I have been playing off and on with oils for a number of years - probably averaging about 2-3 weeks per year. There are things I have always liked about working in oils ( over my beloved acrylics) and have wanted to become more confident with them - but most of my artists friends (and my wife) and galleries have discouraged me - saying that I should stick with acrylics as using them my work was much more inventive and interesting and a personal style was beginning to show. Its true, with acrylics I am playful and inventive; with oils I was tight. That was the challenge.
So last October I decided that I would shift my focus from mostly acrylics to mostly oils for six months - to see what would happen.
I started with a plein air workshop with Calvin Liang
in Glacier National park Montana and finished a few weeks ago with the workshop with Carol Marine. I should clarify that I use water soluble oils - used with appropriate mediums and brushes they are comparable to regular oils. In fact, by the end of my 5 days I had Calvin convinced that there was no difference in application and the practicality of travelling with them made them worth considering. More about how I work with ws oils in a future post.
I admire the work and style of many oil painters. I am particularly drawn to those that work in the heavy impasto application and those that lay down spots of colour with minimal blending ( as I tend to work in acrylics). So for six months I have been trying different applications ( thick vs thin, start thin and finish thick, etc) different surfaces ( course linen, canvas, smooth masonite, Terraskin), different brushes (synthetics, nature figres, filberts, flats and brights), different mediums (water with linseed, sometimes adding Stand Oil, sometimes adding quick dry alkyd) a mix of under-paintings ( acrylic vs oil) and playing playing playing.
I made a whole bunch of lousy paintings. I made some that were so far off the edge for me that I almost like them. I gradually felt trends developing - choosing systems from the list above that just seemed to suite me and my personality. By that I mean I am not a detail person and have a short attention span. I am not interested in mucking about day after day with the same painting. I like to work direct over indirect. I would have made a lousy Old Master.
What have I learned? I am enjoying the oils. I am starting to loosen up. I like working thick and juicy and am starting to develop some control - previously I would get thick too early and needed rubber boots. When in trouble I easily scrape off and start again - in part of in whole.
I really like working in spots of colour - one after the next varying hue or just value and temperature. Working spots of colour is improving my colour mixing and my eye for colour in both oils and acrylics.
I like working on linen. I like a warm coloured underpainting. I like synthetic brushes - brights and flats ( have recently fallen in love with Ivorys from Rosemary and Co
I am comfortable now in that I don't need to have one approach or style or even one medium -and be damned to those that say I do. Each painting is an experiment and needs to stand on its own. Now I generally start thin and work towards thicker - finishing at completely thin stage or with spots of thick paint or completely thick using a palette knife.
Big thing is that I am not afraid of oils any more - and that is when the real learning normally begins.
Painting at top is my son and daughter-in-law done THICK - mostly palette knife. Below is a portrait done in HEAVY THICK and JUICY - mostly palette knife. At first it was a throw away - but I kind of liked it as it represented a step in learning/ risk taking. Below that is a plein air done totally with palette knife - my first.
The rest are a mix of thick and thin, all trying to apply spots of colour with minimal blending. Some plein air -some studio. You should see that they are all quite different in their approach and style. My guess is that with continued work and more confidence there will be less variation in the outcomes - maybe that's good or maybe not.
So, for better or worse, that's my six months with oils. Completed over 200 oils in all. Most junkers ( maybe they all are) - but the junkers are the ones we learn from.
Got three acrylic workshops ahead of me now so its back to acrylics to rebuild my comfort zone.
Click on photos to enlarge and see degree of texture for each.