I’ve been aspiring to try my hand at oil painting for at least a year now, and lockdown has enabled me to finally find the time to learn about the process, purchase the materials I need, and have a crack at it! I’m so glad I did, I really loved every minute of painting this picture.
My brother Wyeth recently began a professional oil painting course, and he helped motivate me to get started when he was looking into it last year. Then I just started watching a lot of tutorial videos and conversations with oil painters. One that really inspired me was this conversation between realism painter Andrew Tischler and caricature artist Michael Fluharty. I went on to watch Fluharty’s portrait painting course at Schoolism.com and a whole bunch of Tischler’s tutorial videos on YouTube. I’m really grateful that there are so many amazing painters putting out quick tutorials for free nowadays.
So I finally got round to commandeering our incoming baby’s bedroom as my temporary oil painting studio, and got to work. I’m working on a wooden artist panel that I covered in three layers of gesso, and then lightly sanded and stained with a wash of burnt sienna, turpentine and Liquin Original medium. The first day was devoted to the blocking in layer and took about six or seven hours. At this stage its just about covering the entire panel in paint using roughly the right colours. I was really encouraged after this first day. It had literally been years since I’d had to worry about mixing my own paint since I’d been working digitally for so long, but it felt very natural and even by the end of day one you can stand back and see that you’re on the right track.
Day two I began the modelling stage, working my way from the bottom up, defining the rippling form of the leaves and trying to catch the way that their dark surfaces subtly reflect the blue of the sky in certain places. The Liquin Original medium increases the drying speed of the oil paints, so the underlying block in layer is pretty much set, if still tacky in places. This first attempt at modelling was when it really became clear to me how much easier it was to work in oil paint than it is in acrylics. The ability to blend your brush strokes so easily, and the vivid richness of the colours started to get me really excited about the possibilities for future projects. I also worked on this for about 8 or 9 hours straight, with a short break for lunch, and it flew by, whereas working digitally can sometimes feel like a bit of a grind. This painting seemed to draw my attention into it, rather than me feeling like I’m having to purposefully focus.
Day three I came back and finished the rest of the modelling layer, putting in another 7 or 8 hours. Here I was thinking more about depth, trying to bring certain leaves and rose petals more into the foreground by adding more detail, and leaving others lighter and less finely rendered to help them recede into the background. It was when I started the second pass on the rose that I really started to appreciate how much oil painting is like tattooing, and felt really encouraged that my skills from one medium seemed to be carrying over to another. I’ve tattooed a lot of roses in my ten years as a tattoo artist, and I was surprised to be able to work in almost exactly the same way that I would on skin but in oil paint, but without the added challenges of stretching the skin, wiping away excess ink, trying not to damage the skin and cause unnecessary bleeding, or even just having your time limited by your client’s pain threshold. Of course the wooden panel isn’t much of a conversational partner, but at least it holds still.
On the fourth and final day I began the detail layer. First I repainted the background, and then meticulously softened the edges of all the leaves and petals towards the background to make them appear out of focus. After a few attempts I found that the easiest way to do this was actually using a small, square brush and just dry brushing over the edge of the leaf with the background colour. I also tried to create more of a textured surface for the background, also incorporating some of the pinks from the rose into the yellow ochre and earth green blends, but finally decided that my visible, textured brush strokes were too distracting and brought the background forward, so I blended it all together into a softer finish with a large square brush. The rest of the work was done with a tiny round brush, and was mainly putting in small highlights on the leaves, and then adding in the veiny, delicate folds on the flower petals. Just as I had softened the edges of the background leaves, here I was also trying to really sharpen the edges of the petals in the foreground.
All in all this took around 30 hours over 4 days. I never expected to take such great joy in painting a rose bush, since I’ve always been so drawn to surreal, imaginative fantasy and sci fi art, but we recently moved out of Manchester and into the countryside in Todmorden and being back in nature has been really inspiring, so I plan to paint some epic landscapes soon. The whole vibe of the moment is spring time, and new beginnings; we just bought our first house, I’ll hopefully be moving to a new art studio in the next few months, our first baby is due in October, and I’m just starting out with a whole new approach to art, so this rose bush with its little blossom peeking out from behind really captures a lot about where I’m at right now. Pretty sure I’m hooked!