Oil Painting Tips

Thumbnails, The Key to Better Painting and Drawing

Art Tip
Using Thumbnails for Planning Compositions
Thumbnails are small quick sketches. These sketches aren’t to record details, forms or depth they are for planning out the elements of your compositions and designs.
Design and composition are terms that people use a lot and they have a lot in common. Design is used to express the overall ideas of you image. Will your image be symmetrical or Asymmetrical. These basics ideas of balancing you objects. To balance something on an see saw or older day scale you need at least two objects. It’s the same with an image you need more than one shape or group of shapes to achieve some type of balance. This is the basic idea of design
Just like before building a house or writing a book you need a planning stage. For artist this planning stage takes the form of thumbnail sketches.
These need to be done quickly so we can move onto execution of our painting or drawing. We you are outside painting or drawing landscapes this can be especially important, because the light changes so quickly.
Thumbnails are very primitive. They contain only the most fundamental information about our subject. They could even be a basic as squares, ovals, triangles just enough so we know what these shapes represent.
When deciding on a design they are four decisions to make. Should my drawing or painting be
1. Analogous – Where the vertical and horizontal movements or lines are used.
2. Complementary – Where Diagonals are emphasized
3. Symmetrical – Where the main shapes are of similar size on either side of the picture plane.
4. Asymmetrical – Where the main shapes are of very different sizes. Such as Large shapes on one side smaller on the other.
By making these decisions on how to design your art you will have stronger and more interesting artworks. Below I have included the four examples of Design.
Analogous Design

Complementary Design

Symmetrical Design

Asymmetrical Design

These drawings are very simple but more importantly they tell me how I am going to approach the drawing or painting. Next time before you start on your drawing or painting start by using thumbnails to plan things out do 4 or 5 and pick out your favorite. Then do it you will enjoy your results even more by creating a plan.

To Find Other Drawing Insights click Drawing Tips

Six More Plein Air Painting Tips

More Plein Air Painting Tips


Painting outdoors has many benefits as well as many challenges. Below are six tips that will help you be successful as you plein air paint. Practice these as you paint and you will improve your plein air painting.

1. Simplify the Scene

With plein air painting it’s so overwhelming with all the detail of the outdoors. So look for the basic ideas of the scene basic shapes, size relationships and value relationships. Try to simplify the values to four or fewer for any one object. Don’t try to capture every little detail look for the large general shapes and larger families of smaller shapes not individual blades of grass or leaves that is just too much information. Below are a couple examples of simplified scenes. Notice clear they are even though they are very simple.

2. Blurring Your Vision to Simply

Squint your eyes to blur your vision. When you blur your vision it’s easier to see the main shapes and ignore the distracting details. Learning to simplify is vital to painting outdoors. Blurring your eyes to see the main shapes and value is the first step to learning to simplify. Below is pictured some photos that I loaded into a program and changed them to simplify the scenes. Even without a lot of details these are very powerful images. We want learn to do this for ourselves out in the field.

3. Positive negative shape drawing

Using a sharpie or marker and a sketch book practice creating drawings using just black and white. This exercise will help you more than any other to learn to simplify shapes which will make your paintings stronger. Below is an example of drawings done in just black and white. It takes some getting used to but will help your painting immensely.

4. Daylight is Bright Don’t Let it Overwhelm Your Painting

Daylight is so strong that many times when you paint you think your painting is very bright and colorful but then you take the painting indoors and the painting turns dark and lifeless. This is because there is so much light outdoors even a cloudy day has 30% more light than a room indoors. Outdoor your paintings will look colorful and full of contrast. Inside the contrast fades as well as the intensity of the colors. To avoid this use an umbrella to shade your painting and color mixing palette. If you don’t have an umbrella set up your easel with your painting surface and color palette against the sun so it is in shadow. You need to bump up the the contrast in your painting and the brightness of the colors.

