Tutorials · Tutorials

TUTORIAL: Evolution of a painting “Suspicion.” Step by step in oils

I thought I’d show my process of painting, as well as demonstrate how digital tools like Photoshop can be a time-saver and life-saver for an artist. Sure, I’m an old-school traditional painter, but that doesn’t mean I’ll turn my back on new technology completely!

(Click on the thumbnail to see a bigger picture.) Some progress paintings for “Suspicion,” oil on 8×8″ linen panel.

  1. Probably 3/4 done. Eyes are too high up on the face. (Checking in Photoshop helped me see this.) Highlights (on cheek and chin) are too bright and harsh. He’s got a wall eye (on our right side, the eye is looking off in a different direction.)
  2. Much better. Eyes a bit too big (but I didn’t really mind that). “Muzzle” of face (mouth, chin, under nose) is pushed out too much. Makes him look slightly ape-like. That will not do!
  3. Almost done. Eye on our right still strays a bit too much. Area around the mouth not quite to my liking. Creases above eyebrows not quite correct.
  4. A few more tweaks. Fixed highlight above upper lip. Reshaped the lower lip a bit. Tiny bit of adjustment to eye direction.

I don’t usually photograph my paintings when I’m in the middle of working on them. (I will have to do that sometime in the future for tutorial purposes.) So unfortunately I don’t have a picture of this painting in its beginning stages. So this is the best I can do—to show how I can go off the rails with details and proportions, and how eventually I get things set to order in the end. It’s almost always a gradual, ongoing process.

Part of my “problem” is that I paint (“draw”) freehand. 😉 By that I mean, no grids, no tracing a photograph. I like to draw and paint from life (the model sitting in front of me) when my schedule allows, and without reasonable freehand drawing skills, that simply wouldn’t be possible. So being overly dependent on drawing aids was never much of an option. I find that my drawing speed is reasonably efficient and it only gets better, the more I practice.

Some artists (particularly portrait artists) are very accomplished and can produce something fabulous-looking within a short amount of time. But I’m not one of those artists. 😉 Yes, I can paint relatively fast(ish) and can produce something okay-looking in an hour or so. But those little details and flaws that can break a painting—they afflict me! Rarely do I paint something “perfect” in one sitting. I wish it were so . . . oh how I wish it were so!

My primary drawing aid of choice is the computer and Adobe Photoshop. If I see problems with a painting-in-progress (and I always do), I make notes of what needs to be corrected and keep these notes with me for when I work on the painting again. This helps me keep out a sharper eye for areas where I tend to have difficulties. If I traced (or used a grid with lots of tight little squares) every time I painted something, how would I learn where my problem areas in drawing were?

So, I have to let a painting sit for a day or two, let it simmer on my brain’s back burner, and then I can see where I’m going wrong. The computer helps me find problem areas. Sizing the artwork down to thumbnail size helps me see how it would look from a distance. (This is vital!) Flopping it (mirror image) in Photoshop helps me see where things are off-center or slanting to one side or the other. (They always are. Always.) Before I had Photoshop I would hold up the painting to a mirror. I sometimes still do this if I’m in the midst of working on it and sense something is off. Some artists have a mirror with them in their studio at all times, just for this purpose.

paintings · portraits

Eyeliner – an oil sketch

This time, I’ve got a little 4×4 inch oil sketch. Not much to say about this, other than it was fun to paint and has a little looser style for me. I studied some fashion illustration in art school, so I sometimes enjoy painting glamour or fashion faces. I hope I can paint more with this loose style in the future.

“Eyeliner” 4×4 inches, oil on panel. 

The fun thing about this painting is that I used a little wood panel that I’d primed with a lead-based oil foundation. For those of you who are not painters, this means absolutely nothing, so you can stop reading now. 😉

I sealed the panel with this acrylic glue-like stuff (Golden Brand “GAC 100” acrylic medium). Then I covered the panel with a few coats of M. Harding’s “Foundation White,” a lead-based white paint that can be used for priming canvases and panels. I liked the surface for painting and will be using more of this stuff. And don’t worry, I was careful with the evil lead paint. I didn’t eat any of it or anything!

paintings · portraits

Flowing Hair

A shout-out to Gifsandstock at DeviantArt for letting me use their fab stock photo as reference!

flowing hair

“Flowing Hair,” oil on cradled wood panel, 6×6 inches. This image is cropped. Click to see it uncropped.

I was struck by the stock photo (by Gifsandstock!) and wanted to do a painting inspired by the moody photo. I hope it turned out okay. I’m always learning something about how to mix colors, apply paint, and so forth. So much more to learn! So much more practice to do! But then every artist (if they’re being honest with themselves) will tell you the same thing!

paintings · portraits

“Suspicion” portrait study in oil

Another in my series of paintings exploring human expression and emotion, inspired by those melodramatic Spanish-language soap operas. (So much crying and angst! So over-the-top! So campy! I love this stuff!) Other paintings in this series are “Sad Tears,”  “Sideway Glance, and Roger.”

I started working on this series because I needed the practice (an interesting excuse to paint little portrait studies) and I thought the challenge of trying to capture the expressions was a needed exercise. Plus I love those Spanish soaps! I started watching them years ago (off and on) and they really have helped with my Spanish comprehension.

“Suspicion” oil on oil-primed linen, 8×8 inches.

