dark and pale to brilliant, recreating flesh tones for your oil paintings can be one of the most difficult things to do. Many recipes for flesh tones exist, but here are the basics you need to know. Human skin is made up of reds, yellows, and blues — the primary colors. When you mix the primary colors together in the right proportions, you get a rich, natural brown. Depending on the darkness of the skin, you may also use titanium white to bring out the contours of the face and the highlights on the skin. So, now the only issue is which of the reds, yellows, and blues to use: Yellows: Yellow ochre is a wonderful old color that's been used as an art pigment since the beginning of human history. You can also use raw umber or burnt umber for dark skin. Reds: Cadmium red light is perfect for a florid complexion, and alizarin crimson works well for dark skin tones. Examine the reds that you see in the lips; try to determine whether you see orange-reds or red-violets and then experiment! Blues: Ultramarine blue is a warm blue that works well to dull the brilliance of the red and yellow. When you mix in the blue, the result is a natural-looking skin color. Titanium white: This is the perfect white to use. The old masters used lead white, but you should avoid it because of its toxicity. For lighter skin types, you can start by adding small amounts of cadmium red light to yellow ochre until you have a bright orange color. Check the orange against the skin tone you're painting and modify it if it needs to be more red or yellow. Add white until you have a color similar to what you see on the inside of the arm or the lower portion of the cheek. Your mixture will be close to what you want, but the color will be extremely bright, like stage makeup. Add just a touch of ultramarine blue until you have something that looks more natural. For darker skin tones, start the same way, checking your orange against the skin tone that you're painting to see whether it leans toward red or yellow. Then, rather than adding white at this point, start adding ultramarine blue until you have a color near the value of the skin tone that you're looking for. Finally, add white to lighten the color and make it look more natural. You can also experiment with using raw umber and burnt umber in your mixtures. The main mistake that people make when working with darker skin tones is relying solely on white to lighten the color. White may make the color too dull and ashen to look natural for many people. Keep a stock of your orange set aside to brighten the color if it becomes too dull as you lighten it.

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Choosing Brushes for Oil Painting

Article / Updated 05-18-2021

The best brushes for beginning oil painters are probably china bristle brushes, which are made from natural pig hair. They're tough and durable enough to stand up to the oil paint and still clean up nicely, and they make a strong mark on the canvas. You'll also see sable brushes. They're softer and more delicate and very expensive, and they require more care. Sables are great for blending, glazing, and making soft, less-defined marks. You can also find synthetic-bristle brushes that work very well, but make sure that they're made for oil paints. Technology has greatly improved the quality and affordability of brushes. You can now find a wide variety of synthetic-bristle brushes that work for oil paints and provide years of service at a good price. Don't let low cost rule the choices you make. You can find good, inexpensive brushes — but don't get the bargain multi-pack brushes that you may find in stores. The hairs will warp in all directions or fall out and become a permanent part of your painting. The two characteristics you notice in any brush are shape and size. The different shapes allow to you load paint onto the brush and apply the paint in specific ways. Choose the size of the brush according to the size of your painting. Selecting brush shapes Here's a list of the brush shapes that will be most useful to you: Flat: This brush has a clean, straight edge for applying color evenly to an area. Bright: A bright is similar to a flat, but it has shorter bristles and makes a distinct calligraphic mark. Round: You generally use this brush for drawing and any type of line. Filbert: Filberts are interesting almond-shaped brushes that make an oval-ish mark; they look like the lovechild of a round and a flat brush. You can also find other types of brushes that are used for specific purposes. For example, fan brushes are used for blending and textures, and long liner brushes are used for lettering. Experiment with the brushes to find the sizes and shapes that suit your working methods. Choosing the right brush size Brushes are sized by numbers based on the width of the brush at the ferrule, the metal sleeve that holds the bristles in place. The size of the brush is related to the size of your painting surface. That means that a brush that's 2 inches wide is designed for a canvas that's at least 2 or 3 feet in either direction. For a 14-x-18-inch canvas, sizes #3 to #6 are best. A 6-x-9-inch canvas requires smaller brushes, and a large canvas of 3 x 4 feet or more calls for very large brushes. The way you apply paint, your preferred size of brush, and the shape of the brush are very much individual choices. Begin with a #2 round and three or four other brushes in other shapes in sizes #4 through #8. These brushes will get you started, and after several paintings, you'll find that you prefer a particular shape. Then go out and get more!

