Liquid oil paint technique


Note the 'blobs' of paint

In a recent post I mentioned oil painting with washes of liquid paint as opposed to solid paint. The above painting was painted with washes of colour – loads of solvent and very little media. Its more like drawing with ink than traditional oil painting.

The cons: Colour is flat. The richness associated with oil paint is not there. The brush strokes are ‘blobs’ and not textured strokes. The picture is drawn with paint, which means your drawing ability must be ‘spot on’.
The pros: Fast painting. The application of the paint is in swift flooding strokes. The technique allows dark and light colours to be applied at all stages of the painting. Normally the shadows are painted first in transparent darks and the mid tones and highlights applied later. This is very much applied in Still Life.

I have a time lapse video of the above painting which I will post soon.


'Flat' colours


Scraperboard sketch

Kilmoroney House circa 1975

I am currently painting an oil painting which includes the above building, or what remains of the above building. The last 36 years has not been kind and very little now remains. The above sketch is a ‘Scraperboard’. This panel starts as black layer of dry Indian Ink on a white chalky layer. The picture is created by scraping off the black with a sharp point. The shades of grey and different textures are produced by a series of fine lines. Its a tedious and time consuming process and because you are working in reverse, black to white, it makes it all the more difficult.

Escapism – time lapse painting video

Evening glow, Wicklow hills

This painting was completed in 3 sessions. The first 2 lasting about 1 hour each and the final about half an hour. In the video I have indicated where the sessions stopped to allow the paint to dry.

The colours were, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, Cadmium Yellow, Chrome Green Light, Cobalt Blue and B&W.
The media: Liquin and ‘Stand Linseed Oil’. This is different Linseed Oil from the ‘standard’ oil. It is thicker in consistency and almost jelly-like in the paint mixes.

My next painting is of a scene I visited and sketched in 1975. The sketch was a ‘scraperboard’ and hopefully I will be able to dig out a copy of this and include it in the post. The scene includes the remains of a fantastic house which had survived from the mid 1700’s and because the lead on the roof was removed during WW2 (1939-1945, the price of lead ‘sky-rocketed’) the house began to crumble. In 1975 it was still an impressive ruin, but sadly it is now only a heap of rubble. The house was Kilmoroney House, near Athy, County Kildare.

Why use ‘Stand Linseed Oil’?

Evening glow, Wicklow hills

The medium used in this painting was ‘Stand Linseed Oil’. Why should one use ‘Stand Linseed Oil’ as opposed to standard Linseed Oil? For me, it was not that I wanted a thicker oily mix, but I needed to counteract the affect White Spirits has on the paint mix. This needs a little background information to explain what I mean. Recently I’ve heard artists complaining about headaches caused by the use of Turpentine. These, invariably are American artists. In Europe the use of Turpentine has been discouraged because of its toxicity for at least the last 30 years. There are several alternatives. White spirits is the most popular, but there is also ‘odourless’ solvents which are suitable for people allergic to ‘oil based’ materials. I use White Spirits to avoid the undesirable affects of the Turpentine fumes.

The ‘bulk’ of oil paint is part of its attraction unlike the thin staining quality of a paint like watercolour. When mixed with a medium like Linseed Oil this ‘bulk’ is retained. Turpentine also retains the ‘bulk’ when used as a solvent in the mix and helps to spread the paint mix over the surface. When White Spirits is used this ‘bulk’ collapses. The oil paint tends to behave like a wash as opposed to solid paint. This is favoured by some artists who like flat washes of colour. Stand Linseed Oil’s consistency reduces this ‘thinning’ of the oil paint and introduces a thixotropic quality to the mix which was needed to produce the rich heavy colours in this painting.

I have the time lapse video of the above painting almost ready to publish.

Evening glow, Wicklow hills

Evening glow, Wicklow hills

After ‘oiling out’ the previous work, the lost details in the shadows emerged. The painting was now a little dark and the highlights lacking sufficient ‘glow’ to justify the title. For the next stage I employed a technique called ‘glazing’. This is applying a flat layer of transparent paint over the underpainting. The mix I used was Burnt Umber and Chrome Green Light. Although the Burnt Umber is transparent the green was less so. The traditional approach is to use dark colours and allow the lighter dry underpainting to shine through. So in actual fact I was glazing and applying opaque lighter colours depending on what part of the scene I was working on. The 2 colours were not homogeneously mixed but sat side by side on the palette. Using the one large brush I picked up the Burnt Umber and added the green in varying amounts, mixing with the brush. The dark transparent colour does not have to be applied with precision on the highlights alone. The dark colour does allow the highlights shine through but any darker under-colour in the areas around the highlights are relatively unaffected.

The composition is a little odd. The normal approach is to place the focus of the scene ‘off-centre’ usually one third of the width of the picture from the edge. The rest of the composition then balances the scene. This composition is on a ‘knife edge’. Its like an unobliging real scene. If the picture was cut down the centre both halves would conform to the traditional rules of balance. You can decide to go past the man and his dog to the farmers discussing their livestock on the hill or move upstream to the cottages nestling in the trees. And yet its the same scene.

This world is imaginary. One bit prompted the next and so it grew. But the landscape must be credible and real enough to engage the viewer. It should have a familiarity, like a folk memory. I like creating these scenes – pure escapism.

