Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Oil painting 101

Years ago, I decided I was going to teach myself how to paint a model horse in oils.   In a fit of enthusiasm, I bought a a bunch of paint and paintbrushes and went to work on a couple old Breyers.

The results were less than inspiring.

Actually, that's an understatement.  The results were terrible.   So bad in fact, that I ended up giving away all that paint and swearing off oils for good.  

Or so I thought.

Yesterday I had the great privilege of watching one of the hobby's best painters work her magic on a Rose Reiner resin.  This was such an amazing experience.  Just like that, I understand where I went wrong before, and now I'm ready to give this another shot!  Huge thanks to Jennifer Scott for allowing me to watch her work and to share parts of the process here.

Jenn's palette is a cake pan lined with two sheets of printer paper.  Paints are mixed straight from the tube according to predetermined color recipes.  Jenn doesn't use any thinners or mediums, but she does add a couple drops of cobalt drier to each color. 
Jenn paints the entire body of the horse in one sitting, starting with the head and working her way backwards.  In this picture, the horse's head has been blocked in with three shades.  It looks very paint by numbers-ish...
at least until Jenn comes back with a different brush and begins to blend the colors with a stippling type action.
Here's the reiner's head after the blending.
The next step is to add some black to the muzzle and the eye. 
Once again, this is blended with stippling brush. 
At this point, the reiner's head is almost finished.
The last step is to go over the painted area with a large soft brush.  This removes the brush strokes and adds just a little bit more blending.
Once that's done, the process is repeated on the neck....
shoulders, forelegs and beyond!
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay long enough to watch Jenn finish painting the reiner. However, she did briefly describe what would come next.  The horse's entire body will be covered in paint and allowed to dry over night.  After that, Jenn will dry brush him with pigments and add markings and details with acrylics.  Jenn expects to have him ready to show at this weekend's Springamathing live show.  I can hardly wait to see how he turns out!

Hope you've enjoyed this oil painting lesson as much as I did.  Thanks again, Jenn!


  1. Wow! Thanks very much for sharing. This has certainly inspired me to give oils another go.

  2. Oh...my...gosh. I HAVE to try that!! Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. thank you for this! I've been wanting to try oils for awhile now but was pretty terrified to do so. :)

  4. All the credit goes to Jenn. She is such a good teacher and made everything look so easy. I also really appreciated that she let me photograph the "ugly" stages. Not everyone will let you do that, but it's so helpful to view those when you're trying to figure out the process.

    I should also point out that the lighting was better for painting than photography. The reiner looks really orange in the pictures, but much less so in person.

  5. Jenn just rocks and her studio space(s) are a blast. :)

  6. Really beautiful. The richness is incomparable. I love working in oils, but the drying time just kills me. Maybe I can find a dryer that will keep me from going crazy waiting for stuff to dry!

    I never would have thought to do oils over airbrush, how awesome is that?

  7. Do you think the same principale for blending would work when painting with acrylics? I am very new to painting and was looking for ways to blend with this medium.

  8. Very interesting! Oil colors usual dry very slow, does this cobalt drier speed up this procedure that much for showing the horse the same week? Wow!

  9. I was wondering about the drying time to. Sounds like it's dry overnight?

    Oils look like a great medium for painting horses. I love the idea of being able to blend the colours.

  10. Thought I might address the drying question. Just a few drips of Cobalt drier will go a *long* way, but my horses do dry for the most part over night. A nice dry climate and heated room help that of course and there are some that still like to take longer anyway, but overnight is a good average. Just don't touch the stuff as you are dripping it into your palette.

  11. Oh WOW! That's amazing! I always thought oils were supposed to be really, really awkward to work with but they don't look too bad from this at all!

  12. Such impressive work. Wow. Love the blending.

  13. Where does she hold it once it is nearly all painted if she does the whole thing in one sitting?

    I love the idea of just straight paint and cobalt drier. I don't like oils because of the rest of the mess.

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  15. I have been painting in oils for over 50 yrs. My technique is to do a base coat in a water base paint called Pelican Placka http://www.dickblick.com/products/pelikan-plaka-paint/

    It is a casien paint. Very opaque, and a good base for oils. Without a good base, oils tend to smear and slide around. This water based paint will dry in just a few hrs, and I usually apply it the night before I paint the oils. If I need to thin the oils I use a medium.

  16. I keep meaning to ask - does Jenn airbrush then do a singular layer of oils? I know some people do multiple layers of oils over airbrush, or does it just depend on the colour/coverage? thanks x

    1. I don't think Jenn is going to see this, so I'm going to answer for her, and the answer is: It depends. If she can get it there in one oil layer, that's what she's going to do. However, I suspect most models need a little more than that, at least in some areas. In that case, she's going to keep going until it's right. Also, I know that a lot of her models also get a bit of pigments over the top. Nothing is ever easy, right?


    2. thank you for this :D she is a wizard!

  17. I do paint my Tamiya scale models also, I have scale models of soldiers, tanks and aircraft. I paint them with acrylic

  18. I'm a bit worried about the the acrylics over oil part,are you sure that is what she used? The principle thin to fat should never be broken in painting. You could paint acrylics over oil with a medium in between, but then you really need to make sure that coat is thick enough, as I myself has bitterly experienced painting acrylics over an old oil painting- the the whole thing started cracking and peeling off after about a year.