Another Oily Baby Step

I’m continuing to slip and slide down the oil painting rabbit hole, trying to figure out how to make gesso’d panels, whether using a fabric base is a good idea, and a bunch of other stuff.  I’m spending way too much time on YouTube trying to learn how to thin oil paint, mix oil paint, etc., etc., etc.

But I’ve also been applying paint, mostly to little avail.  Switching from contour drawing to form creation with a heavy, opaque paint requires a shift in mindset that is a struggle, at least for me.

This experiment was to see if I could paint a somewhat complex object, like a squash by defining its shapes without line.  I added the knife and cup without expecting to truly paint them and so once I got the squash painted I left this one unfinished.  Right now I’m learning more from the beginnings of paintings than from spending hours trying to get details “just right” as I did with my peach painting.  So far this is lots of fun and that’s my real goal.


What’s Up With Larry?

My last few posts haven’t generated a lot of comments on the blog itself but there’s been a flurry of msgs via email.  All but one have been from kind and gentle artists and most from people I’ve known, though never met, via the internet.

Most were of the nature of “if you’re having fun, that’s great” type, but others asked questions.  A couple wanted to know how oil painting could fit into urban sketching while others asked why I was leaving urban sketching.  Maybe those are all the same question (grin).

Anyways, I thought I’d clarify things a bit.  I am NOT leaving urban sketching and still expect to sketch on the streets to the extent that I can (more later).  All I’m doing right now is trying to learn some aspects of art that can’t be learned while concentrating on contours of objects.  Yes, you can do this with watercolors, but I felt I needed to get away from my pens AND watercolors because the two are currently tied together in my mind.  And no, I’m not selling my pens and won’t be ditching my watercolors anytime soon.  I love both too much.

As for whether oil painting can be done as an urban sketch, my interest in oils comes from an urban sketcher, Alvin Mark, who does watercolors, draws people with a fude pen, and does oil paintings, often during the same session.  He’s in the Singapore and I’ve followed him for years.

I’ve been playing with the idea of doing small, quick paintings too, either with gouache or oils, experimenting with the idea of replicating what I would normally do with watercolors but doing the paintings direct with paint.  Here’s one, based upon a watercolor done by Whee Teck Ong.   I did this one by drawing, with paint, a single line along the back of the two sheep to position them and then I jumped in with oils to complete the sketch in less than 10 minutes.  Not a milestone but this, and others, has convinced me that with red, yellow, blue, burnt sienna and white I can sketch on small panels once I gain better control over the medium.

I hope this clears things up a bit.  Oh…as for me continuing to be an “urban sketcher,” I’ve never completely understood what that meant as the definition has slipped and slided along, evolving to include pretty much anything done outdoors.  I remember watching as Marc Taro Holmes produced a two-panel 11×14 masterpiece while standing on the terrace in old Quebec.  As we walked I asked him what the difference was between plein air painting and urban sketching.  His response?  “I guess it’s Plein Air if you have a stop to pee.”  He nailed it.  These distinctions are mostly meaningless and questions about them even more so.

But on a more serious note, my operation was wildly successful but I am 73 years old.  I used to walk at least 45 minutes, each way, to do my urban sketching.  I’m getting to a stage in my life where that just isn’t going to happen every day as it once did.  So, I suppose I WILL be doing less urban sketching.  Maybe I’ll paint roses and onions more.  In any case, I’ll be putting pointy and fuzzy sticks to paper as often as I can.

One last thing.  I mentioned there was an exception to the nice bunch of emails I got.  Can you imagine someone feeling the need to call another person nasty names for “abandoning” urban sketching and for me suggesting that you can’t learn everything while drawing in pen?  Neither could I.. until I received that email.  Our society has gone mad.  I wonder if it will ever regain its sanity.

Oil Painting Is Just Peachy

The thing I remember most about my dad was the expressions he used to describe his universe.  When something was good it would often be “just peachy.”  Oil painting may 0r may not be an ideal medium but, for me, it’s just peachy.