Nearly there, as the sun sets

Evening glow, Wicklow hills

This painting turned into a sunset almost by accident. The scene is a collection of elements, like somewhere you come across while walking the dog. The details are hidden in the shadows leaving you guessing about what is in front of you. These shadows always cause problems when painting over several sessions. The darker colours dry flat and subtle differences between tones are lost. ‘Oiling out’ is the solution to the problem but the previous layers must be thoroughly dry or you will lift the paint. ‘Oiling out’, basically means rewetting the painting and I usually use Liquin applied lightly over the dull patches. At this stage the painting has a multitude of semi-dry patches which are featureless and I find I am tending to overpaint these already detailed areas. I will wait a few days, apply the Liquin, see what emerges from the shadows and maybe apply a few more details.

This painting, to date, has taken about 3 hours. I videoed the process and will have to edit it down before I apply ‘time lapse’ to reduce it further to a ‘non boring’ 10 minutes.

New tube blues

I am currently painting a larger than normal oil painting, 16×20 inch in fact. This means more than one painting session to complete the job. For a change I’m painting from imagination or memory of various scenes I’ve encountered recently. In other words, I am making it up as I go along. Starting with a sketch and progressing by painting in the sky and distant horizon. At this stage I leave the painting to dry for a day or two and continue to paint on top of the dry layers. In spite of reasonably warm weather the initial painting is still not dry. I used Liquin, as usual, and a small amount of Linseed Oil in the mix. So it should have dried by now – 3 days later. The problem was a ‘new tube’ of Cobalt Blue paint.

When the paint is formulated and put in tubes, in order to extend the ‘shelf life’ of the tube, a drying ‘retarder’ is put in the paint. When you open the tube for the first time you will notice a clear liquid emerging ahead of the paint. This liquid which has seeped from the paint in the body of the tube, will contain a quantity of the retarder and if it gets into your paint mixture will seriously extend the drying time, as it did with mine. As I usually paint from start to finish in the one session I don’t notice this slow drying, I just put the painting aside when finished and wait for it to dry.

This little omission on my part has seriously ‘retarded’ my painting progress. Couldn’t I start another painting while this one dries? Absolutely not. I find it difficult to start a new project while I’m still involved in the previous. Multi-tasking is not for me. I will mull over this in an agitated state until its done and move on to something different. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait for much longer.

Local art

Moone High Cross

Here is a little bit of local art which I find interesting for a number of reasons.  This piece of sculpture was created about 800ad. The photo is of the North face of the base of the Moone High Cross. This cross is within the ruins of an ancient monastic settlement close to where I live. In his guide book about the local High Crosses, Eoin de Bhaldraithe, writes about the artistic styles and development of techniques of a group of artists working in this area at that time. Sometimes we forget that the creators of works like these were very much the same as ourselves. This stone carving looks surprisingly modern and would not be out of place in any modern exhibition.

However, there is speculation that these ‘sculptures’ were, in fact, paintings. Apparently the figures were painted in a fashion similar to the illustrations in the books of the same era, e.g. The Book of Kells. You will notice that the edges of the figures have details but the inside areas are flat and ‘blank’ so the other details could be painted in. So what we see today are the remains of paintings, as all traces of paint would have weathered away over the last 1200 years.

Art works are subject to the ravages of time. Interestingly, unlike the above example its the substrate which deteriorates in old oil paintings and which has to be replaced during restoration. In the short term the greatest threat to oil paintings is dampness which can soften the water based glue size which is used to prepare the oil painting surface before priming. This will cause the paint to flake off and is difficult to repair. So store your masterpieces in a dry place and try not to have anything in contact with the surface which will be slightly ‘sticky’ for several years after the initial drying process.

Near Duckett’s Grove – time lapse painting

Near Duckett's Grove

An understanding of the ‘lie of the land’ before you start a ‘realist’ landscape painting is important. By ‘lie of the land’ I mean the hills and hollows in the fore and middle distance of the scene to be represented. If the surface is flat the rules of perspective can be applied without major problems. Whether you sit in front of the scene, or a photograph of the scene, and paint what you see, the same issues arise. Hills can look like hollows and vice versa, rivers appear to be flowing up hill etc. If you look at the initial construction lines in the accompanying video you see that I have drawn the 2 pathways as standard converging lines meeting on the horizon. The shape of the bridge was placed on top of this ‘generic’ path. The depression of the river bed (front left) was ‘hung’ on the same flat construction the bridge was placed on. It is much easier than trying the ‘hit and miss’ approach.

As you can see in other posts, I use the same approach in most landscapes. Almost like creating a grid according to the rules of perspective and putting the scene on top.

Near Duckett’s Grove

Near Duckett's Grove

Trying to achieve a light, bright and airy oil painting is always going to be troublesome. Oil painting is a solid medium which has as a ‘rule of thumb’ the instruction to paint from ‘dark to light’. What this usually refers to is painting the shadows first in transparent rich colours and finishing with mid-tones and finally the highlights. If the painting is produced over several sessions, each drying before the next is applied, the darker colours could be moderated and a bright painting will result. However, suppose you don’t want deep shadows, and you want to finish the painting in one session. What happens then?

I have a video of this painting from start to finish, which I will post in the next few days. It shows the process which resembles the creation of a tapestry, a multitude of colours interacting with each other. This is a long way from the image in the photograph I used as a reference. What I was hoping to achieve in this painting was a little of the romantic fantasy the creators of this garden had achieved 150 years ago.