View Full Version : What happened?

06-21-2013, 04:25 AM
My wife, son and I went to a nearby park. The water was AWFUL. Something has to be wrong with it because both my son and I were actually able to catch ... with bare hands .... baby bluegill that were swimming near the shore. Not sure if you can call it a shore when the other side of the pond was about a hundred feet away. You should NEVER be able to just 'catch' a small fish like that.

That reminds me, about a month or so ago my son and I went fishing with my brother. He said something that I had never thought about before. Fisherman will often cast their line as far as possible, because it MUST be deeper water way out there, whereas if they were on the opposite side of the river and did the same thing the lure would probably end about ten to twenty feet from where the first fisherman is standing. :D

The two of them separated from me so that I could sit down and paint. I brought a canvas and a canvas board, and also brought my small sets of Senellier, Holbeins and Cray-Pas Expressionists. I was so nervous with the occasional joggers going by that the Cray-Pas could just as well been called the ExpressionLess. After I was done with both pieces and my wife showed up I was about ready to toss everything in the pond. I asked my wife just how far the canvas board would fly. I told her that I was "about ready to just wear this lipstick".

Here are the pieces. What. On. Earth. went wrong? In the first one you can hardly see anything. I intended to just use the Cray-Pas to create a background color, and the others for everything to fill out the painting. In the second piece I tried to be bolder but ended up creating mud because of using the wrong colors in creating darker water and reflections. Yuck. I told my wife that when I draw and paint individual objects they come out looking pretty nice. I've got an eye for detail. It's when I attempt anything 'composition' that all hell breaks loose.

But, then .... I spent time trying the scene I have shown on here before, just under the bridge on the river, and this time I am happy with it. I don't yet know how to actually create the individual rocks on the beach itself, and I'm not sure I have that much patience. :heart:

Do most oil pastel artists blend? The last one was blended big time with a wash cloth and a q-tip, I just hate having a white background. I need to try what you all have suggested. I did try using a Cray-Pas Expressionist to fill in the background, but am concerned I will end up using too much tooth. Is the remedy to that coloring lightly and then spending time blending it with a washcloth, or as Mary suggested, using a sponge-like material to do it? I wasn't happy with this canvas board randomly picking off small chunks of the OP. Some of the surface feels lumpy and uneven. Is this normal? I bought the canvas boards in discounts at Michaels and at some website (wholesaleframes or something like that).

Pat Isaac
06-21-2013, 09:44 AM
Most Op artists that I know blend as they prefer not to have the texture show through. I prefer not to use a white background and that is why I either use a colored paper or use and underpainting. A white plastic eraser is also a good blending tool. Some of my students tell me that oil pastel has taught them patience. lol


06-21-2013, 10:19 AM
Hey, I'm trying to conserve time - so I'm calling you TVX going forward.

I have several suggestions for painting rocks. I too had issues with rocks. So I spent 5 hours one day only drawing and painting rocks - I needed to get comfortable with the shapes, cracks/crevices, colors and along with value ranges. So here is what I did: I watched several Youtube video's by Wilson Bickford, he's an artist, professor at a University in Upstate New York and does a wonderful job of simplifying how you might paint subject that seem to difficult. One of his youtubes is, painting rocks. Second I have several Lee Hamond drawing books and in one of them she shows you how to draw rocks. So what I am trying to say here - explore wetcanvas resources, internet free resources - there is a ton of information out there, read books and most important take a magnifying glass and really look at rocks that you find in paintings (examine how the artist painted the rocks). In my case I was determined to understand shape, size, coloring and details, I have produced a ton of sketches (both graphite and OPs paintings) - practice, practice and practice some more. I can't say that enough - there is no magic formula except to do.

As for the "white background - here are two ways to deal with the issue w/o using up surface tooth." NOTE: if you are painting on paper, be sure it can handle a wet surface - like watercolor paper at 140# or higher.

1. If you paint on "artist canvas board," as you mentioned - then you can do an underpainting by toning the board with watercolor first, that will alleviate the white background and not fill in the tooth (Artist Richard McKinley has a great book, a youtube on this demonstration). After it dries you can apply your oil pastels. The watercolors sometimes creates some great patterns.