5. Keep Your Painting Small

Keeping your painting small will allow you to establish the values and color in your painting quickly. With the light constantly changing you need to establish the values and colors in about 30 minutes and then work the painting as needed. This is very challenging by itself. Keeping your canvas size small will allow to move quicker. So when you start painting outdoors keep you sizes small like 8” x 10” or 9” x 12”. As you get more comfortable painting you can increase the size of your canvases. Below is one of small 12″ x 9 ” paintings I did at the Grand Canyon.







6. Constantly Compare You Values and Colors

When painting establish early in the painting process the lightest color in your painting and the darkest color in your painting and then constantly refer to those two colors asking yourself if the values of your other colors are closer to the lightest or darkest value and how close is it to one or the other. By asking yourself about every color as you put it on your painting you will find you will have a larger range of values. Constantly compare your color’s hues if I have a tree that is green as the green becomes lighter and darker how does it shifts bluer, yellower, duller or brighter. Continuing to ask yourself these questions will help to become more sensitive to color shifts and improve your painting.

Six Plein Air Painting Tips

Six Tips for Painting Outdoors in the Landscape
AKA Plein Air Painting

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1. Take Only What You Need
When painting outdoors you want to take only the necessary items. The fewer paints, brushes, paint thinner, and so forth will keep your gear lighter and help you to have a better experience painting outdoors. Remember it’s not just about art supplies you also need to take water, bug repellent, sun screen, food, trash bags, hand clamps (to clamp you paint thinner container to your easel), screw driver(to tighten up and adjust your easel), pliers(to loosen the caps on paint tubes), and trash bags.

2. Simplify Your Palette
Limiting your color palette helps to keep your equipment light. I use just eight colors: Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Phalo Blue, Ivory Black and Titanium White. Learning to use this palette you will be able to mix a full range of colors.

3. Leave without a Trace
While Painting you use a lot of paper towels to keep you brushes clean. As landscape painters we enjoy the landscape. So we want to keep the landscape enjoyable for everyone. You always want to take out of the landscape what you take into it. So use your trash bags and make sure you are leaving no trace once you leave the landscape.

4. Bring a Camera to Take Reference
It’s always a good idea to take a camera with you. Painting on location is great for capturing the light and mood of the landscape. Photographs are great for capturing the details of the landscape. Then if you need to finish the painting in studio you have the photo to use as reference.

5. Use Easily Portable Cases to Transport Supplies
A good pochade box is worth it’s weight in gold, these small easels are light and easy for more remote excursions and locations. If you aren’t going far or to remote locations a french easel is a wonderful alternative they are far more stable than pochade boxes and you can pack most all of your supplies inside the easel, though they aren’t as light as pochade boxes. These compact easels and painting boxes are essential to paint outdoors.

6. Wear Sunglasses When Painting
Your eyes are your most important asset so you should protect them. The bright sunlight over the years can seriously affect your vision. Though some people wear hats to keep the sun out of their eyes, a hat doesn’t always solve the problem so I wear sun glasses. When I paint I don’t look through the sunglasses because the glasses change the colors and values of the landscape. So I usually hang the sun glasses off the end of my nose so I can look over the top of them. This way I keep the direct sunlight out of my eyes and I still am able to see the accurate colors and values of the landscape.

These tips will help you to have a wonderful experience when you go outside to paint.

Improve Your Painting, Avoid 5 Common Mistakes

5 Ways to Improve Your Paintings,
Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Covering the Entire Canvas with
before Finishing off Areas
You can’t see the value and color relationships in a painting unless all the general color and values already on the canvas. Just as it is hard to tell if a recipe works without all the ingredients combined together. Here are the general steps to a painting.
1. Start by drawing in the basic contours of your subject with either charcoal or a neutral paint color.
2. Once the drawing is done using thin paint(about the consistency of heavy cream) cover the main areas and shapes with accurate values and colors.
3. Blur your vision look for the basic light value and color along with the dark value and color of each area and object. Once the entire canvas is covered you can more accurately access which value and colors need to change and which ones may stay the same.
4. Once the painting is roughed in, work on the painting as a whole.
5. Whether you are doing abstract, non-objective, representational or hyper realism this is the best way to start your painting.

