In the fall of 2013, on a whim, I signed up for an oil painting class through Johnson County, KS. Class was once per week for six weeks. The teacher was a former Hallmark Cards artist, Jean.
I was a bit apprehensive before the first class, but had purchased all of the supplies from Creative Coldsnow and was ready to start. The list of supplies included Gamblin oil paints – white, yellow, red, blue and alizarin (sort of a rust color); Winton brushes – #1, #2, #4 and #8; palette paper; paper towels; and a solvent, Gamblin Gamsol, for thinning the oil paints and for studio and brush cleanup.
At the first class, I realized that I didn’t have something to paint on – canvas, or hardboard. Jean had a few spare hardboards that she distributed to us novices that didn’t think about bringing something to paint on – duh!
Jean suggested that we use hardboard that you can buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s and have it cut into smaller pieces. The boards need to be “gesso-ed” which means coated with a thin white acrylic paint (gesso) to prep the surface for painting, making the surface slightly textured and ready to accept paint.
Here’s how clueless I was – I bought a 2′ x 4′ sheet of plywood (not the hardwood that I should have bought) and had it cut into 10″ x 12″ pieces. After completing a few 10″ x 12″ paintings, I found out that the standard size was 9″ x 12″ (oops!) – so I had a hard time finding frames for all of those 10″ x 12″ paintings that I was so proud of.
So, after I ran through the plywood, I bought hardboard and had it cut into bigger standard sizes, 11″ x 14″ and 12″ x 16″ so that I could find frames. Eventually, I discovered canvas and have been using it exclusively since 2015.
Another thing that I discovered was black paint! For the first few years, I would mix colors to produce a mostly “black” color; but using Gamblin Ivory Black has been so much easier and it looks better!
Ok, so back to the first class. There were about 12 students and we each had an easel and stool next to a table. We placed our palette paper on the table and squeezed out paint onto the paper in a semi-circle; starting with white on the far right, followed by yellow, red, blue and rust (when I finally discovered black (and gray), I added gray next to the white and black next to the rust). I’ve used that palette format ever since!
Jean taught us to apply a background paint to the canvas (or hardboard) before you start a painting and rub it in with a paper towel. That provides a color other than the white canvas to peek through the brush strokes that do not completely cover the canvas – gives the painting a sort of glow. Great idea!
Jean was also all about shapes and shadows:
Shapes: she would sketch out the subject matter with paint and eyeball the shapes around a grid that she would create on the canvas. Then, as she said, once the shapes were there, it was just a matter of paint-by-numbers! I have since become more of a technician when it comes to sketching the shapes – my latest paintings have included sketching with a pencil and ruler – then painting-by-numbers.
Shadows: she would remind us to remember where the light source was in our painting and then paint the shadows that were expected from that source.
The class was a lot of fun because I learned a lot of basics about oil painting and was able to see how talented students would create their art!
“When you incorporate art into your life . . . that depth feeds your mind and your soul.”