Unlocking Vibrancy in Oil Painting

I fall in love with every painting I make. The my–heart–is–beating–so–fast kind of love. The I–know–this–one–won’t–disappoint–me kind of love. More than any other way of working, for me oil painting is a process of surrender and effervescent discovery.

The Love Affair Begins With the Blues

This is the blocking in stage. I set up the canvas, or wooden panel, and gesso it, always following the same rhythm, always three coats of primer, sanding lightly in between coats. Always a mid–tone ground (cobalt blue mixed with titanium white). And for large paintings, always a multi–part grid that provides a manageable skeleton for laying out the painting:

Next Come the Shadows

I lay in the darkest colors first, then the next darkest. It’s a bit like providing the back story, the tell–me–a–little–bit–about–yourself part of getting to know someone. I never use black in the shadows, or earth tones, preferring to create depth from more vivid pigments on my palette.

Deepening the Background and Adding Mid–Tones

Next, I find the tones in the background, and all the middle level colors in the subject, pulling toward the light. Often at the end of this phase I start to feel a bit lost, not quite sure how to reach a resolution. I read a great quote recently that said every ambitious undertaking will feel like a failure in the middle. This is true of every large painting I’ve made—even though I follow the same methods, even though I’ve practiced.

The Light Effect Comes at the End

I blend in the brightest tones last of all, as if light were a wash—a kiss. Having to wait ’til the end for this gift makes the entire process a joy!