Category Archives: Oils

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?

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.