I was editing the main (circa 2002) tutorial pages on portrait-artist.org, and came to the oil painting page. And froze! There is waaaaay too much I want to say about oil painting! I can’t do it in just one page.
So I’m going to start a series of posts here about oil painting, then will link to them from main site.
GETTING STARTED WITH OIL PAINTING
I started painting when I was a kid, still in middle school. It’s not that hard or scary. If it were, I would have never kept with it. (Hey! I was just a kid!) So if you’ve heard that oil painting is complex, or “scary,” don’t believe it. Yes there are “rules,” yes, there are things you need to know. But you can do it. And the rewards are wonderful!
First I’m going to tell you a bit about oil paints, set you up with what to buy. (Just the barebones.) Then I’ll tell you more about the painting I’m showing here, and its significance.
DISPELLING SOME MYTHS ABOUT OIL PAINTING:
“It’s so nasty and toxic!”
No, not that much more than acrylics. Both oils and acrylics use some pigments (like cobalt and cadmium) that must be handled with care. Oils do often need to be thinned with paint thinner or mineral spirits. But some of these thinners are pretty mild and will work fine with reasonable care. Or you can work around using them, by getting a completely non-toxic solvent/thinner. (I recommend it later in this post.)
“It takes weeks and weeks to dry!”
If you paint thickly, live in a humid area, and use some painting medium that slows drying, yeah, I guess so. But if you don’t paint too thickly (most of us don’t) and use a painting medium which accelerates drying, usually the paint is dry to the touch overnight (or within 24 hours). That’s usually how it works for me.
“They’re so hard to learn!”
Not any harder than acrylics, really. And oils are more forgiving, easier to blend, and richer. But that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with acrylics. They have their charms too.
“They’re soooo expensive!”
Not really. You’ll find that the tubes of acrylics are larger, but you need more acrylic paint to do the same as a smaller tube of oils. Oils are more “dense” and pack more pigment. That’s just the way they are, on a molecular level. If you shop around, you can find decent-quality oils that compare in price to acrylics.
PAINTS: WHAT TO BUY
You’re a newbie. So you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Usually that means “student” paints (which are cheaper and lower quality than the hoity-toity “artist” paints). With that in mind, here is my recommendation for oil paint: “cheap” paints that are not really student, but are priced like they are.
Shiva oils are reasonably priced (especially when you wait for a sale at Dickblick) and have pretty good quality. They edge into the “Artist” (as compared to “Student”) category of oils. You can get the set of 6 tubes (that will do okay) or select your tubes individually. If you pick your own colors, I recommend these:
- Titanium White (or Titanium-Zinc White), 5 oz (the bigger tube)
- Ultramarine Blue (Deep or Light) 1.25 oz
- Shiva Yellow Medium (or Shiva Yellow Light if you also intend to paint landscapes or something other than portraits) 1.25 oz
- Rose Red (yes, I know it’s more expensive. But the other “rose” colors are tainted with Alizarin Crimson, which isn’t very lightfast—that means the paint will fade in time). 1.25 oz
- Burnt Sienna or Light Red (warmish reddish earthy brown) 1.25 oz
Actually, you could get away with just these colors. But I don’t recommend that. So, in addition to these, also get:
- Yellow Ochre 1.25 oz
- Cadmium Red Pale (preferred) or Shiva Red Medium 1.25 oz
- Cerulean Blue or Phthalo Blue (Cerulean is more expensive, but Phthalo is wicked powerful, which might overwhelm you. Take your pick!) 1.25 oz
Other “cheap” Artist Grade paints to consider:
Lefranc & Bourgeois Artists’ Oils are another fave of mine. Recommended colors would be similar to what I recommend from Shiva. Suggested colors are:
- Titanium-Zinc White (the larger tube)
- Lefranc Crimson
- Japanese Yellow Deep (or Light, if you also intend to paint landscapes)
- Ultramarine Blue (take your pick; there are several kinds!)