2. Using Thick Paint too Quickly
Don’t put the paint down too thickly or too quickly. It is very hard to control even by a very experienced artist. Start with thin paint. Artists that create thick paintings don’t start out painting in thick paint. In fact except with a few exceptions all paintings start with thin layers of paint. Each successive layer of paint is built up thicker and thicker until the surface is as thick as the artist wants. If you paint too thick early on you will end up fighting the paint and it will be almost impossible to get the subtlety you want and can end with a painting that is overworked. If you have the paint too thick and you can’t work with it take off the excess paint. Scrape it down with a palette knife and start again. Many times scraping can be a great way to regain control of your painting so don’t be afraid to scrape away paint when it is necessary and then go back into the area and repaint it.

3. Using too Much White
Using white paint incorrectly can lead to pasty color mixtures. Pasty lifeless color mixtures is one of the most common problems beginning oil painters have when they paint with oils. The problem arises because they overuse white. White paint is necessary in order to mix literally thousands of colors however you only want to use it as needed. Many new artists reach for the white paint first. It should be one of the last things to reach for when creating your lighter color mixtures. Remember when you use white it causes your paint mixture to lose intensity and shift slightly cooler. The best way to avoid lifeless color mixtures is to use this basic approach to your color mixtures.
1. Mix your colors together to get the hue of the color first(using as few paints as possible)
2. Lower the intensity of your color mixture as needed afterwards
3. If the color mixture needs to be lightened then add white.
Tip: Also never use white and black in the same mixture as a beginning painter.

Doing these things will help you to mix bright clean colors.

4. Focusing on Details not Form Shadowing

Almost every person when they start to learn oil painting makes this mistake. It’s hard not to fixate on the little details but, that is exactly what we do. We jump right in and try to define every one of those wonderful details and for some reason it never turns out right. We need to start with the correct form shadows. Remember those little details need to be on top of a layer of correct values and colors. So when you begin painting use the following procedure.
1. Start with the basic light and dark values and colors of your object.
2. Then continue to modify your colors and values to include the light tones, middle values, highlight, core shadow(if it has one), dark tones and reflected light.
3. Once you have all those form shadows defined then you add the small details. Details need to conform to an objects form shadowing.

Doing this will allow you to paint convincingly.

5. Using Too Small of a Brush
When we first begin to paint it’s hard not to be intimidated. This usually leads to grabbing a smaller brush. It seems much less intimidating. This is probably the biggest mistakes beginning painters make. Using small brushes in the beginning instead of larger brushes. It creates a couple of problems first you add considerably more time to finishing your painting. Secondly when you paint using smaller brushes you miss larger relationships. So next time you find yourself reaching for that small brush go large instead. if you start with large brushes, then transition to medium size brushes and end with small brushes you will have a   greater variety of marks which will give your painting more visual impact.

Oil Painting: How to Buy the Right Colors

Why is Buying Oil Paints So Confusing

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If you have ever had a to buy oil paints, gone to the art store and found yourself  staring at the paints wondering why so few have the same names for their paint colors. It’s a problem that has plagued the art world since they began manufacturing oil paint over 150 years ago. Companies are more interested in great sounding color names than accurate color descriptions. So let’s demystify some of the ambiguity.