2. Another idea, if using artist canvas board, tone the white background by doing an underpainting with soft pastels. Lay down your soft pastels in light layers and wash with alcohol - let dry, the alcohol seals the soft pastels and you can then lay down oil pastels without the soft pastel bleeding through. I have a thread w/demonstration that I did - you can see it at this link: http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1310403

TVX, there are lots of resources w/n the OP forum that will help you in some of the areas you have questions on.

For your Plein Air paintings, what I am seeing is you are applying a minimal amount of oil pastel and then trying to spread it. To avoid using too much tooth in covering the white background, try the suggestion above - it helps to cover the white and doesn't eat up the tooth. I am also going to suggest taking a couple of photographs and really examine what you are looking at - what do I mean. I read something once and it has always stuck with me, "paint what you see, and not what you think you see." With the photograph look for a couple of things:

1. Using your computer make the photograph black and white, first so you can see the value ranges of the subject (from 1 to 9, subject colors will fall into this area - this means from lightest to darkest). This is an important concept to understand - values determine depth and gives a flat two-dimension surface a form of three-dimension. There is a lot of material on this, including w/n wetcanvas - it will be a big benefit to your paintings.

2. Learn to paint a subject w/n the photograph - for instance. Grass: what are the colors, value ranges, is the grass short/tall, in the foreground or background. Trees: what type, what does the bark look like, is it heavily textured, leaves or needles, time of year for color, what do the branches look like. In this category, sometimes less is better - keep that in mind. Rocks: small, large, shallow/deep crevices, colors, etc. Water: rushing, calm, reflections, what are the colors (remember paint what you see, not what you think is there - here if it is a river and sun is shining on it, the whole river isn't going to be green or green-brown - it will be reflecting the sky, etc.)

3. Light and Shadow: these two make all the difference in your paintings. It's the secret to a good painting. Spend some time considering time of day and atmosphere (sunny, rainy, hazy, foggy, etc.). What color is the shadows. Without dark you can have no light. It's important.

4. Subjects are shapes: right? Instead of painting detail when you start painting a subject, consider painting the shape and then work on the character of the subject.

I hope that the above helps. There are lots of resources to learn the basics of what you are trying to achieve.

W/re to your paintings: try spreading the oil pastel with your finger, a tortillion, or a color/clay shaper. Get a feel for how they react to pressure and how much you need to exert to move the OP. I don't use a sponge, but rather foam pipe insulation for spreading large areas with the initial layers of OP that I lay down - it works for me.

Keep painting and working at understanding the basics of painting, and that of oil pastels. If you want to pain Plein Air look for landscape artists that paint outside and try to learn from them - there are several Youtube's out there that I thought were very good. Even though they don't use Oil Pastels, it's the concepts and how they analyze the view they're painting that make them worthwhile.

Your plein air paintings will evolve over time as you continue to practice and paint - I'm going to encourage you to watch some of Wilson Bickford's YouTubes he is excellent (from trees, to water, snow, grass, barns, skies).

Pat Isaac
06-21-2013, 10:42 AM
Thanks, Mary for that great explanation. It's true, shape, then detail.


06-21-2013, 11:40 AM
Your paintings look good so far. My suggestion is to put more oil pastel on the canvas. If you build it up a little more you can actually blend with the oil pastel. I have some clear blending oil pastel stick that i use, but I also use white yellow and grey sticks to tint the colir as i blend and build up the oil pastels. For fine details I use a clay shaper stick to blend in small areas.

06-21-2013, 12:15 PM
First and foremost, I LOVE your story!

I am a novice when it comes to OP, but I do know from other artistic endeavors that all the things that Mary said are spot on! Long before I attempted color, I worked with charcoal to understand values. I think that experience has been indispensable.

When I look at a scene, I do thumbnails (scribbles) to establish composition and 4 values. Lightest light, darkest dark, a middle light, a middle dark.

I find with that prep work, the painting becomes a joy! It don't always turn out the way I envision as I am new to color mixing, but it gives me something to work with more effectively.

