Oil Painting For Dummies®


by Anita Giddings & Sherry Stone Clifton




About the Authors

Anita Giddings is an artist and educator living in Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Herron School of Art and Design and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Indiana State University. Giddings’ education and training is in painting but her work also includes sculpture, photography, and installation.

Giddings began formal education in fine art when her high school art teacher, the late Mrs. Elizabeth McCallister, made her go to art school. After graduating from Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, she went to graduate school and received her Master of Fine Arts degree in painting.

Giddings began teaching community education classes more than 20 years ago. She particularly enjoys teaching painting and introducing her students to a greater appreciation of art through art making. She is currently a faculty member of Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis and also runs a program of studio classes for non-art students on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Giddings met Sherry Stone Clifton when she returned to Herron to teach, and the two have been friends ever since. When the opportunity came to write this book, Giddings asked Stone Clifton to collaborate with her because of their shared philosophy of teaching.

Sherry Stone Clifton grew up in a family dotted with self-taught artists. Her great-grandfather made little paintings of animals and landscapes on scraps of cardboard cut from box lids. Her mother dressed up furniture and other odds and ends around the house with paintings. Her father retired from a career as a draftsman to work in stained glass.

A scholarship landed her the opportunity to attend art school at Herron School of Art and Design, where she studied printmaking and painting. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. After graduation, she taught non-art majors courses in painting and drawing at Herron, beginning a teaching career that has spanned 20 years. She taught community outreach courses for all ages at Herron and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. For several years now, she has been a Lecturer in Foundation Studies at Herron, where she teaches drawing, color, 2-D design, and creative processes for first-year art students. She has earned awards for teaching at Herron and regularly speaks at conferences and publishes articles about teaching beginning art students.

She says that she is first and foremost an artist. She believes that her artwork enhances her teaching and that her teaching enhances her artwork. She has this to say about teaching art:

“This book reflects the ideas about teaching art that I use in my classroom every day: Learn to make art by making it. It’s important to look at actual art by the masters — both old and contemporary. Read about art ideas and techniques. Drawing a little every day and studying design and color will give your painting a strong foundation. An open mind and healthy curiosity about the world is good. Beginning students are very special to me. They have wonderful hopes and dreams, and I love helping them make progress toward achieving them.”



To the two women who encouraged me always: my mother Phyllis Giddings and the late Mrs. Elizabeth McCallister. —AG

For my parents, who never once suggested that I study something “practical.” —SSC


Authors’ Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Tim Gallan, Mike Baker, and Sarah Faulkner at Wiley Publishing for help and patience in this project. Our thanks as well to the Graphics and Layout teams at Wiley who helped put this book together. We would also like to thank Vance Farrow, our colleague and technical editor.

We also thank Sara Hook, Lisa Londe, and our colleagues in the faculty and staff at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Thanks to Lisa Kleindorfer, Heather Shebeck, and Michael Schulbaum for the loan of their paintings. To Carla Knopp, Richard Emery Nickolson, Andrew Winship, Marc Jacobson, and Mary Ann Davis for allowing us to photograph their studios. Thanks to Erin Harper Vernon for help with documenting artwork.

We would also like to thank William Potter, Valerie Eickmeier, and Eric Nordgulen at Herron School of Art and Design for giving us the time and space to complete this book.

Thanks to our own teachers over the years who guided us, to our families, friends, and students for putting up with us during this project, and to our friends at Herron School of Art and Design, who acted as our sounding board and gave us advice over the past few months.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at www.dummies.com/register/.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Senior Project Editor: Tim Gallan

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Senior Copy Editor: Sarah Faulkner

Editorial Program Coordinator: Erin Calligan Mooney

Technical Editor: Vance Farrow

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

Editorial Assistants: Leeann Harney, David Lutton, Joe Niesen

Front Cover Photo: Jerry Driedl/Getty Images

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (www.the5thwave.com)

