I’ve used ink, watercolour, collage, pastel and relief printing, and have always heard that oil painting is easier than any of these. But the cleanup, the smell and the waiting time for the paint to dry has always put me off.
On the other hand, the effort and expense of framing artwork made me think oil has a huge advantage once you’ve finished the painting – and I love the intense colour and the fact that there is no glass between the viewer and the painting. So I decided to give it a go.
I’m taking lessons from local artist Col Nelson.
I get marine plywood from the hardware store, have them cut it to 30 x 40 or 40 x 50 cm, and coat it with two coats of white gesso, sanding each coat when it is dry. I much prefer the board to canvas, as I am used to having a hard surface and I don’t like the way canvas bounces when you paint on it. Once you have boards (or canvas) ready to use, there is little preparation, you can jump right in and start painting.
I’m using one of the 30 x 40 boards as a palette, after oiling it before the first use. When I’m finished a painting session I scrape off any big gobs of paint and save them in gladwrap in the freezer. Then I wipe the board with a paper towel and then rub in the remaining paint with the paper towel. This is easy to transport, light and unbreakable.
I don’t find the cleanup nearly as difficult as I expected. I do have some ‘water mixable’ oil paints but even with normal oil paints, the odourless solvent makes it much less smelly than using turps. The cleanup isn’t really much worse than cleaning up watercolour, and the paint doesn’t go everywhere like pastel dust (though I do seem to get it all over myself and my clothes). I use newspaper, paper towels and rags to clean brushes before washing them in the solvent. The clean solvent is poured off the top into another jar once the paint has settled to the bottom.
And is it easier to use oil than other media? Having a lot of previous experience in drawing and painting definitely helps.There are a few basic techniques, which you can learn from a good teacher, and once you have mastered those I believe it is at least as easy as watercolour – it’s just different and the effect you are striving for is very different. It does take some patience as you have to wait for each layer to dry. Many of the techniques are similar to those used for pastel or watercolour – for example, using transparent layers and smudging. The palette knife is a joy to use, and in combination with brushwork can give you a huge range of textures.