When things DON'T work out, instead of beating myself up like I used to, I get my journal out and ask myself the question, "What did I learn from this?" and I have learned that each session becomes a joyful success rather than a "failure".

As far as backgrounds, I am having good results from toning my canvases with acrylic washes. I use yellow ochre for sunlit scenes and ultramarine for more somber scenes. Recently I prepped a canvas with a light violet and am anxious to try it out.

06-21-2013, 12:25 PM
Great comments and advice Blooming!

I totally forgot about acrylics. I use them a lot for underpainting and they would work well out doors. I will also use Red Oxide Transparency for dusk scenes. Ultramarine has been used, washing it out a bit for a seascape or just sky portions of a scene.

Great advice about thumbnail sketches and charcoal - excellent exercises.

One last idea TVX, try color washing your canvas boards before you leave your house, this way it's done and dry. And, you won't have to lug the extra painting equipment with you.

06-21-2013, 04:06 PM
Thanks, to ALL of you! (especially to Mary and Pat for the time they have been taking to explain things to me and others here....anyone else I'm forgetting?..wait...Robert!....anyone else?)

I will try painting a board with watercolor and another one with acrylic.

(must not take out more than one tube of watercolor or acrylic, must not take out more than one tube of watercolor or acrylic)

06-21-2013, 05:13 PM
Another thing I am starting to enjoy is making more than one effort at a scene. That is NOT something I've ever enjoyed before with any thing. The next time I do an en plein air I will do the following:

(0) under-paint with watercolor or acrylic before I leave the house, that way it will be dry by the time I arrive at my destination

(1) take photos ... in case the weather changes or something comes up forcing me to leave early

(2) divide a generic sketch pad page into two parts:

... (a) value sketch with charcoal pencils, and try to stay away from detail but get all the values in that i can

... (b) quick sketch with colored pencils, as loosely as possible

(3) with higher quality sketch pad, using mid-level OP's, do a full sketch.

... (a) if I am getting stuck with the details I will go back to the generic sketch pad and start a second page where I work out the details with the colored pencil

(4) with the under-painted pastel paper, or canvas board, do the painting.

Hopefully I don't have to make a "Mckayla is not impressed" face this time.

06-21-2013, 05:45 PM
Mary, I really think that Wilson's videos will be a joy to watch. I love the way he talks to the camera. :heart:

06-21-2013, 05:51 PM
Hi TVX, sounds like a good plan and that you are on your way :clap: . Monet painted his Haystacks over 100 times, to study light and color - different times of the year and day. Imagine that - seems no one got tired of seeing those paintings, see the price that one of those go for today :lol: !!

I'm going to challenge you though. I agree with you do a charcoal study - primarily it's for value and to see if the subjects fit w/n the scene. I might eliminate the need for a color pencil study and a mid-range oil pastel painting, unless you want to learn how to draw with color pencil - it may take you longer to do the color pencil than actual paint. Consider going from charcoal study to the underpainting, and then paint w/your artist quality OPs. If you are reluctant to paint with the expensive OPs first (Senneliers and Holbeins) go for the NeoPastels and Mungyo's (gallery) artist quality - these last two are less expensive and perform beautifully.

After you do the watercolor or acrylic underpainting, I strongly suggest you brush on (will give you interesting textures on your painting surface) or sponge roller (leaves a smooth appearance - like a sandy texture) on "clear gesso" to give you more(and a tighter) tooth than what is on the artist canvas board - you'll find a much better surface to paint on. Actually it's like night and day from what you've been getting from the pastel paper and canvas board (that hasn't been brushed with clear gesso) - can't recommend this step enough.

TVX, here is the most important message - have fun and remember to enjoy the experience! I know it's hard not to over analyze, but try because it will put you in a box.

All the best - (p.s. I have to prepare some boards this weekend, ran out. So I'll take a few pictures of the process and put the thread under the Oil Pastels Tool section.)

