Category Archives: Oils

Abstracts

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

SOLD

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

SOLD

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?

No, I Don’t Like Oil Paint

Every medium I’ve tried has given me an accurate first impression. Sometimes my opinion evolves (see posts on my first and second attempt at pastels), but by the second try, I know how if I’ll like it. And, no matter the impression, I never abandon a medium, because I’m an optimist. Also, because I paid good money for the supplies, damnit.

My very first experience with oil paints was a class I took in some woman’s basement when I was ten. I have one oil painting from that class, and it’s pretty good. I don’t remember much, except the part when the teacher tried to help and ruined a cool textural effect I’d created. Also, there was a bully in the class. It was traumatic.

The oil painting:
My second experience with oil paints was 3 or 4 years ago. I signed up for a community oil class at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Their class selection is great, and I’ve taken several there. The oil class was just OK because the instructor wasn’t very good. He didn’t explain anything about the oil paints themselves, which made it hard for me to understand how to use them. He just said, “do what I do”… and we did, and my results were worse than the flowers I painted when I was ten:
That class left a bad taste in my mouth too. It was at least 3 years until I re-opened up those dusty tubes of oil paint. Last summer, I broke them out for the hell of it, and painted this. It was a blind three-color experiment (I picked three tubes with my eyes closed, plus limited amounts white, for my palette). It turned out just OK.

I broke them out again last week, because I had a bite on an oil commission. I needed to practice the blasted things. I decided on a self-portrait on canvas, and toned it a nice greenish blue. I had leftover blue, and being the stingy artmonger I am (see first paragraph), I decided to use it to tone something else. Wasn’t enough for a mid-sized canvas, but you can’t put oils on paper… hmm… ah, Claybord! I have lots of Claybord!

The only small pieces I had were Claybord smooth, which is so slick that you could slide across it in your socks if you were 2 inches tall. The Ampersand website suggests you prepare Claybord Smooth before using it with oil paint, since it has no tooth and dries so quickly. Well, I didn’t want to mess with the gesso, so I didn’t prepare it. And guess what… Ampersand was right.

The quick-drying part is great! Part of the reason I dislike oils is the ice-age duration you have to wait for them to dry. However, the slick part wasn’t so good. Putting it on thin or thick, the stuff streaked because of the lack of tooth.
Streeeeeeak, streeeeak, streeeeak.

So yeah, I’m still working on that self-portrait, but I really don’t like oils. With all respect to the wonderful Larry Elmore, who extolled their virtues, I don’t think their wonderful blending ability makes up for all the annoyances. They smell funny, they require messy mediums, they don’t clean with water, you can’t use them on regular ol’ paper, some of the accessories are toxic (dryers, turpentine), they take six months or more to dry (six months!!!), and they require varnishing. Give me good old water-based, quick-drying, non-blending gouache any day.

However, I will continue to work with them, because I paid good money for them, damnit.