Watercolors to Oils: Three Things I Must Change

Let me just say how much I have loved oil painting these past few days. Since switching over to water-based oils, I can sense a bridge between my favorite medium, and the medium I’ve just picked up. I’m more comfortable with it, and feel more in my “element.” Even when I’m using a medium like walnut oil instead of plain ol’ water.

But there are a few things I’ve noticed about my painting habits/issues since playing around, and they are kinks that definitely need to be straightened out.

1. I Work Too Fast

I was working on an oil piece two days ago, and realized how fast I was moving my brush around, and how it was getting paint everywhere. Seriously. It was on me, on my clothes, and mussing up my painting in a way that would require an extended drying period before moving on. Forget painting tiny details. I couldn’t even get a block of color in without making a mess.

And I stopped for a moment and reminded myself that I was working with oils, not watercolor. With watercolors, one usually has to move super fast to get things where they need to be before it’s dry. But oils take for.ev.er. to dry. I forced myself to take a deep breath. My mess wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, it would probably still be workable tomorrow. I could chill.

So, obviously, my first goal is to work on slowing down.

2. I Lose Interest Quickly

With watercolors, a piece can be finished within an hour. If I take my time, it could take a few days but it probably still all adds up to only a few hours. Because of this, I’m used to busting pieces out pretty fast and moving on with my life.

But oils force me to take longer. Oils force me to wait, which can make me write off the drying piece altogether. The excitement has passed, and now I’m onto something new. Which works okay for watercolors…but again…this is oil.

So my next goal is to maintain my focus when working on a piece. As if it were its own individual identity (because it kind of is, right?). Perhaps each painting gets its own type of music, or its own easel. Maybe I will work on three pieces at once, but all with extremely different color palettes. Whatever I can do to separate them and bring something “new” to the easel when working.

Most of all, I will focus on each movement of my brush, each tiny detail. I will remain connected to my piece by learning everything I can about it. Even after it’s deemed complete.

3. I’m No Good At Values

This is hard to admit…but getting good values in my paintings hasn’t been my strong suit. In the past, I worked around this by inking in all of my lines. But now that I’m working with oils I find that I need to seriously practice my values if I want to make it anywhere in this medium. Not everything can be a midtone.

One way to help me through this is to photograph each piece and look at it in black and white. This will show me my highlights, midtones, and shadows, and whether or not they produce something with good contrast, or something that is nothing but mud.

As a photographer, I have been working in black and white for many years. I spent all of 2017 shooting with black and white film. I can make a good black and white photograph, so why am I nonsense at values when painting? I really have no excuse.

So my third goal is obviously to practice my brains out. Other than taking black and white photos of my paintings, I can also work on monochromatic pieces. In fact, I gave myself this same exercise as a photographer, and shot only in black and white for an entire month. You wouldn’t believe the things I learned about shadows and light and which colors showed up as a bland gray. Time to apply what I learned to painting.

I’ve only been working with these new oils for a few days now, but I really really want to get better at them so I can add them to my everyday work. I love their richness, their colors that never fade, and the fact that I feel like a Van Gogh badass when slapping alizarin crimson onto a canvas.

What about you? Have you gone from one completely different art medium to another? Did you see a few flaws that needed to be repaired? Tell me below!

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