Painting process used in two recent paintings

It’s been a productive couple of weeks since I last posted. I’ve completed four paintings and made progress in a self-portrait I’ve been working on. My self-portrait is taking considerably time to complete than my normal paintings. I’m using a slightly different painting process than what I usually do.

In this post I show the techniques I use to complete my paintings.

Natalie Colleen Gates

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Recent Paintings and my Painting Process

 

Original Oil Painting: "Bamboo Cafe in a Summer Evening Storm" Oil on Canvas, 18" x 24"
“Bamboo Cafe in a Summer Evening Storm” Oil on Canvas, 18″ x 24″

It’s been a productive couple of weeks since I last posted. I’ve completed four paintings and made progress in a self-portrait I’ve been working on. My self-portrait is taking considerably time to complete than my normal paintings. I’m using a slightly different painting process than what I usually do.

Today I’m going to spend a little time showing the techniques that I use to complete my paintings.

Self Portrait (and painting process)

Original Oil Painting: "Self Portrait" Oil on Panel, 20" x 16"
“Self Portrait” Oil on Panel, 20″ x 16″

The self-portrait is an interesting piece for me. Typically I work quickly, usually finishing a painting in one to three sessions depending on the size, but recently I’ve been experimenting with building my paintings slowly.

It’s a more traditional technique; similar to how the old masters painted. It is definitely more time-consuming and more precise, but in some ways it’s an easier painting process than the one I usually use.

 

Original Oil Painting: "Three Fancy Ladies" Oil on Panel, 16" x 20"
“Three Fancy Ladies” Oil on Panel, 16″ x 20″

Why I’m using this technique

The advantage of using this technique is that colors are much more vivid, and skin has a slightly translucent quality similar to real skin. This is the same technique I used for “Three Fancy Ladies.”

I’ve been able to achieve the translucent quality skin has by using zinc white—as opposed to titanium white—but zinc white is a cool white and it resulted in a rather washed out appearance.

*This is also probably a result of the technique I used. In this painting I mixed my flesh tones on my palette and applied them in a thick layer. In order to match my—ahem—pale skin I had to use a lot of white. Mixing white with any color will dull its intensity.

Titanium white isn’t quite so cool, but it is also not translucent.

Gouache Layer

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It starts with a layer of black and white gouache. Gouache is basically high quality tempera paint. You know the paint you used in Elementary School art class? That stuff except it’s thicker, and it comes in tubes. Gouache is an opaque watercolor. It makes a great first layer because it dries very quickly and lays flat.

Painting Process: gouache underlpainting.
Gouache black and white underpainting.

It seems to me that the more precise I get this underpainting the easier the rest of the painting comes together.

Flake White

Gamblin: Flake White Replacement
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Flake white (Actually Flake White Replacement) is more translucent than titanium white, also it is a warm white which is perfect; skin tones tend to be warm.

The problem now, is that there’s a risk of making my skin tones too warm, which would make me look sunburnt.

The solution is to paint a layer of green on top of my black and white underpainting.

Lizard Person Layer!

Painting Process: Terra Vert Underpainting
Terre Vert* Underpainting

Since green and red are complements this layer of green will work to tone down the skin tone layers I place on top.

*As a side note: I knew a portrait artist in college who used zinc white but painted on a red ground.

This style takes an awful lot of patience as you have to wait for each layer to dry before working on the next layer.

After the Terre Vert (the traditional green) layer I start to add my flesh tones.

Flesh Tones—Finally

Painting Process: First layer using flesh tones

I used a combination of Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow Medium*. Cadmium is not translucent however mixed with Alizarin Crimson and oil medium it didn’t cause me any problems.

With each layer I use flake white after I’ve painted on my color to add highlights. You’ll notice with each layer of paint the painting becomes slightly more detailed and slightly more realistic.

Original Oil Painting: "Self Portrait" Oil on Panel, 20" x 16"
“Self Portrait” Oil on Panel, 20″ x 16″

 

Other Paintings

My other paintings are also built with layers of paint, however they come together much more quickly as I rarely wait for layers to dry.

Chihuly Sculpture and Water Lillies at the VMFA (and painting process)

Original Oil Painting: "Chihuly Statue and Water Lilies at the VMFA" Oil on Canvas, 30" x 24"
“Chihuly Statue and Water Lilies at the VMFA” Oil on Canvas, 30″ x 24″

Blocking in Color

I start by blocking in colors. This first layer is not really very precise. In this layer I’m just looking to loosely block in the colors that I see. A good analogy would be looking through a very unfocused camera lens. As I work I’ll add details, and clarity.

Painting Process: Blocking in colors
Blocking in Colors

Frequently, areas of my first painting will be painted in the complimentary color to the color that will eventually be put down. For example, an earthy red tone where I later intend to put a field of grass.

Refining Colors and Adding Detail

Once I’ve filled my canvas I start to refine the colors and add in details. You’ll notice below that the reddish brown area on the right side of this painting has been covered with green.

Painting Process: second layer refining colors
Second layer refining colors.

There really isn’t any need to let the painting dry before I work on this layer. I apply paint thickly enough that it will usually cover what ever layer I have underneath. Also, I’ve found that a little bit of blending is usually a good thing, and if an area starts to become too muddy I can always wipe it with a cloth and start over.

My palette

My normal palette consists of four to five different blues, two greens, two yellows, two to three reds, and titanium white. Occasionally I’ll use Magenta and Dioxozine Purple.

According to basic color theory violet can be mixd with a combination of blue and red, but in practice it is very difficult to get a really vivid purple. Similarly I’ve found that the greens I mix from primary colors rarely have the intensity that I desire.

Adding More details

The rest of my process consists of adding details and refining colors further.

Painting Process: adding details
Adding Details

I work large to small. For example. I’ll paint a window as a solid block of color and later go in and add framing.

More details

Painting process: more details
More details

In this layer you’ll notice that I started to refine the area in the lower right hand of the canvas that will become water lilies.

Even More details

Painting Process: even more details
And more details

Started refining the reeds in the water.

And Finally

Original Oil Painting: "Chihuly Statue and Water Lilies at the VMFA" Oil on Canvas, 30" x 24"
“Chihuly Statue and Water Lilies at the VMFA” Oil on Canvas, 30″ x 24″

Swimmers on Belle Isle

Original Oil Painting: "Swimmers on Belle Isle" Oil On Canvas, 24" x 18"
“Swimmers on Belle Isle” Oil On Canvas, 24″ x 18″

Shields Market in a Summer Shower as Seen from inside Joe’s Inn

Original Oil Painting: "Shields Market in a Summer Shower as seen from inside Joe's Inn" Oil on Canvas, 30" x 24"
“Shields Market in a Summer Shower as seen from inside Joe’s Inn” Oil on Canvas, 30″ x 24″

Bamboo Cafe in a Summer Evening Storm

Original Oil Painting: "Bamboo Cafe in a Summer Evening Storm" Oil on Canvas, 18" x 24"
“Bamboo Cafe in a Summer Evening Storm” Oil on Canvas, 18″ x 24″
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