- Yellow Ochre (take your pick!)
- Burnt Sienna or Red Oxide
- French Red Vermillion Hue
- Cerulean Blue or Cerulean Blue Hue
I also personally have had no complaints about: Weber Permalba Artists Oil Colors (especially their Permalba White. Oh how I love Permalba White!). Also, Grumbacher Pre-Tested Artists’ Oil Colors are pretty good. And by the way, you can mix-and-match oil paint brands. There’s no law that says you must get all colors from one manufacturer. Pick a few from each and see which you like!
The key is to not pay too much. I almost always shop online because the prices are so much better. Sure, you can find oil paint at your local Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, but the cheaper, low-end “student” brand stuff costs as much as (or more!) than these modestly-priced “artist” grade paints on DickBlick.com.
I know I sound like such a shill for Blick (I am an affiliate, which means I get a small commission when a site visitor shops there) but I’m hooked on Blick, shop there all the time. (But I’m equally hooked on Jerry’s Artarama, where I am not an affiliate! I just shop where the deals are.)
I hate to steer people away from their local brick-and-mortar art stores, but if you’re on a budget, sometimes these stores just aren’t feasible. But by all means, collect your coupons, wait for sales, and if you can get something better locally, do it!
Other things to get:
Paint thinner or solvent: A lot of people are very leery about oils because of the nasty, smelly “turpentine,” but in fact you don’t have to use the hard stuff (Turps) for regular oil painting. You can use the much milder odorless mineral spirits. Many artists love Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits. This are far less “toxic” than regular paint thinner or turps. But Gamsol is not benign! Don’t drink the stuff, for crying out loud! And you must paint in a well-ventilated area.
If you’re unsure that you can do that, then try Turpenoid Natural. No toxic fumes, no nothing. I wouldn’t drink it either, but it’s okay to use it with less than adequate ventilation. (Try out a small bottle of it first, just to make sure you like it.) It’s what I’ve been using lately. The key with it is to not actually thin your paints with it. Keep a small jar of linseed oil around for that purpose (Shiva Linseed Oil would serve well with that). When you need to rinse out your brushes, swish them in the Turpenoid Natural, wipe them off on a paper towel, then dip them in Linseed oil, and use the linseed to actually thin the paint. I know that the manufacturer says that Turp. Natural can be used for thinning paint, but I’d rather pass.
Mediums (what you mix in with your paints):
The aforementioned linseed oil can be your oil painting medium. What I like to use is the ever-popular Liquin. It helps speed up drying, which I love! I’ve been using Liquin for years, and it’s one of the most popular oil painting mediums out there.
That’s enough product recommendation for now. I’ll be adding more posts to this blog with more info on what materials to get.
WHAT’S WITH THE PAINTING AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE?
I painted him using only 4 colors: A white, an earthy reddish brown, an earthy yellow, and a black. For example, you could use Titanium White, Mars Red or English Red, Yellow Ochre, and Mars Black or Ivory Black. There’s a lot you can use with just these colors! If you’re on a budget, you can get just these colors and do a nice job of making “full color” portraits.
Let’s look at this painting closer up:
Even though the reddish brown is really more “brown” instead of bright red, you’ll see that his lips look pretty rosy red. And notice the highlight on the bulb of his nose? It almost looks blue. But I mixed a coolish black with white, and the illusion of blue-green is created.
Pretty cool, huh? There’s a lot you can do with just a few colors on your palette!
Painted on the affordable Art Alternatives Canvas panels 8 x 10 inch (pack of 12). (Only the canvas board I used was 4×5 inches.) I use a lot of these type of panels.
So as I said in this previous post about anime, I am a former kid artist, and I know how it is. You want to draw what you want to draw, not what your teacher or your parents think you should draw. And I’m in total agreement that a kid should draw what they want. Otherwise, art—something they supposedly love—will become a chore, something tedious, and they’ll start to feel resentment. Towards those pressuring them to stop drawing what they want to draw, as well as towards the art itself.