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Osborn

Layout and Graphics: Stacie Brooks, Carl Byers, Laura Campbell, Alissa D. Ellet, Brooke Graczyk, Jennifer Mayberry, Brent Savage, Erin Zeltner

Proofreaders: Laura Albert, Melissa D. Buddendeck, Caitie Kelly

Indexer: Rebecca R. Plunkett

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not To Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go From Here

Part I : Getting Your Feet Wet in Oil Paint

Chapter 1: So You Want to Paint

What It’s Like to Paint with Oils

Gathering Your Materials

Finding a Space to Paint

Starting Your Painting Adventure

Developing Painting Skills

Chapter 2: Getting to Know Your Oils

The Basics about Oils

The Characteristics of Pigments

Adding Other Materials to Your Oil Paint

What Not to Buy When You’re Starting Out

Chapter 3: Assembling Your Materials

Buying Your Materials

Choosing Surfaces to Paint On

Other Painting Equipment You Need

Chapter 4: Preparing to Paint

Setting Up Your Space to Paint

Developing Strategies for Growing as a Painter

Deciding What to Paint

Chapter 5: Walking through the painting process


Starting to Paint

Laying on the Paint

Evaluating Your Work

Cleaning and Storing Your Tools

Wrapping It All Up

Part II : Break Out the Brushes and Start Painting!

Chapter 6: A Study in Black and White

Starting Simple: A Black and White Painting

Assessing Your Work and Making Corrections

Chapter 7: Mixing Color and Three Oil Studies

Project: Using the Color Chart to Mix the Color You Want

Project: Finding Your Local Color: An Analogous Painting

Project: Using Complementary Colors

Project: Full Color Painting

Chapter 8: Putting Paint to Canvas: Brushstrokes and Glazing Techniques

Painting with Your Brushes

Exploring Different Types of Glazing

Project: A Study Trying Different Strokes

Part III : People, Places, and Things

Chapter 9: Tricky Still Life Subjects Made Easy

Metal and Other Shiny Objects

Project: A Tin Can

Glass: Transparent, Reflective, Difficult

Project: Painting Glass

Organic Shapes: The Life That Surrounds You

Project: Painting a Natural Form

Working Expressively

Project: Experiment with Expressionism

Chapter 10: Take It Outside: Landscapes

The Nuts and Bolts of Painting Outdoors

Developing a Strategy for Painting Outdoor Scenes

Finding a Subject

Painting Your Landscape

Project: A One-Day Landscape Project

Chapter 11: Basic Portrait Painting 101

Doing Some Prep Work for Portraits

Project: A Self-Portrait in Black and White

Preparing for a Color Portrait

Project: A Portrait in Color

Chapter 12: Beyond Portraiture: More on Painting People

Working with a Model

Setting Up Your Work Area

Project: How to Block In and Paint the Figure

Special Concerns in Figure Painting

Part IV : Color and Design

Chapter 13: Planning your painting

Working from Observation

Making Preparatory Drawings

Project: Working Past Your First Idea, Step by Step

Chapter 14: Shape, Space, and the surface of your painting

Thinking about the Size of Your Painting

Framing Your Painting

Considering Both the Background and Subject

Pulling It All Together: Shape, Space, and Surface at Work

Chapter 15: How the Parts of a Composition Work Together

Getting the Big Picture

How You See the Parts

Creating Effective Focal Points

Chapter 16: Communicating Ideas Visually

The Right Composition for the Job

Developing Awareness of Your Composition Decisions

Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Compositions

Flat and Illusionary Compositions

Chapter 17: Using Color with Confidence

Describing Color Clearly: Hue, Value, Intensity

The Four Basic Kinds of Colors: Pure Hues, Shades, Tones, and Tints

Cutting the Light: How Complementary Colors Work

How Color Interactions Can Mess with Your Mind

Color and Focal Points: Using Contrast for Emphasis

Choosing the Right Colors for Your Painting

Project: Pulling It Together in a Dramatic Still Life Painting

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 18: Ten Strategies to Immediately Improve Your Painting