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Using the Color Wheel for Oil Painting

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Keep this wheel handy when you’re working on your oil painting to remind you which colors mix to make other colors and which hues are complementary. Mix the two colors on either side of the color you want to make that color. To make tints, you make pure versions of basic hues and then add white to them. You make shades by adding black or complementary hues to the pure hues. To those shade mixtures, you add white to make tones. As you add white, black, and complementary colors to your pure hues, you change their values and their intensities in very specific ways Complementary hues are directly across from each other on the color wheel. For example, the complement to orange is blue. Notice on the color wheel how the values and intensities change from ring to ring. The color wheel includes: The pure hues: Located on the outer ring of the wheel, are the brightest, most intense forms of a hue. Their values can run form very light, like the yellow, to very dark, like the blue and blue-violet. The shades: Found on the second ring these are always duller and darker than the pure hues. but seem brighter to other colors. Shades are similar to the colors of autumn leaves. Tones: Found on the third ring, they’re the most versatile of colors with a wide range of values and intensities. Tones can range in value from dark to light and intensities can range from bright to dull. Most colors used in your palette will likely be tones. Tints: The inner ring of the color wheel, tints are always lighter in value than pure hues. They tend to be brighter and look like spring. The formula for them is pure hue plus white.

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Making and Using a Viewfinder for Oil Painting

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Once your oil painting work area is prepared and you’ve selected an area of your still life to paint, a viewfinder is a useful tool for composing a strong picture. A viewfinder crops out the areas of your still life that you’re not going to paint and keeps you focused on what you want to paint. Use this figure as a template for making your own viewfinder. Don’t forget to cut out the interior opening (or the viewfinder wouldn’t offer much of a view). (The circle represents the position for a hole punch so you can store the viewfinder in your work journal or hanging from your easel.) Here’s how to use the viewfinder: Hold the viewfinder with your free hand. Focus on an interesting section of your still life with the viewfinder. Look through the viewfinder and draw the shapes in the same position and the same size as you see them. The viewfinder should be proportionate to the canvas in height and width and keep the viewfinder distance from your eyes the same while laying in your drawing.

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Oil Painting Supplies

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Before you begin an oil painting project, make sure you have all the necessary supplies and get organized to avoid disruptions. Use this list as a guide for assembling the most useful oil painting materials: Oil Paints (in 37 ml Tubes) Cadmium Yellow Light (hue) Cadmium Red Light (hue) Alizarin Crimson Ultramarine Blue Mars Black Titanium White Yellow Ochre Cerulean Blue (hue) Other Necessary Supplies and Equipment Gamsol or Turpenoid, 16 oz. can Linseed oil Canvas panel or stretched canvas, sized for specific project Three small to medium glass jars with lids Rags and paper towels Palette knife (metal, not plastic) Palette (glass or disposable paper palette with tear-off sheets) Four to five bristle brushes, 1⁄4 inch to 3⁄4 inch Tackle box or container to carry all this stuff

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Caring for Your Oil Painting Brushes

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

When you’re ready to call it a day learn how to properly clean your oil painting brushes so they stay in good shape and can be used over and over: Use a paper towel to wipe off any paint solids from your brushes. Using a jar of solvent, swish your brushes around and tap off the excess solvent on the outside edge of the jar. Never leave your brushes standing in the jar of solvent. Put a small amount of liquid soap in your hand and move the brushes around in the soap, cleaning and rinsing until the suds are whiteThoroughly rinse the brushes, wipe off the excess water, and then let them air dry completely until you use them again. Store the brushes so the bristles are not bent. You can roll them in a canvas sleeve or towel to keep the bristles in shape.

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