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Oil Painting for Dummies?

cuno amiet self portrail oil painting

Oil Painting For Dummies? (or What I Learned About Oil Painting)

A few days ago, I decided to try my hand at painting with oil.

With pandemic boredom kicking into overdrive, and nasty spring transition-season weather setting in, I decided it was time to finally try something I’ve always been interested in. For years I’ve been fascinated by the impressionist painters like Vincent Van Gogh and Cuno Amiet (see above). These brilliant minds, living in a time before mass photography and when art was a rigid form, chose to create pieces of art so stunning its hard not to delight in their bright colours and delicate brushstrokes.

My wife retrieved her oil painting set and created for me an impromptu studio in our kitchen. The funny thing is, I’m actually the one who purchase her the set for Christmas… perhaps it was a bit of a vicarious purchase; though her attempts at art with it have been far superior to mine.

Process vs. Purpose

So I sat down, pulled out my phone, and chose an impressionist painting of a tree, bushes and sky to imitate from Google. Light blues and yellows filled the sky in strokes, while brilliant greens, browns and yellows (and even reds and pinks). I took a look at the tubes of paint and began, naturally for me, to pick and separate the colours I would start with. Whats at the top of the image? A blue sky.

So I gathered 4-5 types of blue, starting with the darkest (nearly black) and fading up to the lightest ultramarine. With a dollop of each blue on my wood pallet, I began to paint the sky that bestrode my pencil-outlined & twisted tree. Darkest first, I loaded my brush and spread the paint liberally across the top few inches of the canvas.

Did I mention it was essentially black?

My blue sky scene was in peril, the gorgeous light of midday now forced into the looming darkness of night. An incoming thunderstorm threatened my bright warm day. I tried my hardest to salvage the sky into a lighter blue as it approached the foreground, but the darkness still imposed itself on my scene.

Why did I have to organize and regiment my choices like this? Why did I think this dutiful technique would be anything like what dear Vincent and Cuno did when they made art?

Like clockwork, I nearly did the same through all the colours as I sectioned the image off. First, sky – then tree trunk – then leaves – finally periphery bushes. Well, I guess now its time to add the drops of yellow light that I love in every impressionist painting… but where do they go and why?

On a long enough timeline, all colours mixed trend towards brown, my friends.

After an hour of painting, I looked at my work, surprised I was unable to complete a magnum opus in oil on my first try. Defeated, drained, I placed my small canvas into a plastic bag for transport to the dumpster. There would be no pride of place on the mantle for this masterpiece.

Steps from the dumpster I chuck the effigy in with a metal clank. No more art dreams for me. But, out of the corner of my eye, I see something flapping lightly on the ground. It’s an errant $5 bill.

I guess trying new things can be rewarding.

Maybe you won’t master a skill. Perhaps you won’t be recognized as the visionary of your generation. But give it a shot, no matter what it is – you’re bound to get something out of it. Even if it’s not exactly what you expected.

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