Here are some ways of buying the correct colors

1. Every paint color  lists the pigment or pigments used to make that tube color(it’s required by law). Not only the pigment name is listed but also the color index number. So for instance I need to find a paint color Phalo Blue,  the problem is the manufacturer paint names for this color varies. Here are some of the common names across manufacturers : Thalo blue, Monestial Blue, Winsor Blue, Monastral Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Phalo Blue,  Heliogen Blue, Intense Blue, Old Holland Blue, Rembrandt Blue. I however know the color  pigment name is Copper Thalocyanine  and that color index number is PB15 or PB16(either works but one is greener and the other slightly bluer). By looking at the pigment name or the color index number listed on the paint tubes you can be sure you have the right color no matter what.

Below I list some of the paint colors whose names vary the most between manufacturers

The paints that vary the most in terms of paint names are the following:

Thalo Blue – copper phthalocyanine – PB 15 or PB 16

Hansa Yellow Light – arylide yellow – PY 3

Hansa Yellow Medium – arylide yellow PY 74

Hansa Yellow Deep – arylide yellow PY 75

Thalo Green – copper phthalocyanine -PG7 or PG36

Thio Voilet – quinacridone  – PR122

Thalo Rose- quinacridone  – PV19

Dioxizine Purple- carbazole dioxazine – PV23

Be Aware of Color Hues

“Color Hues”- Cadmium, cobalts and Chromes are all paints made with metals. Many companies make paints that look similar to these colors they are less expensive but don’t mix the same as the real paints. These are named “hues” such as Cadmium Red Light Hue. These paints don’t actually contain any cadmiums, cobalts or chromes. Don’t buy the “hues” if you can avoid it. They are harder to control as a beginning or intermediate painter.

Metal Paints are Always named Accurately

The good news is the Classic metals paints are always named by their pigments names. So for example it will says it’s Cadmium Red Light or Cadmium Red Light Medium, Cobalt Blue or Chrome Yellow and so forth, you will know you are buying the actual metals based paints

Painting Techniques and Tips: It’s all About the Angle

Direct Painting and All Prima Painting Insights

When painting no matter how long you have done it it’s always best to remember the basics. Sometimes this doesn’t happen either because you are just learning and still figuring out exactly what to do or you have experience painting and aren’t giving it much thought. It’s the most basic of concepts and yet it has one of the greatest impacts on the look of your painting, it’s the angle you hold your brush in relation to the canvas. Using a paint brush at an angle close to 90 degrees to the canvas will cause the paint you apply to  mix with whatever paint is on the canvas or if there is already thick paint on the canvas then applying paint this way will carve into the layers of paint on the canvas. However when painting with a brush at an angle that is almost parallel to the canvas it will lay the paint onto the surface differently, spreading it on almost like butter on toast, when using this stroke on an area with thick paint layers this will lay down paint onto of the earlier layers of paint beneath. Varying the angle of your stroke somewhere between these two extremes will give you slightly different effects, somewhere between carving through the paint and spreading it over the paint beneath. Experiment with the possibilities and your control over your painting will increase dramatically.

Oil Painting, Extended Color Palette

Extended Color Palette

Sometimes More Is More

Painting with a Larger Palette

  As many of you who have read my blog or taken my classes know I normally encourage students to use a limited palette of colors. As you become a more advanced painter it’s good to learn to use a more extensive collection of colors. Here I have over 32 colors. I use more primary and secondary colors to fill the spaces between the primary and secondary colors.  I also use colors that have been lightened with white such as light yellow, light red or pink, light violet, light blues, light greens, and lightened orange. These colors will lean warmer or cooler versions of each primary and secondary color.  I lay the colors out chromatically or the the way they progress around the color wheel. I then layout a collection of earth tones followed by a collection of neutrals and white and black. By using a combination of more variations of hues(example yellower orange red, orange red, primary red, red violet, blue red violet I have five different variations of red), Tints(colors mixed with white), shades(darker colors mixed with either black or burnt umber example Paynes Gray is a dark grayed blue made from mixing Phalo blue with Burnt umber), grayed colors(colors with lowered intensity I use grays that lean red,blue,yellow,orange, green and violet and are very neutral. Mixing these with colors can be a quick way of lowering intensity), Browns( darkened yellows, reds and oranges these are great colors to warm dark color mixtures) these give me chances to use more sophisticated color mixing methods and create a wider range of colors.