You are welcome! We are all here to help each other ~

Pat Isaac
06-21-2013, 06:24 PM
Definitely have fun. Remember that the underpaintings should be thin. I'd choose the Neos over the Holbeins, but that is only my preference, and they are expensive also. What good art supply isnt? Takes time to build up an inventory.


06-21-2013, 07:45 PM
I just watched Wilson's video where he paints a barn black, masks it off with tape, does the trees, unmasks the barn and finishes the painting. That's a guy I would love to take lessons from. Why, oh why, did I move from Massachusetts (one state over from where he is)?

Going with your suggestions, I'm going to go with the following system (feel free to tweak it, I'm one of those can't-think-with-the-clutter types).

I started my art journey with graphite, and then colored pencil, and I really have no interest in spending a lot of time doing CP pieces again, so ...


At Home:

(1) under-paint with acrylic or watercolor, then prime with clear gesso

On Site:
(2) value / shape / composition study with charcoal

(3a) Paint with Senelliers and Holbeins


What should I do with the generic sketch pads that have little tooth and aren't bound?

What about the higher quality sketch pads I have?

Which sketch pads would you do the value studies on?

What should I do with the Expressionists?

I've already given the Crayola ones to my son after trying to do a sketch for this week's challenge and being disappointed with the Crayola OP's.

06-21-2013, 08:33 PM
Hi Vtvx, (sounds downright science-fictiony doesn't it?)

Sketch pads are great for practicing/experimenting with different techniques. And for sketching for that matter. Prepping some pages before hand doesn't take long and can be done ahead of time. You can hit them with an undercoat color and then throw on a cost of Liquitex clear gesso for extra tooth. If you use a roller to apply plain old gesso you can get some tooth from the roller nap itself. With oil pastel you don't really have to prime with gesso first, but if you like more tooth on the paper then it helps with that. If you don't gesso first the oil pastels sometimes make a wet look on the back side of the paper from th e oil soaking in over time. Some people don't like that. It's all a matter of personal preference really. Teh oil in oil pastels won't harm the paper over time like oils used in oil paints would. So gesso isn't mandatory for archival purposes. I sometimes prime my surfaces with layer of wax before putting oil pastels on it. I do encaustics so it is easy for me to just coat a sheet of paper or other surface with a layer of wax.

Landscapes are often kind of "busy" subjects. It may help to simplify them a lot when painting. Just try and get the general feel of the scene down as a priority and then if you have time add details last. Maybe take a picture of the scene to add details afterwards. Sometimes less detail is better than too much detail. You want to leave something for the viewer's imagination to fill in.

It seems to me you might benefit from doing simpler studies first. Things like still-lifes with fruit or just blocks can help you learn lighting techniques just fine. Eggs are a great way to learn lighting and shadow techniques with any medium. The simplest of objects often make nice subjects.

If you find you really like a painting you did on a sketch book page, you can put it in a mat mount. Or attach it to a hard board or other surface for more strength.

Let see, Crayola oil pastels. Are they they Portfolios series oil pastels? If they are you should be able to blend them with water. They work great for an underpainting if you blend them with water.

The expressoinists are good for underpaintings too. Harder oil pastels are usually put down first and then softer oil pastels can layer on to of the hard ones without disturbing them.

If you get really bored put a piece of your sketch paper on a flat hotplate and turn them heat setting to the lowest setting. The warm paper will soften the oil pastels as you draw with them and makes for an interesting painting method. This is great way to use up even the cheapest old hard oil pastels that you don't want to paint with otherwise. Did I mention it's fun? :)

By the way, have you tried doing any of the weekend drawing events? They are a good way to get some practice in just for fun.

06-21-2013, 09:51 PM
Anyone seen the oranges-on-a-platter piece I put on here? I did that one in pastel or oil pastel, can't remember. For some reason, still life of single objects (that aren't water or trees) aren't much of a problem for me. It's when I add in the water or trees that I run into problems. Doing trees in colored pencil would be a lot easier. Definitely, I'm going to work on those two subjects (not sure what colors make up water in a pond. I could see reflections in the above two pieces, but I couldn't quite tell what color the rest of the water was.

