ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to make an original oil painting. Follow the creative process from inspiration and technique to completion.

Updated on April 27, 2012

Buffalo - Oil on canvas 760mm x 610mm

This painting is for sale. AU$1500 unframed, free delivery Add $400 for frame. Contact jl2.71818 at gmail.com (Replace the word at with @)
This painting is for sale. AU$1500 unframed, free delivery Add $400 for frame. Contact jl2.71818 at gmail.com (Replace the word at with @) | Source

Inspiration

Obviously, the first step towards creating a new work of art is inspiration. This comes in many forms. In this case, as documented, inspiration exploded into my mind as I watched a T.V. program about wildlife. At one brief instant, an aerial-shot of a heard of cattle thundered across a dusty plain. It had a lot going for it. There was movement, atmosphere, pattern and most importantly it invoked emotion.

I paused the HD TV and stepped through frame by frame until that certain 'something' was oozing off the screen. I let it rest on the eye for some time and tried to imagine how I could depict this in paint.

You may have heard of 'artistic license'. This is often used in the context of an excuse to change something from the original if it's too hard or somehow inconvenient. But to me, 'artistic license' means 'The expectation to alter what is seen in order to improve the resulting composition and overal artistic result.'

So I set about studying what was, in effect, wrong about the image as it stood.

  • The pattern was great, but it was rather monotone which reduced the impact. The colours needed work.
  • Although it was certainly a herd of animals, the picture did not make it obvious what it was. I liked that, but felt it should be a little less challenging. I decided to create something that looked abstract from a distance, and then magically morphed into a herd of cattle as the viewer got closer. This means that it needs a strong composition that stands alone from detail when viewed at a distance while still being a representational work. In this way, it is like two paintings in one.
  • The subject was crying out for an impressionistic treatment, although I didn't want to go to the extreme that is seen in some of Turner's work.

Reference shot from an HD TV

Canvas preparation

There is a lot of heated debate in the art community about supports. (These are the things that you paint upon.) Sometimes wood is used, but it expands and contracts unevenly in the two directions. Sometimes it cracks or warps. Hardboard, metal, even newspaper are valid choices. But many people like to see a painting on canvas -- especially if it is an oil painting.

There are several grades of canvas. Some are fine-woven and smooth, and expensive. These are often chosen for accurate portraiture. Some people make their own stretchers and buy raw canvas. Purists will advocate the use of rabbit-skin glue, gesso and many layers. Then there are the mass-produced cotton-duck canvas-like supports that are easily available already on a stretcher.

I chose to use one of the mass produced, relatively cheap prepared mounts. But I never use them without further preparation. These are usually sprayed with a size to protect the canvas from the oils in the paint. If oil gets onto the support, over time it will rot it. So I lay down several protective layers as follows:

  • Find some good quality acrylic all-preparation primer/undercoat which is sold in paint and hardware stores. You can use this on naked wood as a primer and surface preparation for either oil or acrylic top coats.
  • Lightly sand the bumps off the canvas.
  • Remove all dust. ... Important
  • Stir the paint well with a flat blade.
  • Bring the blade out and dribble it over the canvas evenly.
  • Take a wide soft good quality brush and move the paint to all areas evenly.
  • Now draw the paint brush first vertically, then horizontally in even strokes to even out the surface.
  • Repeat this until all areas of the canvas are evenly covered.
  • Finally, with the brush nearly dry of paint, use the lightest touch. Draw the tips of the bristles through the paint in long slow even strokes. This is called 'laying off' and you will find that the brush strokes vanish when the paint is dry.
  • When it is dry, lightly sand and apply another coat.
  • Apply about five coats or until the grain of the canvas has gone.

This preparation does two things. First, the smooth surface makes it easier to control the application of paint whether that is by brush, fingers, cotton ball, stick or whatever. Second, it provides a tough water-proof, oil-proof long lasting flexible support for the oil paint. People who demand the use of rabbit skin glue might hate me. But I've got paintings now 30 years old with no signs of problems.

If you like to use the grain of the canvas as a feature in your painting, then don't put too many layers of undercoat on it. In either case, don't go too smooth because the oil paint will slide around and possibly fall off sometime in the future. To prevent this, key the final surface with some medium-grade sandpaper.

Let it dry thoroughly.

Prepare reference material

Rather than try and print the reference photo, better results are gained by viewing it directly on computer screen because the colours are more controllable. In this case, I did not do any colour correction to the reference thus leaving room for artistic decisions during the actual painting.

I also found a reference of a bison and spent about half an hour studying the associated shapes. This one animal will be the only one in sharp focus. The rest will be in various stages of muted colour, mist, and fuzziness. I will use this one animal as the focal point for the painting. It's a trick that will fool your mind into seeing more detail in the rest of the animals compared to what is actually there.

Practice drawing a buffalo using MS Paint only

This simple sketch was done in Microsoft Paint, using four or five colours, and the pencil tool. The purpose was to get familiar with the subject.
This simple sketch was done in Microsoft Paint, using four or five colours, and the pencil tool. The purpose was to get familiar with the subject.

Stage 1 - the background

My primer/undercoat has a mild blue tint. I tint the undercoat deliberately because it's kinder on the senses when painting over a pastel shade compared to stark white.

