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Learn to Draw > Oil painting


If all the principles of watercolor painting are turned upside down we get those of oil painting. This is most plainly seen in a technique developed since the beginning of so-called "plein-air" painting: work in the open air and not in a studio. It is called alia prima and implies an application of paint without underpainting or glazes, enabling the artist to finish his picture in one sitting, directly from the object.

Factory-made oil paints in tubes are essential for this; they do away with the need for preparing the paints and allow the painter to complete his work directly in the open air instead of working in oils in the studio from a watercolor or gouache sketch. One can safely say that without factory production of paints in tubes the development of plein-air and impressionist painting would have been impossible.

The method of working is so simple that any tyro can cope with the technique once he knows something of the fundamental principles involved in the use of the materials. If he is lucky enough to come by first class paints and a semi-serviceable painting surface (there are no first-class surfaces to be bought!) then his oil painting may last for a long time in a satisfactory state of preservation.



There is no need to spend time in lengthy instructions; you can have a try straight away:

Buy painting board (card) prepared with a half chalk ground, some flat bristle brushes, one each of sizes 2,3,4,7,9, and some oil paints. (these will, in fact, be resin oil colors, but today they are simply termed oil colors in the trade). The choice of colors can be the same as those recommended on p. 261 for the first attempts in watercolors. Added to these you now need white pigment-either titanium white or lead and zinc white. A ready-made assortment of paints always contains a few undesirable colors.

Flat brushes Nos. 4 and 16, with short, medium, and long bristlesYou will also need some turpentine (genuine spirits of turpentine) and white spirit (turps substitute) for cleaning the brushes. If you have only one palette you will need a palette knife to scrape off unwanted remains of paint and make space for new ones-an old table or kitchen knife will do the job. Finally, plenty of old rags for squeezing out the brushes and cleaning the palette knife must lie ready at hand.

Showing still more clearly how oil is the opposite of water painting, the painting surface must not be white. You can choose any dull color which fits in with the color scheme you have in mind. The most suitable is either a pervasive shadow tone or, if you are going to work with glazes, its complementary color.

The coloring of the ground can be done in several ways-for instance, by painting in ordinary water or glue paint (sold as "artists' tempera color"). If you find this rather fluid paint too risky, because it may soften and smear the priming, you can adopt one of three courses:

1. Mix dry powder color to a liquid with mastic varnish in the proportion of 1:2 and thin again with spirit of turpentine.

2. Dilute oil paint with turpentine until it is runny.

3. Rub over the white surface with pastel, wipe in circular motion with a thick wad of rags, pressing quite hard, and then fix with solution of shellac until it will not smear - no harder - as though it were a chalk drawing.

This method of coloring the painting surface is the best under the given conditions; it contains no dangerous binder, the coat of shellac prevents it from being too absorbent, and the subsequent painting cannot dissolve the priming. It also has the advantage of being dry in a few moments after application. With a priming of oil color you will have to wait at least a day before beginning to paint. Priming with glue paint takes an hour or two to dry, or longer unless it is exposed to heat or the sun. Furthermore, a coating of glue paint leaves the surface more absorbent than shellac fixative or resin oil, and the painting method to be described requires a surface as little absorbent as possible.

Next: Beginning an Oil painting

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