Pat Isaac
06-22-2013, 08:57 AM
Sounds like a plan. I would definitely use the sketchbooks to plan and practise subject matter.
The Craypas would also be good for color sketches in the books.
Water has no color. The color is from what is refeclted in it, probably mostly sky and maybe murkiness from the bottom.


06-22-2013, 09:38 AM
Well, darn, Pat. I never thought about that. The next time I will just go out on a boat and do my en plein air. I'll look up in the sky, and then pinch my nose as I drop backwards off the boat in my journey to the bottom. That should give me the information I need to solve my water problem. After making it back to shore I will finish the painting by building a barricade to block the sunlight from the tree, and then park my truck in front of the tree with my bright beams on so that I can capture the true color of the trunk and branches.

Pat Isaac
06-22-2013, 10:12 AM
:lol: ...you are too funny....


06-22-2013, 10:40 AM
Hi TVX, continuing with landscapes. Wetcanvas has a moderator, Sundriver, who is a wonderful oil pastelist. A couple of years ago she did a landscape as a thread to show how she painted a landscape. It's under Oil Pastel Classroom - for ease I've posted the thread here. If you take the time to review the entire thread you'll see how she builds the landscape from underpainting through to the finished painting.


06-22-2013, 11:06 AM
Hey Mary, I just read that thread yesterday (had you already pointed it out me? If not, my apologies for not acknowledging and giving thanks to the person who did). I also watched that video by Wilson Bickford and am wondering if something like that could be done with oil pastels, the masking off of sections.

06-24-2013, 10:03 AM
Hi TVX, Wilson Bickfords gesso is good for oil painting - he has developed a nice product for preparing a canvas, if you are using oil paints.

I wouldn't recommend it for preparing oil pastel surface, it won't give you the tooth you need for oil pastels to adhere too.

I would recommend Liquitex Clear Gesso or Clourfix Primer. My experience lies with Liquitex Clear Gesso and love the stuff.

If you are using artist canvas board (that you can get at most art stores) they need to apply a coat or two of clear gesso to give the surface proper tooth to be able to apply oil pastels if you are looking for more than one layer of oil pastel.

06-24-2013, 07:57 PM
Mary, would you mind explaining exactly what liquitex clear gesso does? What does it to the tooth that's already there, like on artist canvas boards? There seems to be some difference between the various 'teeth' of surfaces, beyond just the height of the teeth.

All I know is that when I put my oil pastels to my artist canvas boards it is absolutely CHEWING up the OP's. Such a waste, and as you said, I am unable to really get in multiple layers. I don't understand why.

06-24-2013, 08:09 PM
Liquitex clear gesso is acrylic base paint mixed with sand (or marble dust). This seals, stiffens and provides surface "tooth" for painting surfaces.

It dries transclucent and is a permanent, non-yellowing, flexible and water resistant when dry.

In other words the sand mixture is a gritty feel (tooth) to it. What is on the canvas artist boards is acrylic gesso - w/o the gritty feel (tooth). The boards has texture, but not a feel like sand paper.

When you pour the liquitex clear gesso (shake the bottle first) onto the artist board, spread it around using a brush (that will give you textured lines) or a sponge-roller for smooth-gritty feel.

Why bother to use this, for the above-mentioned reasons, but also because if you like to build up a lot of oil pastel layers it the layers needs something to grip onto or the paint is just slick with no adherence to the surface.

The artist canvas boards are good for one or two coats, but more than that is tough to lay it down.

Regular gesso is acrylic paint, that is white - seals the surface, but doesn't have nearly the amount of grit to it. Minimal at best, and the formula for some reason makes the surface not want to accept oil pastels.

Hope this makes some sense - go to Michaels or hobby lobby to buy a small bottle so you can get a feel for what I'm referring too above. I think you'll understand once you try it.

I'm in the process of preparing some hardboards and will have the post up in the next day or two - boards have been sanded to rough it up so the acrylic gesso sticks. Will be brushing on the regular gesso first (white) to seal both the front, back and sides of the boards. Then after that dries I'll do an underpainting and then apply the clear gesso layers 9probably two) and let the boards dry between applications.