This acrylic undercoat was used just to map out rough spaces in different tones. I don't worry too much about colour, but try to get the values about right, and work fast on the composition. This is a manic time, using broad sweeping movements and frantically stabbing at the canvas with a loaded sponge. There are only two main areas of colour - a green grassy patch, and a sun-light misty yellow earth with sparse vegetation. The sun is low in the sky, and we are looking from an aerial perspective, so the shadows are long and extend down the canvas. This means that highlights on the animals will be on their backs. Form will be suggested by deeper values as the beast's bodies curl under. The shadows will be muted through the dust that is kicked up in the morning light.

Oil layer.

I used my typical palette of cobalt blue, yellow ochre, chrome yellow (but do not eat it like Van Gogh did!), white, Vandyke brown, vermilion. It's a limited palette but perfectly suitable for the range of colours in this painting. In reserve, is a transparent permanent alizarine. Transparent colours, or the technique of thinning out opaque colours give a receding effect, so these are good for distance and shadow. But this painting has limited scope for such perspective.

The brown and the blue are mixed to make a credible black for the darker tones. Pure black will not be used in this painting, even for tinting.

The highlights will be warm and yellowed, sometimes tending to orange to bring out the suggested dark brown of the animals, while some highlights will be almost white.

Painting tools

For the most part, I used my fingers. It's easy to feel how much paint is lifted off the palette, and easy to get that impressionistic result for the majority of the figures. For slightly bolder shapes, I used a stiff round brush, but fuzzed out the transitions and edges using a dry, tiny fluffy little watercolour brush.

The grassy areas were half-drawn, half splattered with one or other of the brushes.

Throughout the painting, I used an oil medium to introduce a translucent layer where needed, and to make the mist, pure paint, rubbed on using my finger. To do the latter, I had to wait till the first layer was fairly dry.

Detail shots

Detail shot of the one Buffalo that is fully in focus.
Detail shot of the one Buffalo that is fully in focus.
Detail of the impressionistic animals from the lower left which balances out the right side of the painting.
Detail of the impressionistic animals from the lower left which balances out the right side of the painting.
The heart of the painting that gives it atmosphere and feeling. It attempts to show the chaos of the crowd.
The heart of the painting that gives it atmosphere and feeling. It attempts to show the chaos of the crowd.

Details

The only detail in this painting is restricted to one solitary animal that will appear to have stopped in the mayhem and is staring curiously at the viewer. All the other figures are oblivious to the observer, and are either thundering across the canvas, or milling about the grassy patch.

Composition

In general, diagonal elements make a strong compositional statement. I used a general flow of animals from bottom left to top right through the focal point, and a highlight of diagonal mist from mid left to the focal point. The viewers eye will be guided to the curious animal while peripheral vision interprets the rest of the scene. Colour, intensity and focus graduate gently to the focal area. This is a way of giving some depth to what otherwise is necessarily flat because of the aerial view.

Balance

I tried to use gut feel for balance. This is the idea that if you lifted the painting on a point from the middle of the bottom edge, would it feel like it would tip one way or the other. Unless you are trying to make a specific statement, it's usually a good idea to get a balanced result. In this painting, the heavy darker impressionistic figures in the lower left balance the blast of colour around the focal point.

Final assessment

My wife is a stern critic. Luckily, she likes it. In fact, she was the one to make me spend more time on the one buffalo that is in focus, and the whole painting is better for it. She won't let me sell it -- typical! But I am going to ignore that.

I like the contrast between believable realism and the overall abstract nature of the work. It seems to work. From a distance, it's a pleasant decorative pattern, but as you walk closer the herd-theme slowly appears, and finally when very close you can see the detailed realism of the focal point. The colours would look good in many settings like a corporate waiting room, office or living room.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Thanks Georgina. Where do we get to see your pastel work? Oh silly - me - Your hubs are full of it! Wow. Good stuff. I'll be browsing...

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina Crawford 

      6 years ago from Dartmoor

      Wonderful painting. In my pastel work I'm constantly striving to be more impressionistic. Sometimes it works and sometimes not! I like the way you explain this work step by step. Rating up.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting to read. I wouldn't mind going for painting classes some day. The paintings in this Hub are lovely. Thanks.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      6 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

      I used to, not so much any more. I have very bad hands. 5 surgeries to correct the tendonitis, but still have a lot of pain and tremors. It sucks. I really shouldn't be doing dream catchers, but the do sell on Etsy. I just sold two custom made ones to a lady in Melbourne actually. She was so nice.

      I'm making a really southwestern one now that is a giant. The bigger ones are actually easier on my hands. You can see them here - http://www.etsy.com/shop/austinstar

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Thanks. Do you paint?

    • Manna in the wild profile imageAUTHOR

      Manna in the wild 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Hi Austinstar. What a nice present to have inspired you. Let me know how you get on. Thanks for taking a look.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      6 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

      Evocative painting. I love buffalo. Paintings like this tend to be a good accompaniment to my dream catchers. My acrylic paintings tend to be very hard, like paint by numbers stuff. I just like bright colors. Not too sold on muted tones and soft focus. But they do have a place.

      This is a painting I would consider owning. Sorry that I don't have the funds to buy fine art.

      Now that I know how to prepare a canvas, maybe I'll take up oil painting. Thanks!

    • blaeberry profile image

      blaeberry 

      6 years ago from Scotland

      Very useful hub. Thought the step by step guide to preparing the canvas was especially useful.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)