Category Archives: Oils

Oil vs. Gouache


So I’m at it again… I broke out the oil paints. Every once in a while I get the urge. Sometimes it’s just that I want a break from gouache (as much as I love it), and sometimes it’s as simple as “hey I’ve had this cool-shaped canvas sitting here for months! I shall do something with it!” Since gouache doesn’t stick to canvas, I have few options.

Oils have this delightful quality to them that’s hard to explain. It’s something about the glowy transparency of the oil that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The ability to layer and create large, smooth areas is a great perk, which I take advantage of every time, since gouache can’t do that. And they smell good, too.

BUT. I don’t break them out too often. The main reasons: They’re such a mess. They try my patience. And they take up a too much real estate. The mess: oil, thinner, and sticky paint that doesn’t dry fast enough and all the sudden you put a thumbprint in your masterpiece trying to pick a cat hair out of it even though you painted it 3 days ago. Patience: see above about drying time. When I want to paint, I want to paint NOW DAMNIT. And space: again with the drying time and needing someplace to set it for 3 days that I could be using for my smaller gouache commissions. And everything’s bigger.



Oil on left. Gouache on right.

Here’s a comparison list of what you need to paint with each:


  • paint
  • canvas or masonite or etc.
  • gesso
  • palette knife
  • thinner
  • oil medium
  • dryer (i.e. japan dryer)
  • varnish
  • brushes to paint
  • brushes to blend
  • brushes to varnish
  • extra brain cells to replace those destroyed by inhaling varnish
  • patience


  • paint
  • paper
  • brush

But despite all that they’re out and I’m enjoying it. Maybe it’s the Spring in the air, or maybe I’m just due for a little crazy.

My First Canvas Giclee

Remember last year when I posted about accuracy of sky color and mentioned a painting I was working on? Well, I finished that painting in time to get it professionally photographed before delivering it a Christmas gift. I finally picked up the CD from the printer, so now I can share it with you. Finally.

Chicago from the Lake

Chicago from the Lake by Meg Lyman

12×24″ oil on canvas

SOLD – Limited Edition Canvas Giclee prints available

The biggest lesson I learned from the experience was: gesso your canvas before use. Even the pre-gessoed ones. I had one strip of canvas that would not hold onto the paint. It lifted off even after drying for several days. I nearly tore out my hair. *sigh*

Canvas doesn’t scan terribly well because of its 3-D texture. And most canvas is too big for household scanners. So I had my pals at Silver Dog Digital photograph it for me. Apparently it was tough because I used a lot of medium on the top layer and it dried all shiny. Pretty, but a bitch to photograph, with all those specular highlights.

They also printed it up (archival) on canvas, full-size, and stretched the canvas for me. Actually, they did it twice, since the first one’s color was wonky, but only charged me for one. (This is a sign of a good printer. And the more I order from them, the more perks I get. Yesterday I was waiting for some prints to finish, and the owner let me watch Transformers on his iPhone.) Varnish, frame, sign and number, print a certificate of authenticity, which is required in GA for large reproductions, and I was set. Now I just have to sell it, and cover the cost of the photograph, the canvas print, and the stretching. It was a simple process and the print is full of awesome.

Emoticons! :D

Emoticons by Meg Lyman

4×4″ each, oil on canvas


Continuing with the theme of “oils,” I present the Three Emoticons. I picked up these tiny 4×4″ gallery-wrapped canvases last time I was at my favorite art store: - Online Art Supplies

I have a thing for the three primary colors together, so I did one of each, using several tube colors for each. I tried to make the brushstrokes fit the emotion associated with the color. Then I let them dry. For a month. It took forever. Then I went to Larry’s class and learned how to make the paint flow better and dry faster (with thinner, medium, and dryer). So I went back and painted the faces last week, and they dried in a day or two. Woo!

Larry’s Girl

Larry’s Girl by Meg Lyman

16×20″ Oil on Masonite

Here she is… as finished as I can manage. Another nice thing about oils is that I can fix anything later on, so critiques are welcome! I think the contrast on her skin isn’t high enough, but I’m afraid I’ll ruin it if I do anything. I already tried darkening it and nearly botched the whole thing. Maybe I’ll go back after I’ve done a few weeks of nice, predictable pencil work.

It’s too big to fit on my scanner, so I photographed it with my snarky digital camera. The color’s pretty good but the contrast and detail aren’t quite right.

I’m not sure what to think of it, but I’m glad it’s finished. *whew*

Oil Painting Tips

I have just a few more steps to get that painting from class finished. I really hate how long oil paint takes to dry. It’s nice for fixing problems or taking a break to eat dinner, but it also means I have to wait 2 or 3 days for an area to dry before I can continue working.

In the meantime, I’ll share with you some random things I learned about oil painting. Feel free to add your own hints and tips.

  • The more paint you squirt onto your palette (or mix up), the longer you can use it. It’ll usually form a skin overnight, but the paint underneath is still pretty good the next day.
  • If your use of the palette knife is vigorous, keep a few backups on hand. They aren’t too sturdy.
  • Master’s Brush Cleaner rocks. It works great for gouache, too… but make sure you have one for each.
  • I had never used anything to thin oil paint except thinner (turpenoid). Adding an oil medium to the paint helps it flow a lot better, but also lengthens the drying time. In class I learned that 1/3 thinner, 2/3 oil, and a few drops of cobalt dryer work well – it makes the paint flow well and dry reasonably quickly. Just don’t lick your brushes, or use it around small children – cobalt dryer is poisonous.
  • Masonite is easier to paint on than canvas, but you have to gesso it. Prepared Claybord is too smooth and Gessobord is pretty rough – although I have yet to try Gessobord with oils.
  • The oil painting on Claybord in that post finally sold this week after hanging in the Marietta Pizza Company for six months!

