Water Mixable Oil Paint vs Traditional Oil Paint

For Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

You like the idea of trying oil paints, but the practicalities of cleaning up your brushes with solvents is out of the question.

It could be you paint in a small room without good ventilation, or you’ve had to stop using traditional oils due to skin sensitivities or asthma.

So what’s the alternative? Acrylics? Watercolour? or go old school with some Egg tempera?

How about real oil paint that can be mixed with water or natural drying oils and cleaned with soap and water? Long working time, soft blends, buttery consistency, no solvents and super easy cleanup.

Mmm, sounds too good to be true, so what’s the catch?…

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How to Paint a Simple Still Life using Oil Paints


Morning class!

If you’ve ever wanted to have a go with oils but felt the mysterious mix of Linseed Oil and Turpentine put you off, then this simple still life study is for you.

It uses just one medium mix the whole way through and I demonstrate the similarities between the techniques we’ve been using on previous acrylic paintings tutorials.

Traditional oil painting medium recipes can be complicated but it’s not essential to master it all so I’ve kept it simple so you can get painting.

Switching between acrylics and oil paint can be a smooth transition, the main difference is how you dilute the pigments.

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Turner Adventures in Colour Exhibition

Turner’s inspiration for a new @willkempartschool painting ideas collection

Growing up in Kent, a trip to Margate beach brings back memories of avoiding jellyfish, penny slot machines and overdosing on ice-cream.

As kids, we thought it was a pretty good beach.

Mainly because it meant the freedom of the Summer holidays but also because of the huge expanse of sand we could run about on.

Turner thought it was a pretty good place too, becoming a regular visitor throughout his lifetime.

For him, it was the unique quality of light in East Kent, with impressive skies and turbulent sea that inspired his works.

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How to Glaze an Oil Portrait Course – New Course!

oil paint glaze recipe

How to Glaze an Oil Portrait for Beginners Course

When I was trying to find my way in portraiture, I’d spend hours studying Old Master paintings thinking “Wow, how did they do that?

I was flummoxed.

Not only did the skin look realistic, but they’d managed to capture those bluish grey tones that lie just beneath the skin’s surface. In my naivety, I just couldn’t work out how you could paint one colour next to another colour yet create such a smoky transition.

I’d repetitively ask Vanessa, “When will I be able to paint the melt of the cheek you see on the Mona Lisa?

Unhelpfully she used to say “Isn’t it just old?

Inwardly I’d sigh.

And then I discovered oil glazing…

Continue ReadingHow to Glaze an Oil Portrait Course – New Course!

How a Few Small Changes Influenced my Portrait Painting Style


New Year, New View?

There was a small sign that hung below an empty black space, it read ‘In Prestito‘.

On loan.

Last Summer I was back in Florence, Italy, to visit one of my favourite paintings that had enticed me to the city over 10 years ago.

The only problem was, when I got to the gallery, the painting wasn’t there.

It was at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and I had missed it.

The painting?

Caravaggio’s sleeping Cupid.

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Inside Rembrandt’s Studio


Earlier in the Summer, I took an impromptu trip to see ‘Late Rembrandt‘.

It was the first time that an exhibition had been solely dedicated to Rembrandt’s late works. Many of the most famous paintings that he produced in the last 15 years of his life had been brought together from museums and private collections across the globe.

This period is often the most celebrated due to Rembrandt’s development of a more gestural, impressionistic style and this was some 200 years before the popularity of the Impressionists.

He was out there!

I’d missed the exhibition when it was on show in London at the National Gallery but for the final leg of the tour it was going home to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Heavy dark shadows, hidden brooding eyes, thick scratchy textured marks, lots of Brown umbers and a dirty yellow varnish glow are all the things that excite me about Rembrandt’s self-portrait style.

With the allure of Nutella Waffles, the opportunity to visit Rembrandt’s Studio and the once in a lifetime chance of seeing so many Rembrandt’s up close together, how could I resist…

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How to Varnish an Oil Painting? 7 Questions for every Artist


An Introduction to Varnishing an Oil Painting

As we’ve discussed in 3 Reasons why artists varnish their work (and why some artists don’t) varnishing is primarily an aesthetic choice on the final finish of your painting.

Not only can it bring up the vibrancy and richness in your realist paintings, but it offers protection for the painted surface from atmospheric effects to make the surface easier to clean in the future.

No one technique for varnishing suits every situation — the texture of the paint surface, whether you want a matte or gloss finish, speed of completion etc.. all affect which varnish you choose.

There are different considerations to think about when you’re working with Oils in comparison to Acrylics, so here are some common questions to check before getting out the varnish brush…

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Oil Painting Terms – The Essential Guide for Beginners

oil painting terms glossary

Oil painting terms can be embarrassing.

I was standing at the front of a queue in a packed art shop in London. There were 15+ people behind me, and I felt more embarrassed than I could remember.