But (there’s always a but!) things change once a kid says they want to go to art school and become a pro. And I don’t care what kind of artist they want to become—illustrator, animator, fine artist—whatever. If they are a big fan of anime and they are talking seriously about a career in art, there are some things that they should realize.
You can’t build a professional career on drawing anime alone (unless you live in Japan!).
There is probably some small, small, infinitesimally small exceptions to this, but that’s the gist of it. Don’t delude yourself otherwise. It’s all fine and good to love anime and love drawing manga and anime art, but once you say that art is what you want to do professionally, you must realize that you’re going to compete with other students who can do all sorts of art, not just anime.
Plus, you’re going to be in classes like figure drawing (drawing live nude models in a “realistic” style) and other classes where a grasp of drawing realistically (as you see it in real life) is a must. These are standard basic classes in most college art programs—they’re mostly unavoidable. How will a student who only does anime keep up, if they have no experience in this area and are unwilling to learn?
This article details how art schools are flooded with anime in student portfolios, and how tiresome that has become. So here’s the warning: Don’t become a cliché! Don’t add to the huge stack of Pokemon and other types of anime in student art portfolios.
An interesting challenge:
Another thing I saw brought up by an art teacher on one of the endless anime discussions I see online is this: If you only draw anime, it’s harder to adjust to drawing “realism.” But if you know how to draw “realism,” it’s easier to adjust to anime or any other stylized type of work. So I thought I’d put this to the test. My first (and only!) anime drawing.
A portrait of Sailor Moon, drawn by me. My first and last anime drawing. (Never again!) It took about 10-15 minutes to draw the face, then I tweaked and adjusted it in Photoshop. Drawn in pencil.
So this drawing I did of Sailor Moon is pretty . . . pathetic, let’s be honest. But it’s a first try, and I spent maybe 15 minutes on it (plus some tweaking and cleaning up in Photoshop). So there it is. My first and only attempt at anime.
So now the question is, how well would an artist who has only done anime do when they tried their first realism attempt? Could they make it look no less pathetic than I did with my first (and only!) attempt at anime? Why not try this challenge: copy the portrait of the man below. How long would it take and how good would it look?
Now I can just hear everyone saying, that’s no fair, hey wait a minute! They are thinking that I’m a more experienced artist, and so what if I can do a rather crummy sketch of Sailor Moon in a few minutes? This realism portrait of the man has a lot of detail and shading and if some of the proportions are off a little when someone copies the drawing, it’s gonna look pretty bad.
And that’s my point. Most “realism” subjects are going to be more demanding—in detail, in indicating light and shadow and form, in understanding anatomy and structure. If someone (like me, for instance) has been drawing in a “realism” style for a while, then it’s not usually so difficult to copy another style for a while, because I’m experienced in drawing what I see, whether it be a bird, a house, or a picture of Sailor Moon. So even though my Sailor Moon drawing is not all that fantastic, it’s still recognizable as her, and I don’t think is too terribly distorted or horrific-looking.
But with that said, if you (or your kid) can do a pretty fair copy of the portrait of the man I show above, and can do it without too much trial and error and aggravation (and without using drawing aids like tracing, grids or similar), then that’s fantastic. That means that there’s one less thing to worry about. Assuming, of course, that there’s no delusion going on, and they are able to sustain a high quality standard on any realism attempts that are made.
But, if it’s a struggle to make a fair approximation of the above portrait within a fair amount of time (not hours and hours), then that should tell you something. That there are skills that need to be worked on. (And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, everyone has to start somewhere.)
So what does this mean?
If you (or your kid) has difficulties doing realism, then the only solution is to draw realism. And not just now and then, but steadily. If you love love love anime, then don’t give up on it completely. That would take the fun out of art, and defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place. I’m not an art teacher (I’m just some woman with an art blog!) but I think that 50/50 (realism/anime) would be good. Or no less than 30% realism. If you do only a smattering of realism now and then, you’ll get nowhere. You have to discipline yourself and do enough of it to give you results within a decent amount of time. Otherwise, you’re just asking to be frustrated with your slow progress.