I hope to have the workshop painting finished and blogged by mid-week.

Art Workshop

Hey everyone! I’ve been quiet for the last week and a half because I’ve been at an art workshop. I went to Kentucky to learn oil painting techniques from the top-notch fantasy artist Larry Elmore.

This is the painting just before I had to leave. We took it from a photocopied drawing of Larry’s and a raw sheet of Masonite to here in 7 days. I still have some work to do on it, but even if I never finished it, it represents a butt-ton of learning. Remember how I said I hated oil paint? Well, I like it better now that I know how to use it.  :D

I met some fabulous people (Daniel, Rhea, Laura, and Erik) and reunited with good friends (Kelly and Ken) and had a blast. I’ll post this painting again when I get it finished up!


I don’t know about normal people, but I experience a lot of inspiration during that magical world between awake and asleep. Whether waking up or falling asleep, I often see vivid images behind my eyelids, usually taking shape from whatever I’d been thinking about that day. Sometimes the images are purely random, though, and from one of those incidents came inspiration to paint an abstract.

I’d never been one to do abstracts. I found them interesting to look at, but not necessarily challenging to paint. After all, it doesn’t actually have to look like anything. That’s true, but after having painted two of them, and after studying some of Casey Klahn‘s work and his posts on colorist theory, I may have changed my mind. Casey does very interesting work in pastels using pure color, and he has some recent posts about Jackson Pollock, an artist whose work I’ve always liked.

Abstract work removes the challenges of representation, leaving only color, value, and composition. I think that makes it “purer,” in terms of art. Not better or worse, just less cluttered. It frees the artist to explore those artistic concepts, hopefully teaching them valuable lessons along the way. I’ve never felt more stereotypically artsy than I did when I was slathering paint around creating these two paintings:

Population I by Meg Lyman

6×6″ oil on canvas – $100


Population II by Meg Lyman

6×6″ oil on canvas – $85


The first one was random, starting with my half-asleep brain and going from there, just doing what felt right with the brush. When I was done, I noticed that it reminded me a bit of a population graph. I named it accordingly, and set off to do another that looked more like a graph. That’s it. I enjoyed using color straight from the tube and letting my intuition play with the compositions.

The best part about this experiment, and the reason I’ll do more of these, is the response from viewers. No two people see the same thing when they look at these paintings. Usually people look at my work and say, “nice octopus.” This time, I got impressions ranging from “pretty close” to “I would never have thought of that.” People say these remind them of a beach, warring factions, flags, elections, political parties, and tectonic plates. How cool is that? I am fascinated by the things people see in these paintings, and it really makes me want to do more.

What do you see?

Those Darn Staples

The Kleptoctopus by Meg Lyman

6×6″ oil on canvas


Thanks to The Sister for the title. Despite the fact that it took me a week of evenings to finish because of the slow-drying oil paint, I enjoyed working on this guy. But it brings up an interesting question: what to do about the staples?

Do you paint over them? Frame the piece? Or are you smart enough to buy only gallery-wrap canvas? All opinions requested. I have 7 more of these stapled 6×6″ canvases to paint.

A similar question: if you paint on cradled board, do you paint the sides, or leave the wood as-is?

Gouache Brushstrokes

Remember when I swore off oil paint? I do. But all my resolve withers at the slightest glance from the muse, so I went crawling back. Plus, I paid for those tubes and they’re just sitting there…

Anyway, I’ve recently been doing some small oils and gouaches, going back and forth. This has helped me appreciate the oils a little more. Gouache still wins hands-down in a head-to-head matchup – it took me a week to do a 6×6″ oil because I had to keep waiting for it to dry (whine! want to paint NOW!) – but there is one thing about it that can’t compare to oil: blending brushstrokes.

They say gouache is great for coloring illustrations because of the smooth, flawless areas of color it can create. I have never been able to achieve such smoothness – I end up with brushstrokes showing everywhere. I’m convinced that it requires 1) very smooth supports and 2) perfect paint consistency. I possess #1, but #2 requires more skill than I currently have. Plus, the stuff dries so fast that the perfect-consistency-paint you mixed an hour ago is now tacky or totally dry. Excuses, excuses, I know… but either way, I haven’t been able to get that smooth finish that gouache is known for. With oils, I can get it every time, effortlessly. Meh.

So, what’s a girl to do? I have completely given up trying to make smooth areas of color, especially on textured supports. Instead, I use the brushstrokes as textures. It doesn’t always work well, but I’m still learning. If you need a large area of color, try doing lots of small directional brushstrokes, or cross-hatching. From afar, it looks smooth and consistent. Close-up, it gives another dimension to the painting, potentially making it more interesting. Some examples:

Gouache on Gessobord:

Gouache on cold press watercolor paper:

Preparing Claybord Smooth

Legless Mouse

5×7″ Oil on Claybord Smooth


Here is an example of how to make oil or gouache work with Claybord Smooth. Go here to see an example of how to make a horrible streaky mess with oil on Claybord Smooth.

I painted the background weeks ago, and it is all streaky and ugly and brushstrokey. However, it dried to a nice textured finish, so painting over the top of it was sort of like painting on canvas. It works really well for oil, and pretty well for gouache.

Cool, huh?