This is a little (5 x 7″) oil painting I did “en plein air”, or translation… “while standing in the snowy field freezing my fingers off”! What I wanted to do was study the colors in oil and not get too caught up in the finished look of a painting. It was a good exercise in study of color for me, it would not have been as successful if I did it from a photograph.
My oil field kit, closed.
I rigged up a little field kit for oil painting, just for taking out on hikes. Here’s a picture of the kit closed, it’s a plastic case you can buy at an office supply department. I’ve only used it this once but hope to work with it more and ‘tweek’ it. The main objective was to keep it as light as possible.
Here it is open to show you the metal pencil case and use of 'sticky tack'.
This shows the kit open with two areas of gessoed canvas ready to use. Notice the four dots of ‘sticky tack’ on the left, they’ll hold the lid of the metal pencil case when I want to paint, using the lid for mixing. I used tape to make loops to hold brushes; just put tape sticky sides together to make it ‘not’ sticky in the middle.
I created a loop of tape to slide my medium cup into.
I used the tape in the same way here, keeping it sticky on the ends but not in the middle, I created a loop that my medium cup would slot onto. At the angle I would hold the kit, the cup would not come off! It was then held from behind with a dab of ‘sticky tack’.
Here is my field kit in action!
I held the homemade kit in one hand, using my arm for support, and painted with my right hand. It’s all in my reach and I brought no tubes of paint. Notice my fingers are holding one brush at the ready and the other ‘dirty’ or ‘in use’ brushes are kept on the left of the hinge, clean ones to the right in the loop.
Of course Ginger was along for the adventure and waits patiently to continue with our walk!
I put a squeeze of my colors in a metal pencil case and put some in a pill box from the pharmacy before I left the house. The pill box was an experiment and I wasn’t really satisfied with it, it gets too messy on the lids and doesn’t keep the paint really airtight. Since then I’ve moved to using contact lens cases that screw shut…we’ll see how the paint lasts in them as they’re all back in England and I won’t see them until spring!
This shows you my view of the field as I worked.
The above picture shows you the view I had as I worked, it also illustrates how dull the colors look on a photograph and how I perceived the colors with my eyes to be a bit more vivid. This is why working in the field is so important whether you are oil painting, using watercolors, pastels…etc.
When I came back home, I stuck the little study up on a wood post in my living room using ‘Loctite” sticky tack. I hung there for ages and I enjoyed looking at it whenever I walked by. It wasn’t until I found a great frame and laid it on top that it popped out and said “HEY…I’m a good little painting!” hahah…yes sometimes my paintings talk to me…don’t yours? It also told me to stop ignoring it and get it framed so it could have a proper place on the wall! Yes…yes, the voice of guilt, this painting actually was done last year (12/31/10) and since I traveled to England it got sort of forgotten!
I always advise students when they are starting out painting with watercolors or oils, to take each color they have and do color studies. If you keep them small, they are great (especially for beginners) to carry with you while you work to check what color’s would be good choices to use. It’s a little different for oils than watercolors as you want to add white to make tints of a color. Sometimes when you mix a color and it’s dark, you can tell a lot about it by adding a bit of white to some of it, it helps you ‘read’ the color better.
Here’s a few definitions for you:
“Tint” is a color with white added.
“Shade” is a color with black added.
“Chroma” is the brightness or dullness of a color.
“Value” is the lightness or darkness of a color.
“Hue” is the color name, as in red, blue, yellow etc.
Now though I’ve been oil painting for years, I still find it helpful, when I’m away from it for a time, to do color studies to warm up and re-familiarize myself with the colors and their properties. (I get involved with my watercolors and set the oils aside sometimes for too long!) It’s also advisable to do when you purchase new colors.
Color tint chart
The first thing you’ll want to do is make color tints with white. Take some canvas paper and try to plan out how you’ll group your colors together, probably blues, greens, reds, yellows, browns and black. This one is on a scrap piece of canvas paper; I started then added a few I forgot, so it’s not perfectly arranged. I created this one when I was in England and didn’t have many of my paints around.