  A wider range of colors is a good thing to help achieve those nuances of hue and chroma. The downside is you have more opportunities to put the wrong colors together which will destroy your color structure. A limited palette of colors helps to control the color structure. The reason is because most all of your mixed colors have combinations of all of the primary colors in their mixtures. Because each mixed color has a combination of the primary colors the is an immediate color harmony. You are also limiting your ability to mix many color that are artificial and will never be seen in nature like neon colors or colors and others. You want the added benefits of an unlimited color palette but not the downside of making too many color mistakes that will destroy your painting.   So how do you control your color structure and your color mixtures?

Answer: Use a “color unifying method” there are three common methods of controlling color mixtures. Use on of the three listed below.

A. Use a unifying color such as brown. The classic artists used this method all the time and still do today. With this method every mixture has a little brown in it. Say Burnt Umber, you would add this color to everyone of your color mixtures.

B. Use three primary colors (red, yellow and blue) in every color mixture.

C. Always mix two complimentary colors in every mixture (example primary color mixed with complimentary secondary color, or two complimentary tertiary colors.

Using these methods will help you from having your color mixtures from becoming a complete mess. You will need to pay special attention to you color relationships to keep them clear another words if your warm colors are in the shadows than make sure all your light families of colors are leaning to the cool side of the color wheel. This approaches will help you control your color mixtures and paintings.

Example of My Unlimited Color Palette

I use Pretested-Grumbacher, Gamblin, M Graham or Winsor Newton Paints. Here are my colors. I don’t always use all these colors but this is an example of my unlimited oil colors.


Naples Yellow(mixed, Cad yellow deep + white)

Cadmium Yellow Lemon

Cadmium Yellow Medium

Cadmium Yellow Deep

Indian Yellow

Yellow Ochre

Raw Sienna


Cadmium Orange

Orange Light( mixed, Cadmium Orange + White)

Burnt Umber


Light Pink(mixed Cad Red Light + White)

Cadmium Red Lt.

Cadmium Red Medium

Cadmium Red Deep

Alizarin Crimson

Thalo Rose

Burnt Sienna


Thalo Violet

Dioxine Purple

Light Purple(mixed, Dioxine Purple + White)


Cobalt Blue

Thalo Blue

French Ultramarine Blue

Light Blue Warm (mixed, Thalo Blue + White)

Light Blue Cool (mixed, Ultramarine Blue + White)

Paynes Gray


Green Light Cool(mixed, Phalo Green + white)

Green Light Warm (mixed, Sap Green + Cadmium Yellow Medium+ White)


Olive Green (mixed, Sap Green + Cadmium Orange)

Sap Green

Thalo Green


Mixed grays(whatever suits me at the time)

Other Colors

Titanium White

Ivory Black

Mixing Colors: Paint and Tinting Strength

Mixing Colors:

Tinting Strength of Colors

All colors have a different tinting strength. For instance on our palette yellow have the least tinting strength you will need  more yellow(about 2/3 more than red to get an orange mixture .  Now I don’t want to start getting into recipes just note you will generally need more yellow. Blue is higher in tinting strength than red in general. A word of caution our green blue has the highest tinting strength of any color the palette  you will normally use ten times less Thalo blue to a mixture or less so for a green it would be 10 to one: 10 parts yellow to one part Thalo blue(green blue) a little of this blue goes a very very long way.

Just in general to get a feel for what I am saying about tinting strength or portions of color, lets talk about creating grays with black and white, to get a #6 on the value scale you can usually mix equal parts white and black, to mix a step# 7 you need to add 4 parts white to 1 part black, to mix a step #8 you may need to add 16 parts white to 1 part black,  to mix a step #9 you may need to mix 40 parts white to 1 part black to get to step 10# you may need to add 100 parts white or more to 1 part black. You should see that as you go higher up the value the amount of white needed doesn’t just double or even triple it rises quickly the higher you make the value.  This tinting strength principle applies in general to any paint color.  if I have a red that is a #6 on the value scale and I want to make it a #10 I could need as much a 100 parts white to one part red.