I used SourceTek‘s fantastic oil-primed linen. Oh my word, I can’t say enough about SourceTek. When I put the first brushstrokes down on an oil-primed SourceTek panel, I stopped and went, “Whoa!” Kind of like if I’d eaten an especially luscious piece of chocolate. It was that sublime. You just had to be there. The way it took the paint, the texture . . . *sigh* Seriously, I’m in love with these panels. I’ve also got a nice little order of oil-primed linen from RayMar, and I anticipate a similar reaction.

I use good quality paints of various brands. Some of them standard quality “artist grade” (like Winsor & Newton’s Artist Oils and Grumbacher’s Pre-Tested) but I also have some heady, high-end super-duper fancy oil paints. Like Vasari. Sigh and say it with me . . . Vasari.

Vasari is super rich, super smooth, and super-expensive. I had Yellow Ochre (a cheaper pigment) on my palette when I worked on this painting. Other colors (from less expensive brands) were Alizarin Crimson (Permanent variety), Cadmium Red Light, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue, Red Iron Oxide, Naples Yellow, Burnt Carmine (Rembrandt brand—I LOVE this color!), and a Titanium-Zinc White.

Some day I’ll devote a whole blog post to some of my favorite paint brands, as well as more about the colors I like best. But not in this post.

This painting was started several months ago, was shelved as I got sidetracked with other things, and then I returned to it. There was some fussing and fiddling that went into it (getting the proportions of the head correct took a little longer than it should have) but finally I think it’s done. I feel like the painting style here harks back a little bit too much to my illustration roots (I studied illustration in art school) but that’s okay. I’m simply glad to have it done. Onto the next painting!

paintings · portraits · Works in Progress

Looking Outward – acrylic WIP (with a long story attached to it)

First off, let me thank photographer Cathleen Tarawhiti for allowing artists to use her work as stock photography! Thanks beyond words. Cathleen is one of my favorite stock photographers and I already have acquired a stack of her photos, which I plan on using as reference in the future.

Acrylic on Gessobord, 5×5 inches. WORK IN PROGRESS

There’s a long story behind this painting. Well, maybe not that long, but I’ll make it feel long! 😉

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not participating in Daily Paintworks. The key thing for many artists is “daily.” I haven’t been very good about producing something “daily,” but lately I’ve been really trying.

Today (well, last night) I had a busy day and couldn’t get to painting until later in the evening. I had several oil paintings in the works, almost done—but decided that they weren’t quite ready for prime time. (Later I discovered that one probably was. Oh, what a fool am I!) So I decided to pull out the old set of acrylics. Well, the new set of acrylics (I bought a few new tubes and had some samples to try out) but you get the idea.

I haven’t done a lot of acrylic painting lately. I never really have painted as much in acrylics as I have oils. The last time I painted in acrylics it wasn’t that tough and kind of fun (finished a portrait sketch in about an hour) so I thought, “How hard can it be?” I thought I’d bang out my “daily painting” in an hour and that would be it!

Oh, what a fool am I!

I chose a lovely stock photo to paint from and got started. And had trouble. I don’t think the painting is beyond hope—not at all—but I had a very limited palette and I didn’t like my brushes (that’s it, blame the materials!). Ugh. Anyway, I got stressed out. The “quick one hour sketch” took several hours. Very frustrating. But not beyond hope.

So that is this painting’s story. I’ll update this post when I do whatever else it is I’ll be doing to this painting. Probably not too much more. (I hope it’s close to being done! I’ve suffered enough! 😉 )

UPDATE: I may not complete this painting for a while. I may actually just start a new painting using the same stock, but with a larger size. (And I may do that one in oils.) Am still not quite sure.


Still Life with Tangerines in oils

I haven’t painted any still lifes since college, in Drawing 2 class and the beginning watercolor class. I don’t know why I didn’t do more of them. They’re totally fun and very challenging too!

I did this painting in one evening and touched it up after it dried. I didn’t know if I’d be able to paint the plastic bottle well, but I think it turned out okay! But definitely, still lifes are tough and excellent practice for the artist looking to improve their drawing, color, and observational skills.


Click on thumbnail to see larger picture. “Still Life with Tangerines,” 6×6″ on cradled panel.

paintings · portraits

Sad Tears (oil study)

Another painting! I fuss over this one, but I do like it. It’s called “Sad Tears” and it’s part of my “novela” series, inspired by those fabulous, campy Spanish-language soap operas. So many tears, so many emotions!

Click on image to see larger, uncropped picture. Original is 6×6″ on oil panel.

The panel I painted on uses a “dovetail slot” (which you can read more about here). The panel is about 3/8″ thick and has a slot in the back where you can slide the panel onto a nail and it’ll hang flat on the wall. Pretty cool; no worries about framing or attaching wires or hooks to the back!

I’ve been enjoying working with my oil paints. I do love oils! They are so expressive and forgiving. So many rich colors to choose from! I’ll be writing about that more in the future.

paintings · portraits

“Brown Eyes” small oil study

I’ve been neglectful of this blog lately, but not of painting! Several paintings are in the pipeline, or have been completed. This painting is up on my account on Daily Paintworks. I love Daily Paintworks. It’s perfect for me. A lot of artists doing studies, like I do, and practicing to get better! And there’s the motivation to do daily paintings, which is exactly what I need!

Click on the picture to see it larger. The original is oil on cradled panel, 6×6″.

I was simply enjoying the colors and light on her face. The texture of the panel (Ampersand’s “artist” line) was kind of nice. Kind of “canvasy.” I call her “Brown Eyes.”