I am not an artist, but I love to make art. Well, maybe I am an artist then, but not a very good one. Untrained. There, that’s more fair to me. I don’t think that should stop anyone from creating though. I learned to knit from YouTube, where I also learned to quilt and to papercut. It’s where I go now when I’m confused about a painting technique.
My oil painting love started with a class taught by the incomparable Amanda Cadogan at Shimer College. It’s the only formal art class I’ve ever taken, and I learned so much in just a few weeks. This is one of the paintings I finished during the course:
What I’m going to show you today is nothing like this at all. What I learned to do through Cadogan’s instruction can be referred to as “classical realist oil painting.” What I decided to do for my Mad Max: Fury Road painting I lovingly refer to as “anyone with paint and a canvas can do this painting.”
The first step is to construct a canvas. This was done by purchasing “canvas stretchers”—four strips of notched wood that fit together. I then staple-gunned them together, stretched a piece of canvas over the structure, and staple-gunned that onto the wood. Finally, I covered the canvas with thick white primer known as “gesso.” This is a very important step. Without priming the canvas, the oil painting will seep through the material.
I then proceeded to do a really complex under-painting for the original Sailor Moon painting I had planned. My darling cat proceeded to step right in the middle of the canvas, onto the toxic oil paint, so I bathed the cat and painted a new layer of gesso on the canvas.
Then I saw Fury Road and decided Sailor Moon could wait.
An under-painting is basically applying the colors and tones that will build up into the eventual oil painting. (Art majors everywhere are cringing at my terrible explanation. Apologies!) So, this is what it looked like at first:
I then waited absolutely forever for this to dry (a few days), and applied the next layer. And then the next layer. And then some more paint. Basically, oil painting takes a really long time, even when you’re defying everything your teacher taught you and just doing your own thing.
So, while we’re painting, I’ll tell you a bit about my supplies. I used some nice paintbrushes; they’re a synthetic sable and have long handles (apparently good for balance). This is a good guide if you’re thinking about learning to oil paint and not sure what supplies to start with. I paint with Windsor & Newton Artists’ paints. My palette for this painting was Cadmium Scarlet, Yellow Ochre Pale, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red, and Cadmium Yellow.
I should have been using an actual palette. I own a good clear one. I own a palette knife for mixing. Instead, I used the cover of the Chicago Reader, and I mixed my paints with my brush, which is a big no-no. Don’t learn my bad behavior.
Finally, I put the finishing touches on my very simple representation of the War Rig about to drive through the thunderwall.
One of the best parts of oil painting is that I can always go back and add more, fix things I don’t like, and improve it. But, for now, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s cute and drying in my front windows. (Don’t touch it, cat!)