Of oil paint and snow

Today, I went to a workshop on oil paints at the Partners in Art studio in North Tonawanda. The workshop, which lasted for three hours, was taught by  Joan Horn, who is a co-founder of Partners in Art. Information presented in the class included paints, brushes, and painting surfaces, as well as the care of art supplies. It also covered composition of a successful painting, as well as the use of color palettes.

The thing that makes oil paints unique is that they have the texture of soft butter. They dry slowly, which aids in mixing paints. Oil paints are not toxic, unlike in the past, when people used lead, heavy metals, and mercury in their paints. There were other bizarre ways of making paints. Indian yellow is a color with a unusual history. The story is that the paint was manufactured in rural India from the urine of cattle that had been fed a steady diet of mangoes and water. Some method was employed to get rid of the odor.

Apparently, that practice has been brought to an end. The paint has not been manufactured since 1921, at least in that form. There are paints that are sold that are called “Indian yellow.”

Painting can be done in a studio or outside. Joan said that she knows one artist who is very dedicated to outdoor painting (en plein air). He paints in all weather conditions, even snow. 

One other thing: drawing is an important skill for a painter. Joan said,”If you don’t have good drawing skills, you can’t paint.” She said that, when you learn to draw, you are learning to see. People who want to be painters should start with a drawing class. If you draw in black and white, you learn about values. Value is the lightness or darkness of tones in a painting. White is the lightest value and black the darkest. The value between white and black would be middle gray.

When you are doing art, your goal is to create a painting that makes people see what you want them to see. You are telling a story with your painting. Joan suggested thinking of the painting as a stage production. You have a star, which stands out,and you have supporting players, which blend into the background.

There are several ways to make some elements of the painting stand out, while others recede into the background. One of those methods is the intensity of the color. Strong color will make the element stand out. That will be your focal point. Other objects in your painting, which are not the focal point, are painted in more muted tones. They will recede, which makes your star stand out even more.

Another method is with the edges of the various objects in the painting. Your starring object will have sharp edges to attract attention to itself, and supporting objects will have muted edges. An example of a starring object would be a vase, and an example of a supporting object would be the table on which the vase sits. Your eye is attracted to a colorful vase and, if you paint the table as bright as the vase and with equally sharp edges, the two elements will compete for your attention, which would be distracting.

So… back to that outdoor kit that a painter could put together. It’s fun to paint outside. It’s unpredictable. You never know what you’ll find. You also never know how quickly the lighting will change.

All of that is a temptation to bring just about everything with you, in a portable (or not-so-portable) art studio. But… don’t give in! All of that stuff will weigh too much. And it’s impractical to carry lots of stuff on rough terrain. It will throw you off balance and you might take a tumble, which will destroy all of the fun of painting outside. To get to the best views, you might have to walk through the woods or climb down to a gorge. 

And, speaking about views, they were very snowy today. It was fun to photograph. Would I go outside to paint a snow scene? Um. Well, maybe not today…or tomorrow… my hands are already thanking me… ????????????????✋

3 thoughts on “Of oil paint and snow”

  1. Thanks for your adventure in oil paints. And thanks for the pointers. I am working in watercolours now. Just mucking around on my own. It's fun experimenting. I don't seem to have the patience and concentration to take lessons. I have a year long online class started last year. I'm not even half way through when I abandoned and haven't found my way back.


  2. Could paint the snowy scene by setting up next to a window? I am glad to hear that painting is safer now, and that the color yellow is created differently now. I love the power of art to communicate exactly what the artist want to be seen. But they can't control the way it makes people feel, so the experience of taking in the art involves an interaction between the artist & the audience.

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