I had been researching new art materials and product releases, and I’d spotted something new out, and I was convinced the store stocked it.

After waiting for what seemed like days, I was at the end of the queue and overconfidently asked: “Umm…do you stock alkalid paint?”

It seemed like the shop suddenly fell silent…

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The 3 Key Secrets of Portrait Painting Success

The Art_of_Painting_Jan_Vermeer

The Art of Painting (detail),  Johannes Vermeer, 1666

You might think you need more time, or the perfect paint brand or a new brush.

When the weekend comes and you’ve finally managed to find some ‘you’ time, the blank canvas stares back at you and the finished portrait, you so desperately wanted to achieve, seems a world away.

Your motivation is high, your drawing’s good but the jump from pencil to paint has hit a wall.

Flicking through an art magazine or shopping for a new paint colour suddenly seems like an attractive idea.

You’ll start next week when you’ve got the exact colour you need.

But what if these actions are holding you back?

What if you forced yourself to try and achieve more with less, give yourself some constraints and your portrait painting could make giant leaps forward?…

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How to Paint a Portrait in Oils – Timelapse Video

How to paint a black & white portrait in Oils

This is a time-lapse video of a classical approach to a black & white grisaille portrait painting.

It accompanies a free series of 5 step by step, portrait tutorials.
Click here to read How to paint a portrait in Oil : Part 1

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oils – Timelapse Video

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 5 of 5

how to paint a tonal portrait with colour strings

How to paint a portrait series. This is part 5 of a 5 part series of tutorials for beginners making the transition from drawing to oil painting.

We look at how importance value and tone are in creating a realistic black and white portrait using classical oil painting techniques.

Here is a quick review of what we have covered so far if you’d like to join in…

Part 1 – Establishing the drawing, including the shadow line.

Part 5 – Finishing & Glazing

mixing damar varnish medium

The next medium to use is a simple mix of 1 part Dammar varnish: 1 part Linseed oil.

If you don’t have dammar varnish just add a bit more linseed oil to the previous mix. The varnish is fatter than the odourless mineral spirit but leaner than pure linseed oil.

Oil paint medium recipes

I have tried to keep the mediums in this demonstration as simple as possible because when I was first starting, I became obsessed with trying down track down the ‘medium of the old masters’ as I was convinced this would be the missing ingredient in my paintings.

It wasn’t.

I’ll go into more detail on the different recipes you can use in mediums for oils in a future post.

The greatest advancements in your own paintings, especially if you’re making the transition from drawing, will come from simple principles.

These aren’t glamorous, or shiny and new, but waiting for the ‘right’ brush, or the perfect medium will slow down your progress due to time and energy wasted searching for an answer rather than actually painting. Start simply with solid colour and flat tones and progress from there.

using skinned over oil p

Reusing Old Oil Paint

The first thing I do is put pressure onto the old blobs of paint on my palette, this bursts the paint skin and gives me access to the paint underneath. As I mentioned in the steps last week there are a variety of ways of keeping your oils fresh between painting sessions, and the paint can go slightly thicker using the method above, but as it’s at the final stage of the painting I’m happy to use it. Just use your own judgement if the mix feels okay.

At this stage of the painting, we are going to redefine some of the edges and check our drawing. Painting is a process of constant refinement and our fresh eyes are often our best judge.

how to paint a nose in oil paint

I then start to readdress some of the shapes using a round sable, as before when the paint goes on, it will feel like it sits on-top of the paint underneath rather than blending in, so I apply the paint knowing that I will be using a soft dry sable to blend and fuse the edges.

I work around all of the features redefining the shapes and subtly altering the tones.

how to paint a portrait in oils

I also add dark accents to the darkest points in the portrait, these can look a bit ‘stuck on’ but I will be softening them shortly.

glazing with oil paint

What is a Glaze?

A glaze is a method of altering the colour and tone of an underpainting by applying a thin translucent layer of paint. The best pigments for a clear glaze are the translucent pigments, as with all colours, the glaze will appear warmer when painted thinly, so classically painters like Vermeer used to start with a highly finished grisaille (a monochromeunderpainting) and then apply layers of colour in the form of glazes.

So, I then mix a thin consistency of paint using the blackest mix, to use as a glaze. This will be the most translucent as it contains none of the Titanium white (which is an opaque white)

If you were painting with the Flake white, you can make a more semi-opaque veil of colour to adjust areas in tone. This is called a ‘Velatura’ in Italian.

adding black accents
a black and white portrait

Focus in portraits

You have control of the viewers gaze, well a certain amount of control. We are always drawn towards eyes and contrasting colours. James Gurney has done some interesting eye tracking studies on some of his own paintings. Notice how the viewer focuses on the face.

For this painting, I keep the eyes sharper and more detailed and the lips and chin softer.