Like any new medium, however, the early stages are filled with “how do you do…” about it.  For me, that’s a lot of fun but I can see how it might be frustrating for some.  I can draw stuff but everything I’m doing these days is about getting the medium to work so what I’m painting doesn’t really matter much.  I’m also facing a lot of stuff of nature that I haven’t had to think much about before as an urban sketcher.

Texture is one of those things and I was flipping through a book I own called “A Garden Eden,” which is a Taschen compilation of a bunch of botanical drawings and watercolor paintings.  It’s cover-to-cover eye candy.  Anyways, I came across a watercolor of a peach and I was taken by how fuzzy the peach looked.  I’m always surprised by what botanical artist can accomplish and I started thinking about how to do that with oil paint, or any paint for that matter.

In spite of being a complete beginner with oils, I decided to try it.  I drew the peach and its associated branch and leaves onto a 9×12 piece of MDF that I’d primed with gesso.  I was off and running.  The painting?  That was more like being at the 20 mile point of a marathon only rather than hitting a metabolic “wall”, this wall was because I had no idea how to make oil paint fuzzy (grin).

I worked, and worked, trying everything I could.  Mostly what I learned was that patience and stubbornness can go a long way to overcome a lack of skill.  I worked on that peach for at least two hours, but I think it actually looks fuzzy, though not as smooth as I’d like.  Then I had to paint all those leaves.  “How do you do…” Because oil paint dries slowly, that was ok and this is why I have to say that oil paint is “just peachy.”

Out Of My Comfort Zone And Beyond

I’m not a fan of the view that getting “outside your comfort zone” holds some sort of magic dust that will improve an artist’s abilities, but it is an expression that is heard so often that I might as well run with it.  I’m out of my comfort zone; I’m out on a limb; I’m standing on a precipice.

This shows me trying to calculate where my next step will take me.  Maybe I should be consulting Wiley Coyote.  Before I explain, I need to provide a bit of back story.

Just prior to the pandemic I decided to give gouache a try.  This is mostly because I hold James Gurney in high regard and hang on his every word.  AND, I found that I liked the medium very much, once I learned that treating it like watercolor was a really bad idea (grin).  I also found that it didn’t play well in a pen and ink world because it’s hard to stay inside the lines with it, so you always end up with partially covered lines that, using the technical term, just looks icky.  So, I put my gouache in a box and there they sat for most of the pandemic.

But, as I’ve written recently, I’ve set aside my fountain pens, turned to pencil and I’m trying to shun “lines” in my art, at least for a while.  It occurred to me that maybe it was time to try some gouache again because opaque paints sort of force you away from relying upon lines (see above).

And so I went looking for my box of gouache and I found two things.  Here I have to confess that I’m an art materials junky and my stash is considerable.  What I found were tubes of Winsor & Newton water-mixable oil paints.  I bought those many years ago, decided I was too lazy to deal with the “complicated” (explanation for the quotes to come later) nature of oils and I never even tried them.

This, however, reminded me of watching YouTube videos about water-mixable videos, specifically those of Charlie Hunter who is a fine art guy with a good sense of humor. He was using Cobra water-mixable paints, which are high-end artist grade (same formula as Rembrandt oils for those in the know) and I remembered ordering a set of those paints.

Well, one thing led to another and I’m now trying to figure out how to paint with water-mixable oils.  The notion of using white paint rather than water to lighten my colors is very foreign and I haven’t a clue what consistency to mix the paints.  But I’m also learning that the mythos that suggests that oil painting is complicated truly is a myth and I’m having a lot of fun.

Here’s my first oil painting ever.  It’s supposed to be a flying hot pepper just in case you can’t identify it.  All I was trying to do was see if I could get some 3-dimensionality from oils.  It’s painted on a 6×8 MDF panel.

My first “real” painting (9×12) was this  still life of a couple of my biscuits and a cup of coffee.  I won’t be hanging in the Louvre anytime soon but I absolutely love the working time of oils and the fact that you can work light to dark and dark to light.

Well, I doubt anyone read this far so I’d better stop.  More “real soon.”