Just use your brush to put a bit of one color down in a rectangle shape then pick up some white and add it to the color leaving some alone at the end. Wipe your brush off and pick up more white and dab it on, mixing it in leaving the area you just did alone, basically your adding more white progressively to lighten it. OR you can mix it on your palette using a palette knife and adding white to a bit of color, then take a dab of that new tint and start a ‘new’ mix and add more white to it; you’ll get progressively whiter mixes.
Clean your brush well between colors, when switching to a new color group (reds to greens etc.) use a new brush.
New colors and tints of them.
I added a few new ones to the back last night, I also ALWAYS label the color and an initial if you want, of the brand name.
Now that you have color tints, lay them aside to dry for several days and get some more canvas paper to play with color mixes. Here are pictures of studies I did at two different times.
A sample of color mixing practice
This one is a little helter skelter as I didn’t plan out too much! I abbreviated the color names so I could understand what they were. I tried typical mixes, taking one color and adding different kinds of yellows to it, or blues etc. My main goal was to eliminate colors in my field kit that were similar or could be gotten easily by mixing. I always try to keep my backpack as light as I can.
Playing with my reds and blues
Here I took two different reds, Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Red, which I added Ultramarine Blue and then Cobalt Blue to, in varying amounts, then added white to really show the differences in them.
Playing with Greens and Yellows
I did the same with three greens, Cad. Green, Prussian Green and Sap Green, to which I added Cad. Yellow and Yellow Ochre.
A variety of color mixes being tested
On this scrap piece of canvas paper I was mixing Sap Green with blues and also Raw Sienna; and excited to play around with my Green Umber, a darker, duller green but lovely! I also tested the Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna with some blues, because the sienna’s are a orangy color, they yeild various greys with the blues.
A closeup of the green and blue mixes, so subtle.
Well get your oils out and get busy! Sometimes playing around with color mixes is a great thing to do in between paintings, when you don’t have time or inclination (inspiration) to work on a piece.
(This post is done AFTER returning home to NY…gosh I miss my Northumberland!)
Come along with me as I do a small oil painting in a very gorgeous location in the Coquetdale (River Coquet Valley) area of Northumberland, England. I think of all the areas I’ve traveled around in Northumberland, the Coquetdale is one of the most beautiful and always catches me by surprise when we drive along it’s long winding path through the valley. It has quite a few meanders before reaching the North Sea which makes it that much more picturesque to an artist, it’s curves reflected in the sun as a shimmering snake in a green velvet valley.
Painting while looking over the River Coquet
There I am! We hiked up this great high hill and entered the Bronze Age Celtic ring fort at the top. It’s surrounded by a deep ditch, as was the practice for all ring forts, though I guess a few thousand years ago it would have been deeper and very impressive. After exploring the fort and ditch I settled down inside a ditch with my back to the VERY brisk wind! While I painted I had my hood up to keep the wind off and you notice I’m wearing fingerless gloves, a must for outdoor painting!
For my set up, my favorite wooden field easel and a backpack with attached stool. This is a popular one found in many art supply catalogs but I altered it (as usual!), I took the backrest off by hammering on it until it came away. With the backrest off, I can now sit on it in any direction I like, sometimes the bars of the seat hurt the back of my legs and I feel less attachments equals less weight. I’m put a camping inflatable pillow on the seat, makes it a bit better. All in all, I don’t usually sit when painting outdoors, I find it tiresome to my back; usually I stand up and feel freer with my painting and you can move around to keep warm.
My View Over Coquetdale
Here’s a view of what I saw, you may wonder how my masonite board is staying up so magically on the easel? The wonders of Blue Sticky Tack never cease!! I use it all the time, I have some little dots of it on the easel to hold small boards like this, just where I want them. With a small board, I don’t like the wood of the easel’s clamp to get in the way.
stage 1-View Over Coquetdale
When in the field I usually don’t pencil sketch the scene on the canvas, but use either Burnt Umber thinned with mineral spirits, or pick a color in the landscape and sketch directly with the brush. Just pay attention as you divide up your canvas with the horizon line placement and other important elements. If you get it wrong in the beginning, it’ll always be wrong! I go for blocking in big shapes in the ‘nearest’ color to it’s overall color.