You then need to look to check the edges, are they too soft or too hard. I purposely leave the eyes and nose sharper in focus than the mouth.

adding ivory black to the shadows

Adding dark accents

Now I squeeze out some of the Ivory blacks and use this diluted with a tiny amount of medium to the very darkest areas of the portrait

painting high lights on the eye

Adding catchlights

With the fine sable round, I dot in highlights around the eye, this can really add a punch to the eye and make them stand out from the rest of the features.

raw umber and ivory black portrait

A Word of Warning…

This doesn’t just happen with one quick swift movement of the brush. As we get into more details of the face there is more room for mistakes and the drawing to go out. It’s amazing how a little change in movement or shape can change the sitter’s look, feel and emotion.

Sometimes you’ll be so close to finishing the painting, then go for one final brushstroke – only for it to go out and you are back to square 1, or so it feels.

This is where the Filbert sables become your best friends, they’re soft and you can subtlety blend edges and not make too drastic changes.

darkening down background for contrast

Darkening the background

 After looking at the portrait, I felt I could go darker onto the background. I quite like the Raw umber on its own but wanted to show you how much the background can affect your subject.

I use a thin mix of Raw umber and Ivory black and apply it to the background, much like the initial stage when we were just using the Raw umber. I use the number 4 Ivory Filbert to scrub the paint in, I don’t mind if the mix goes over the edge of the hair as it helps to blend it in and bring the face forward.

Notice how the lights suddenly look lighter due to the change in contrast we have created by adding a darker background to the portrait.

background before blending
finished black and white portrait

Reviewing the Process of Light and Shadow.

  •  The power of a single light source – The old masters used the effectiveness of a single light source to great effect. It is one of the best ways to create depth and form in your paintings, especially in portraits. You’ll find the more light you have on the face the harder it will be to create the illusion of depth.
  • Flat shadow area – These can be broadly split initially into two area, lights and darks. By simplifying the shadow line shape you can quickly establish a form. Just using simple, flat tones
  • Leaving the details for later – When you are first beginning you will notice areas of reflected light and details in the shadows. If you learn to resist painting these in, it will help so much in your progress as a painter. You can create a really powerful portrait really simply without having a photorealist finish.
  • Keeping your edges soft – I keep the edges soft and only sharpen the areas I want the viewer to focus on. This is a Classical technique to create the illusion of realism.
  • Work from Large forms to Small forms – It will be tempting to paint the eyes as soon as you begin, but getting the general shapes and modelling the form will pay dividends later in the painting. Adding the white highlights should be left until the end.
  • Glazing for subtlety –  When you first start using glazes they can be addictive and if you’re not careful, you can end up with the ‘Tom Jones’ effect ( see – How to choose a basic portrait palette for oils) so tread carefully and they can give some amazing results.

So now we have the finished painting, I could, of course, carry on refining with glazes to get a more realist finish.

However, as an impressionist starting point when working with Oils, I am happy to leave it at this stage and sometimes with paintings, it’s knowing when to stop that’s the hardest bit.

If you have any questions about painting a black and white portrait, let me know in the comments below. Students have been achieving some fantastic results, I’d love to hear how anybody else has got on.

If you want to learn about how to add colour glazes to a grisaille you might enjoy the colour portrait oil glazing video course.

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 5 of 5

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 4 of 5

black & white portrait painting techniques

How to paint a portrait series. This is part 4 of a 5 part series of tutorials for beginners making the transition from drawing to oil painting.

We look at how important value and tone are in creating a realistic black and white portrait using classical oil painting techniques.

Here is a quick review of what we have covered so far if you’d like to join in…

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 4 of 5

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 3 of 5

portraittutorial translucent oils

“When you come back to your painting you’ll notice how the oil has become translucent overnight and won’t have the same coverage that you first thought.”

How to paint a portrait series. This is part 3 of a 5 part series of tutorials for beginners making the transition from drawing to oil painting.

Here is a quick review of what we have covered so far if you’d like to join in…

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 3 of 5

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 1 of 5

portrait painting techniques

(I now have a 6+hr Oil Portrait Video Course that covers a distilled grisaille process and full-colour glazing demos for two portraits. You can watch a video intro on this page : Oil Portrait Glazing Course)

How to paint a black & white portrait in Oils

Have you been practising your portrait drawing for years, yet making the jump to oil portrait painting always seems to end in an underwhelming finish?

Or do you walk around portrait galleries in awe with the question, ‘How do they do that?’

Maybe you’re frustrated by your process and don’t know how to change it.

Portraits can seem like the toughest subject to crack, and your efforts can easily dishearten you. One wrong brushstroke can cause a subject to suddenly look ‘wrong’, panic sets in – your pencils get sharpened, charcoal out and you don’t come back to painting for a while.

But you don’t want to draw anymore, you want to paint.

So, where do you begin?

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 1 of 5