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The three rules of painting in oils

First, in one sense, there are no rules. Then again, there are dozens. Just like in nature, there are natural laws such as don’t go poking a bear if you can’t run fast, don’t get your shirt off if you don’t want attention and don’t eat Jerusalem Artichokes before a social engagement.

Oil paint is the most powerful and flexible of painting mediums and like gravity, another natural law, it is your friend. Gravity keeps us on the ground which is an excellent thing but step off a tall building and you will curse it. Oil paint also has it’s ways, follow the rules (or natural laws, if you prefer) and it will be by your side like a faithful hound, break them and it will turn on you like a Pitbull from the North Peckham Estate.

Dark to light

If you start your painting with darker colours you’ll find that the lighter colours sit on top of them quite happily. The reverse seems not to be true, but do try it out for yourself. We usually find that the last things we tend to paint are the highlights. If you paint high key it’s tricky to lower the tone whereas if your painting is a bit subdued it’s easy to bring in the light.

Thick over thin

Keep the paint thin at the beginning. If you are using turps or Zest-it to thin, then when you paint over previous layers, make sure that you use less or no turps, otherwise the preceding layer will lift. Thin layers of earth colours set up quickly so that if you are careful you can paint over them in one session. As you continue painting you can build up the paint to achieve depth and intensity. Painting into thick impasto is a nasty business.

Transparent to opaque

Transparent colours tend to fall back into the picture space whereas opaque colours come forward. In the same way that dark colours painted on top of a light colour corrupt easily, transparent over opaque requires a very light touch. Common transparent colours include, Ultramarine, Alizarin, the Phthalos and the umbers. You’ll notice that lots of artists will do their preliminaries using raw or burnt umber. They are dark and transparent and when painted thinly do not interfere too much with what goes on top.

If you are an alla prima painter, that is you tend to complete your painting in one session like the Impressionists, you don’t have to worry about the technicalities of glazing and layering paint. Artists colourmen worry about painters using their products in the wrong way, leading to the paint film cracking and so labour the point that each successive layer should be thicker and or contain more medium than the last one, the Lean to Fat rule. If you just put the right colour in the right place in one go you’ll be fine.

Some other rules which you can choose to ignore, plenty do:

Don’t muddle the paint – if you place your paint with a single stroke it is less likely to mix and muddy with the colours around it. Besides, your marks are beautiful, why try and mask them or blend them out of existence?

Use the biggest brush you can – little brushes lead to fiddliness whilst big brushes cover the ground quickly and where there are visible brush marks they are proportionate to the scale of the thing being described.

Keep your brushes clean, tiny shifts in colour verity can make or break a painting, with a clean brush the colour you mix is the colour you place.

Don’t use mediums unless you have to. Paint straight out of the tube is designed to have ideal handling properties, there are times when you may wish to slacken it off with a little solvent but use mediums sparingly and with caution, I’ve had some rather good paintings weeping beads of linseed oil because I was over lavish at the time of painting.

Use the best quality paint you can afford, at least then you’ll know whose fault it is if the colours die on the canvas….

Do you Fancy getting naked on telly?

I don’t have a television and programmes like the one above don’t persuade me to change my mind. The production company are looking for some people who don’t mind being dumped stark naked (except for a stout pair of shoes by the look of it) in the middle of the country and having to get back home by hook or by crook. If you’d like to be one of the naked people you can apply here

Clare Haward – Still Life, Winter

Panter and Hall are having a show of work by NEAC members – including some you’ll know

30th March-14th April

Amongst the paintings you’ll find some fine work by Clare Haward and Benjamin Hope who you may have come across in our studio at some point. The standard of painting at the NEAC is first class, worth going along to to see how it’s done if nothing else. Website is here

George Butler in Ukraine

George Butler Outside a Kyiv supermarket

Whilst most of us are showing our support for the plucky Ukrainians by splashing blue and yellow around our social media, George Butler thought he might pop over to Kiev for a spot of reportage artistry and support them by showing the human side of their plight. Brave fellow indeed. You can see his drawings here and read all about his experiences.