This is something to be aware I have seen students going through all the right steps to get a certain color only to forget this principle. They end up fighting to get a light gray a number #9 or something on the value scale. Normally they have this huge puddle of gray and they have used up their white puddle and their mixing puddle is a step #7 needing to lighten but 2 steps in value. I sit down squeeze out more white take a pea sized bit from their color puddle and add 6 to 7 times as much white and there is the color they needed . What went wrong is there wasn’t enough white in their mixture. To try and  make the entire puddle light enough I  would have had to add a 150ml of white to their puddle to make it light enough but instead I took just a bit from the original mixing pile so I could add the needed amount of white to get the right mixture .

The best way to avoid burning through more paint than you are prepared to use try this method of keeping in mind the tinting strength of your paint and you will be able to control the accuracy of your color mixtures but you will also control how much paint you use. Further this is a tip to help your control your color mixtures even better.

Start with the color you need for the color mixture to be or the value you need it to be so if I am painting a sky and I need a light blue I will start be pulling out a small pile of white paint. Then I add small bits of blue to that white until I have the value of light blue I want  if I need to make the blue greener or more violet add small bits of green or purple to shift the hue it shouldn’t take much the value shouldn’t shift much unless you are adding a very dark blue even then a small amount of white will lighten the value of the mixture to where you will need it. If you are creating a dark mixture start with your dark color and then lighten it as needed with lighter colors to control the value shifting the hue and chroma as needed this will help you control your color mixture much easier. So always remember the tinting strength of the paints you use.

Using Black and White a Cautionary Tale

   How to Use Black and White in Oil Painting

    One thing that happens with mixing paint is people reach for white or black too quickly when they are mixing colors. The biggest thing to remember is white or black will desaturate your color mixtures very quickly. When mixing your colors mix your hue first remember the colors your mix together will affect the value and chroma of the final color mixture. Get as close to the color you need before you add white. Also remember when you add white the color will get lighter but will also get cooler oranges, yellows and reds will shift more than other colors. So if I am adding white to an orange mixture the mixture will get cooler. After adding white I will have to add a warm yellow to shift the mixture warmer. It’s intuitive like with cooking you make the soup and then taste it sometimes it needs a little more salt, pepper or whatever. It’s the same thing with mixing color. Just remember to add white at the end of your mixture. To avoid times when you might add white to early in a mixture. If I am creating a very light blue green for instance and using a dark blue such as thalo or ultramarine. These colors are so dark in value it is hard to see what the color is doing when it is so dark. I could lighten the mixture with lemon yellow but that will also shift the mixture more yellow. I might add a little white to make the blue higher in value just so I can see the hue a little clearer and control my mixture much better.
The paint color Black has gotten a bad rap over the years. There are two camps those that swear that black should never find its way onto your palette and others that say good paintings can’t be done without it. I say good paintings can be done with or without black. I do enjoy having black on my palette. You can certainly paint without black and many great artists don’t use black. However there are just as many great colorists and impressionists who used black including Degas, Manet, Zorn and others. The best thing to remember is add black to a color mixture containing one or two other colors. Avoid having white in the mixture since that will lower the chroma or intensity of the mixture considerably. Use black with a transparent color like alizarin crimson or ultramarine blue and others this will give the black more translucency and add some depth to the black. Also remember in your mixtures that black is nothing more than a very dark low intensity blue. So remember black is a blue use it that way in your mixtures.
By understanding how to use white and black and how they affect your color mixtures you can use them effectively to lower and lighten the value of your colors while controlling their intensity. This will give your paintings more depth.