Caveat: (So I don’t get hate mail)
In no way am I saying that all anime is “easy,” or that the many brilliant professional anime artists in Japan are not highly skilled. It’s almost assured that these pros in Japan studied very hard to get good at their craft, and that includes studying realism.Read More
Sailor Moon, a very popular anime character—so well-known that even I have heard of her!
Your kid and anime:
Oy! Since I first started this site (TEN YEARS AGO as I write this) the anime thing has really taken off. And I’ve heard all sorts of pros and cons about kids wanting to draw anime. So here I weigh in with my opinion, and it’s actually very simple and uncomplicated (but with some caveats).
My opinion is this: Let them draw what they want. They’re kids.
I feel quite strongly about this. That’s because I was a kid once, and loved to draw. I loved to draw my favorite actors and actresses (what we’d call today “celebrity fan art”). Hey, I still like to draw an occasional actor or actress! And all the time I was doing this, my mom constantly complained, complained, complained. Why didn’t I want to draw nice still lifes? Or some landscape (subject chosen by her, of course!). Whatever I did, it was somehow wrong, not serious enough, not artistic enough. I was a kid, drawing the things that kids like to draw, and got constant grief for it.
Yes, I’m still bitter.
At the time I remember thinking to myself, “I could be doing all sorts of things that drive parents nuts, like indulging in illegal substances or dating 35-year-old men (like one of my friends did in high school—true story!). But all I was doing was drawing Mr. Spock. Okay, fair enough, I was a geek, but at least I was home at night and was cultivating a skill that would turn into a life-long passion, and what’s so bad about that?
Fortunately, my parents allowed me to take painting lessons, and my teacher, a really cool lady (and fantastic artist) named Shirlee Prescott, told my parents that all her students could paint whatever they wanted. So I got to do lots of portraits of Mr. Spock, with her blessing! Yay!
And that’s how I feel about anime, or whatever thing a kid wants to draw. Parents, LET THEM. Let them. If it’s just a hobby, something their friends are doing, let them do it. Encourage them. Consider yourself lucky that this is something that they are passionate about. I don’t care if you don’t think it’s ‘real art.’ A lot of people don’t think celebrity portraits (my childhood art passion) are real art either. So what. Big deal. In my case, my love for drawing my favorite TV characters carried over and I started drawing other things (more “serious” subject matters—but so far, not many still lifes!) as I got into college. And even if my love for drawing celebs had never led to much out of school, who cares? It kept me off the streets, okay? It was harmless and was something I enjoyed.
School is hard enough for a kid, don’t make it worse by discouraging them from doing something that makes them happy.
And now the caveat:
The content of the artwork your kids do should be of a concern to you. If you feel they are drawing things that are too “adult” in subject matter, of course you have a right to intervene. Keep an eye on what your kids watch and read and listen to. Common sense, right?
Another caveat (and it’s a pretty serious one):
If your kids are talking about how they want to be a professional artist and go to art school, this changes everything. Everything. No, that doesn’t mean that they can’t do artwork in the anime style if they want to, but they need a reality check if they think that all they need to do is draw anime/manga-styled art. Most colleges will not accept students who can only show work done in the anime style. They want to see “realism” (realistically proportioned drawings—not cartoons) in a student’s portfolio. And if your child cannot display proficiency in this style of artwork, then they have a slim chance of going far professionally. These are just the facts.
I will be writing a separate post about that, so stay tuned. Update, here’s that post.
So, back to the main point of this post:
Parents, let your kids draw whatever THEY want, as long as there are no moral boundaries that you think are being crossed in the subject matter. Don’t stifle something that is good and fine and will bring them joy and may be later cultivated into a skill that they’ll be grateful they have as the years pass.Read More