The Joy of Painting in Oil
I remember the first time I smelled turpentine and oil paint. I was probably three. It’s one of my first memories. My father, Jim Logan was a house painter, his company, Logan for Painting, was the oldest painting company in the state of Maine. So I kind of have the love of oil paint and painting in my DNA.
Dad’s smell was intoxicating to me. His soft flannel shirts, with his sleeves rolled up, splatters of paint in his hair and on his dark, tanned skin, had the aroma of oil paint saturated in his pores. My Father used to play color matching games with me using his color books from Benjamin Moore and have me try to paint the color myself. Color was part of our sharing and a special vocabulary between us.
So, when I first encountered the medium of oil painting in the Arts Department at the University of Maine, I had deep connections with paternal love and familiarity.
My arts education was back in the time of “ Do whatever you want” and learning how to paint was not as important and being free and liberal in what you painted. So, I struggled with learning how to control it as a medium, got frustrated and turned to oil pastel, which I did for at least 15 years out of college. I did paint in oils but not with commitment, lacking the formal education of the medium that I needed.
Years past, I taught art, raised children and had some shows, opened art stores, galleries, etc. but it hasn’t been until recent years that I have become infatuated with painting in oil and had the good education that I so needed. I could always draw but learning how to paint, especially in oils is it’s own category.
I had a great teacher and mentor, artist- Ron Frontin, who answered many questions and brought many more. Ron’s approach was to begin with black and white, monochromatic studies of bricks and simple shapes. To learn the basics of moving the paint and brush work before adding the complexity of color. Then we would continue in the “brick yard” with simple color studies of bricks in various light.
The palette of colors that he suggest is basically a warm and cool of each color, 5 or so neutrals, some quinacridones and phthalo’s for synthetic color, and good amounts of whites, and constructed around as a rainbow. His idea is to get to know your colors, place them always in the same place so you go to that with motor memory. His arrangement is piled high with years of colors, stretching rainbow piles about his big, artist palette. Ron, is a colorist, his work embedded with layers of woven colors and is stunning. I am very lucky to have him as a teacher and friend.
I use a variety of paint. Windsor Newton, artist grade, mostly. I sometimes look on Ebay for a lot sale. It is often a great way of buying the 150 ml. tubes. I have found that using artist grade, rather than student grade is worth paying the price difference, as the student grade paints are slick with more oil/ pigment ratio and the artist grade containing more pigment, which means sometimes I do use a medium to loosen the paint a bit. I also prefer to paint on Belgian Linen. It is pricey but I find that the quality of the detail I can paint on it and it is so much more satisfying. I also like to gesso or acrylic medium a piece of Stonehenge Drawing heavy drawing paper and then paint with oils on it. It feels great. I then get the sheets hot pressed to a piece of gator board, and varnish it and it makes it frame ready.
The use of brushes, the cleaning and care of brushes is something that I can also thank my Father for. He used to show me how to clean his brushes everyday and leave them conditioned and in top condition for the next day’s work. I like using Jack Richeson Linseed Brush Cleaner for my brushes. I clean at the end of every session and have had brushes for years. I like to paint with filberts, chinese bristle in 4’s, 6’s, 8’s and then sables. I do use larger brushes but tend to keep a smaller one on hand for painting throughout.
I only used turpentine to clean between colors. I hardly ever dilute my paint with it, other than my first layer of imprimatura painting which is the thin, first layer of drawing, composing on the canvas. The idea of painting thick over thin is important to remember as the paint will crack if it is painted to thin over a thick layer.
I hope that something you read might inspire you to paint today. I do it with joy as often as possible.