Crank Out a Lot of Work

Take a Drawing or Painting Class

Know Your Craft

Take Time to Prepare

Be Willing to Sacrifice Any Part for the Good of the Whole

Paint from Real Life: It’s the Best Way to Learn

Look at Art — Real Art

Join an Art Group or Start Your Own Group

Attend Art Events

Subscribe to Art Publications

Chapter 19: Ten Artists You Should Know: The Painter’s Painters

Rene Magritte (1898 – 1967)

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)

Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926)

Jan Vermeer (1632 – 1675)

David Hockney (b. 1937)

Richard Diebenkorn (1922 – 1993)

Euan Uglow (1932 – 2000)

Paul Cezanne (1839 – 1906)

Wolf Kahn (b. 1927)

Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)


Oil painting. The words themselves bring to mind centuries of art. From the masterpieces of the Renaissance to the charming landscapes that you see in a shop on vacation, the rich, glowing colors are fascinating. Oil painting makes it all look like magic. As an artist’s material, it both attracts and intimidates with its possibilities. In this book we set out to introduce you to this enduring medium. We want to give you as much information as we can to make oil painting a part of your life.

Whether you’re trying oils for the very first time or you’re an experienced painter, this book walks you through the ins and outs of oil painting. We cover the basics, and we offer some information for those of you who have pursued this wonderful endeavor for some time.

We include as much information as we can — both in technical matters as well as how to see the world as an artist, as a painter. We know that there are many books on oil painting. What sets this book apart are the step-by-step projects that lead you to the fluent use of color in your paintings. We show you how to depict three-dimensional forms and create dramatic and powerful images. We also include a section that covers design in painting to guide you in the creation of innovative and original artwork. Design is a part of every painting, but we teach you how to hone your natural design instincts for more effective and creative compositions.

Oil paint is the queen of materials for artists. Painting is what you go to see at the museum; it’s what you think of when you hear the word “artist.” But oil painting, with its 500-year history, can be intimidating. We give you as much information as possible to get you off to a great start.

Writing this book follows very closely our philosophy as artists and teachers. We firmly believe that the best way to gain an appreciation for fine art is to share in the experience of art making. Learning to paint gives you firsthand experience into what it means to be an artist. You learn not only to paint but also to see the world as artists do. A whole world of painting will open up to you.

About This Book

It’s not uncommon for people to teach themselves how to draw. You pick up a pencil and paper and go. But painting often seems like a mystery. Mixing colors, the oils and solvents, so many brushes — where do you start? You see programs on television, but the paintings all seem to come out looking the same. We designed this book with you in mind. Through the lessons in this book we teach you to paint the way YOU paint. We cover the basics of honing your skills and lead you to develop new ones as you learn color, composition, and how to use oil paint.

Our book has an easy-to-follow format. After some basic lessons based on working from direct observation, you have a chance to create your own designs and approaches to making an oil painting. We try to include everything that you need to learn to paint and to continue to explore painting for years to come.

Our advice to you: Be patient with yourself, and give yourself room and time to experiment. And have fun. Our philosophy is simple. We believe that anyone can learn to paint. If you want it enough, if you can devote a bit of time (two to three hours a week) to this endeavor, and if you’re motivated enough to buy the materials and set up an area to work, you can learn to paint.

Now, we’ll be honest with you. You have to tolerate being a rookie for a while. You may have some lovely paintings right from the start, but expect to make some awkward, funny-looking paintings until you get the hang of it. But the rewards are great. When you’re first learning to paint, every painting shows your increased knowledge.

Conventions Used in This Book

To help you navigate this book we set up a few conventions:

bullet We use italics for emphasis and to highlight new ideas and terms that we define within the reading.

bullet We use boldface text to indicate a set of numbered steps (you follow these steps for many of the projects). We also use boldface to highlight keywords or phrases in bulleted lists.

bullet The main painting projects in the book have their own project headings so that you can easily identify them as you flip through the chapters. Ancillary projects are flagged with the Try It icon.

bullet Every project tells you what you need, when you need it. Before you start any project, read all the way through the steps to make sure that you have the supplies you need.

