Let's rewind to one year ago. I was walking by a local art store and noticed a big "going out of business sale" sign on the door. I stepped in, and the sky opened up and a heavenly beam of light shown down directly onto the oil painting display.
Ok not exactly... the details are a bit fuzzy...
Regardless, I picked up a handful of oil colors, some linseed oil, and a few brushes, and headed home.
I went with the Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colours, because I liked the idea of using as few chemicals as possible. If used straight out of the tube, or with any of the Artisan Water Mixable mediums, these can be cleaned up with soap and water. No smelly thinners or cleaners. Bonus!
The fumes, harsh chemicals, and assumed mess of oil painting is why I resisted oil painting for so long. Since I paint indoors all winter and I don't want to keep the window open and freeze to death, I need to use materials with as little fumes as possible.
So, that problem was solved with this brand! I do keep my door wide open while I paint, because there are a tiny amount of fumes from my mediums, but otherwise, it's a great solution for my little bedroom studio.
A year ago, without knowing what I was doing, I just jumped right into oil painting. That's my favorite way to learn. I don't dwell too much on tutorials or the "right" way to do things when I first start learning a medium. I just let my intuition guide me. I experiment like crazy.
My first oil painting:
As you can see, the paintings on the left are other painting mediums. This is my favorite way of learning. Comparing all the mediums I know how to use directly side by side. This gives me an immediate comparison of blending, color mixing, ease of use, etc.
The next day, I painted this:
I painted this live on my twitch stream, and several people commented asking if this was watercolor, acrylic, or oil? I thought that was interesting. I had no clue what I was doing, but had tons of fun either way. This was my first glimpse into the enchanting world of the endless blending of oil paint.
Unfortunately, shortly after completing this painting, I had to go from Scotland back to Denver as my visitor visa was expiring. I had to leave most of my supplies in Scotland, since I had to pack light. I thought, "OK, I'll just take my watercolors home and when I return to Scotland I'll pick up oil painting again."
During those 8 months in Denver I was working really hard to get a better handle on rendering lighting and using colors smarter in my landscapes. I worked mostly in watercolor, which is the opposite of oils, but there are many things that translate between the two.
It doesn't matter what medium you are using. If you are studying light and color, you can put it to use with any medium.
I craved the leisurely pace of oil painting. I craved that incredible ability to blend. I craved the magical vibrancy and depth of color.
8 months later, I was back in Scotland.
I painted this shortly after arriving back in Scotland. I had been itching to paint with oils for quite a while. It was the largest oil painting I had done to date, at 16x20 inches. It was done "alla prima" which means completed in one session (5 hours).
As you can probably tell from my portfolio, Scotland is my muse. I feel so full of joy and peace when I'm painting this beautiful country.
I also did a little forest scene, in order to practice some lighting styles, and learned very quickly how difficult it is to create a "glowing" effect.
As you know, I love painting forests, and I know I have a long ways to go in my practice!
Next, I decided to step up the challenge and go big!
Step by Step
This is still the largest oil painting I've done, at 20x24 inches. It took about 20 hours over multiple sessions. It was the first time I had let layers dry between sessions. I ended up loving the process, as it allowed a lot more detail to unfold.
In this painting I used my palette knife a lot and an impasto technique of very thick layers.
At this point, I was also hiking every weekend, and doing lots of gouache plein air (even though it was winter and the weather didn't always cooperate).
So for my birthday, my husband got me this BEAUTIFUL pochade box (Guerrilla ThumBox vII 6x8) so I could do some plein air oil painting! I was so incredibly excited. It had been on my wishlist for a while, and I immediately starting prepping for my first outdoor oil session.
My typical plein air watercolor/gouache setup is extremely small and mobile. Most of it fits in my pockets. I don't like easels or tripods or lots of STUFF. My primary focus is to enjoy the scenery, to hike freely, and to be very present in nature.
So I was really wondering how this was going to go... would it allow me the freedom I'm used to? Or will it weigh me down and make painting outside a nuisance?
My first plein air oil session was brilliant. I'm usually balancing my little sketchbook and paints on my lap, keeping extra supplies in my pockets, or on the ground next to me.
This little pochade box is so convenient and easy to use, lightweight, and actually holds quite a lot of supplies! It's so light, I can easily hold the entire thing in one hand.
I load it up with panels (I use Guerrilla Painter 6x8 Artist boards which are oil-ready cardstock that I prime with gesso/acrylic mix).
I pre-load my palette with a handful of colors. Since I'm painting so small, I really don't need a lot.
Then I throw everything into my backpack and go!
As I was standing there painting, I felt a sense of freedom and joy. There was no rush. No worry. I was even more present than usual, because I wasn't worried about all the finicky issues of watercolor or gouache.
Photo by my husband.
In a short amount of time, plein air oil has become my favorite sort.
Don't get me wrong, I will always love watercolor, and I still take my travel set out for quick sessions.
But nothing beats the leisurely pace of oil painting, never worrying about messing up or drying too fast. It's just you, the paint, and the sounds of nature.
Here's a video review of my small pochade box as well the process of plein air oil painting outside.
I've discovered that I'm much more aware, much more present in the moment and able to soak in the beauty of nature when doing oil plein air.
Plus I can use my palette knife, which is my favorite!
So, now that I discovered how much I love plein air oil, I found that when I was back in my studio, the convenience of my pochade box was missing. Since I switch between watercolor, gouache, and oil on an almost daily basis, my setup for oil was getting frustrating.
I invested in this Sienna Pochade Box (Large) in order to minimize the need to completely change my setup when switching to oils. I just switch out my watercolor easel with this, and I'm good to go! Now I LOVE painting with oils in the studio too!
It might sound silly, but owning this Sienna pochade box has made my life so much easier. It is beautiful, well made, and I love the built-in glass palette. For anything smaller than 17 inches high (which most of my work is), I can use this box.
This is a little "unboxing" video and demo of the Sienna Pochade box.
These are my current preferred mediums for oil painting:
Zest-It is my newest addition, it's an all-natural brush cleaner made from orange zest. It smells very strongly of oranges!
Linseed oil is a great natural thinner.
Liquin and Fast Drying Medium are similar but act a little different. They both speed the dry time.
Gloss varnish brings out the depth of color for the final coat.
Liquin Impasto allows you to maintain your brush strokes and thick layers - it holds it's shape and dries to the touch within 2-3 days depending on thickness and color.
Last week we went on a mini camping trip to western Scotland and I took my Guerrilla Pochade ThumBox 6x8 along with me. At various locations I was able to enjoy the incredible scenery while painting. Keep an eye on my youtube for some upcoming videos!
I've definitely had some lessons learned already, and it's not always easy to paint with oils outside. For one thing, I definitely DO get messy, and I'm a little more diligent about cleaning up.
I've also discovered what I can leave behind. My pack is even lighter now.
Traditionally, plein air is used as a way to capture the fleeting quality of light, and the artist then brings their study back to the studio as a reference for a larger more complete painting.
I do this, but I also love the rough, spontaneous quality of my studies. I plan on framing them as their own special creations, because in my eyes, nothing will ever be as magical as capturing the beauty in person.
Edit: I wanted to make a quick comment about artist safety.
I don't use very much mediums, therefore the fact that I work indoors without major ventilation is not that big of a deal. However the "low odor" mediums can still have an effect on me, so I have to make sure I have some sort of airflow (like door open, or window open once in a while). For me, the sign that I'm breathing too many fumes in (even if I can't smell them) is that I get nauseous. That's my cue to leave the room and get some fresh air, or stop for the day.
When I'm painting outside, none of that matters. I can paint for hours!