How I Developed My Oil Painting Technique

by JoAnne McFarland in Ways to Stay Motivated
There’s a yellow house on Union Street in Brooklyn that I pass by every day on the way to my studio. I love this house! So cheery with its yellow steps, so inviting—and so odd mixed in with all the brownstones.

A Great Teacher Can Make All the Difference

I took oil painting lessons from artist Andrew Reiss for several years. Andy is a Brooklyn institution, a wonderful teacher, who teaches all levels, guiding students through the basics of drawing into the magic of oil painting. 
From Andy I learned how to block in a painting, how to lay out my palette, how to work from very thin layers of paint into thicker ones, why I should choose a brush slightly larger than I think I need, how to push through frustration, and how to determine if I’ve honored both the subject and my original vision.

Moving On

After four years I knew it was time to leave. It was so hard! I was terrified. Even though I had been a professional artist for more than two decades, I had focused on abstraction and collage. I wanted to expand what I could do, and I knew I just had to take the plunge. In order to build a portfolio of oil paintings, I had to start somewhere.

Figuring Out Where to Begin On My Own

I decided that I would focus on landscape, and in particular on my beloved Brooklyn neighborhood. I needed a subject that was so familiar to me and to everyone. I needed a subject with a geometry that made sense, that I could follow, stroke by stroke.
I worked on a 16 part grid—dividing my canvas into 16 equal rectangles. I used a photograph of my subject, cut into 16 parts as a kind of map of the painting, blocking in each segment separately, almost as if it were an abstract image of its own (which in a sense it is). 
The yellow house, with its dynamic coloration and architectural rhythms, provided the perfect subject. I painted the house over and over, in different seasons, from different angles, each time becoming more confident in my ability to create form. I didn’t worry so much about mood, but of course that is what everyone responds to most!