When I started this one I blocked in some really bright green, later I decided I should have tried to match the color better to begin with. I just wanted to get it going, so I painted into the wet oil to adjust the color. You’ll notice my river color is quite light, just laying it in to mark it, I’ll adjust the color later. I wanted to have a wet base to paint into. I painted the sky with an all over tone of blue with the gradation of dark to light, later I’ll add the clouds. I also started to establish where the dark areas are, the tree lines.
Stage 2- View Over Coquetdale
Now I’m set up back at home and continue working from my laptop where I have photos of the scene. I’m sorry I missed a few stages with the photos as I got involved with the painting! I studied where the background mountains should go and toned down blueish green for them. I continued to study where the tree lines were and payed close attention to the light and dark areas of the hills and tree clumps. Don’t put too much detail in the distant trees, just let them describe the curve of the hills as their lines criss cross and disappear. I also started to tuck darks under the tree lines and to the shadow side of them. You begin to notice the tree line on the left front is different than the ones on the right. They are different types of trees so the form and colors are different.
Stage 3- View Over Coquetdale
Picking out a little more detail of the hills in the mid-ground, I add some lights to define the hills and more detail to the tree lines. I lightly defined the little dirt road in the front left and a ‘hint’ of a fence, but kept it soft and also added more light to the left field. I put a small path that crossed the field in the middle but then later decided it was just too much of a distraction and took it out. I also added some lights to the trees on the right, you can see they are more pointy than the other trees as they are pines.
Stage 4- View Over Coquetdale
Above you can see I’ve added some darker (but still bright) blues to the river, taking care which direction I stroked it on. I added some yellow to the fields on the left to warm it up and cut down on the lightness. I added more bushes and detail to the front right side by the bank.
Completed "View over Coquetdale" 6x8" oil
The completed painting,6 x 8″ in oil, click it to view it larger in my Gallery of Landscapes. Here you can see I’ve added just a little more detail on the bank and sheep (whitish dots!) on the hills. One thing you notice when driving about the countryside of England are sheep just about everywhere! No hill would be complete without some of these white dots. Of course I didn’t just make blobs but made sure they had a bit of a long shape and slightly darker underneath, it’s just to ‘hint’ at a sheep, not to paint one in full detail at such a distance.
To view prints, note cards and more with this painting, click the links below to see them in my shop! (You can personalize any of them with your own text.)
I painted this 4″ x 6″ oil painting on an early November day, sunny, cold and gorgeous. I have updated this post with photos of the day out in the field, please see below.
The great thing about painting or drawing outside, en plein air is what you observe…hear, see, feel, smell. This day it was the visit of the bees and teeny tiny spiders. It sounds creepy but when you’re used to treking around in nature you learn to just observe the critters for what they are and do, and not get ‘creeped out’!
Burnt Umber sketch with bee
So as a wasp kept landing on my painting and easel, I figured it was interesting. I took pictures of him of course.This shows the first stage of my painting, I used a ‘wipe off’ method here; you paint Burnt Umber on the masonite board and brush it out so it’s a medium value. Then you ‘wipe off’ with a rag and your finger or a brush, the areas that are lighter. It’s like sketching with value, it’s very freeing as you won’t try to catch details you just look for the big shapes and wipe them out. If you don’t like it you brush it back on, easy! Then you lay in darks and bring out shadow shapes with more burnt umber. I have my board attached to a piece of cardboard that has clear tape covering it. There is another small canvas ready to go next to it and they are both attached temporarily with ‘sticky tack’ or ‘blue tack’.
spider on easel
Then every time I started to paint, a tiny spider would appear hanging from the brim of my baseball cap, I’d lift him off with his thread of silk and put him in the grass, then another would appear on my easel. My guess was they were ‘sailing’ on their threads down from the beautiful oak tree.
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