Artist Diaries: Watercolor effects using oils

Lee, my teacher, seems conflicted. On the one hand she tells me I should paint it as well as I can. On the other she notes it must look crappy before it looks good.

Lee Hartman teaches me a new technique for oil painting which results in a watercolor effect.
How to - watercolor effects using oil
Lee Hartman teaches me a new technique for oil painting which results in a watercolor effect.

For those of you following along on this series, you are probably tired of seeing the painting of the Lucie Stern Theatre. I am pleased with how that painting turned out. After months of staring at it though, it is a refreshing change to close the chapter on my fifth painting and finally divert all focus to my sixth, “Candy Apples, Lemons and Whispers.”

This painting is based on a photo taken many years ago. My mother-in-law use to be a teacher. During the summer breaks, she would work at a candy apple and lemonade stand at The Ex in Canada. The Ex is an annual national exhibition that is part circus, part concert, part amusement park and all fun. The money she made from the summer would be part of her slush fund. The woman in the painting operating the cash register is my mother-in-law.

I had come across the photo while browsing through old and new photos seeking inspiration.

The Ex, Ottawa, Canada at Lansdowne Park
I finally found some time over the week before class to use my home art studio. I made some progress on the background of "The Ex" fair in Canada before my Saturday class.

I started this week’s art class with some work I did during the week in my home art studio. You can tell from the photo above that I started to paint in the background. This is the first pass of the painting and I am never sure how detailed or not I should get in this phase.

Lee, my oil painting teacher, seems conflicted. On one hand she tells me I should paint it as well as I can. On the other hand she notes it must look crappy before it looks good. So which one is it? Like most things in life, the right answer is “both.” It is figuring out the dynamic balance between these seemingly opposite pieces of instructions that will take me years or even decades to master.

This week, Lee shows me a new technique. Instead of using my oil paints in their absolute intensity and concentration, Lee advises me to thin them down with oil or turpentine so that they become an almost watercolor consistency. Then I apply them like I would watercolor. Highlighting the different colors and tones in the painting without putting in absolute detail. The goal is to create visual interest with different concentrations of paint. Also because the paint is thinned down, it is also easier to mix different shades and play with colors on the palate. I am able to mix colors with my brush instead of just with a palate knife.

Once the colors are applied, a puff brush is used to soften the colors. More on selecting puff brushes in another post.

For now, I am enjoying this new technique. It gives you the instant satisfaction that I think those that decide to veer towards watercolor or acrylics value.

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