What You’re Not To Read

We wrote this book so that you can find information easily. We put absolutely everything that we could think of into this book and we believe that it’s all essential information to help you learn to paint with oil. But you can skip over some material. Some info is more technical or describes a particular approach that may not apply to every situation. Feel free not to read the following:

bullet Text in sidebars: Sidebars (those gray-shaded text boxes) allow us to include every possible thing associated with oil painting. Although they include useful information, they aren’t entirely necessary reading.

bullet Anything with the Technical Stuff icon attached: This information is interesting but not critical to your understanding of the topic at hand.

In addition, we know that you probably won’t read this book in exact sequential order. In fact, for most of you, skipping over Part I completely and going to Part II first is the best way to proceed. This method gets you started painting right away. You can use Part I as a reference for any questions that you have about supplies, tools, your work area setup, and so on.

We want to believe that you’ll soak up every word we wrote. But we know that much of it may be too arcane to absorb in the initial reading. We hope that you keep this info in mind as your skills develop and use our book as a resource in the future.

Foolish Assumptions

In writing this book, we made some assumptions about you, our dear reader:

bullet You have the desire to pursue fine art painting, creating your own images, and attempting to make the type of paintings that you see in a museum or in art history books, as opposed to using oil paint for craft applications.

bullet You’ve had experience with drawing, either self-taught or from lessons you received at some point in your life. We assume that you can look at something and draw a recognizable image of it.

bullet You may know little about art history, but you have an interest and an appreciation for what you have encountered.

bullet You know nothing about painting or you may have tried to figure out oil painting on your own and not made much progress. We assume that you may have tried to paint with oils on your own but are looking for direction.

This book is basic enough to help the rookie painter painlessly figure out the ins and outs of painting with oils. If you’re nervous about your drawing skills, it’s possible to learn to paint while you develop your drawing skills.

If, on the other hand, you know a bit about this topic already, you’ll still find something challenging to pursue. We also include projects and approaches for the individual with more art experience. Check out the chapter headings to look for specific topics or painting projects to hone your skills. And if you have painted before, don’t be surprised if you find some info in the basic lessons that fill in any gaps in your knowledge.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is set up intentionally to be user-friendly. We try to cover topics from buying supplies to step-by-step painting projects to developing paintings with creativity and originality. Each part focuses on a different piece of the painting process.

Part I: Getting Your Feet Wet in Oil Paint

In this section you find an overview of everything you need to get started, from buying the materials to setting up a place to work. We also cover the painting process and setting goals for learning to paint. We cover some of these things in more detail later in the book, but start here to get the big picture.

Part I isn’t intended to be a step-by-step lesson; instead, it’s more of a reference to get you started with your supplies, paintings, and all the physical things that you need to get in order to paint. If you want to start painting right away, you can start with Part II, but be sure to flip to Part I when you need to look up details.

Part II: Break Out the Brushes and Start Painting!

You really get down to painting in this part. If you’re an absolute rookie, you’ll find our step-by-step projects clear and straightforward. If you have some background in painting, you’ll still find the information valuable. We include many things about oil painting that we’ve discovered in our years of painting, most of which weren’t covered in our first painting classes.

We fill the chapters in this part with painting projects that we call studies. These quick, informal paintings focus on the use of a particular set of colors used in specific ways. They help you to build your knowledge and use of color, leading you to a greater degree of fluency in the use of color in your work.

Part III: People, Places, and Things

In this part we lead you through the main subjects of painting — the still life, the landscape, and the portrait. You learn to paint a variety of objects in the still life projects in Chapter 9; you discover several ways to tackle the most popular topic in painting, the landscape, in Chapter 10 when we cover trees, water, buildings, and depicting objects in the distance. It’s a comprehensive chapter.

We also walk you though how to paint a portrait in Chapters 11 and 12. Within several projects, we show you how to proportion a face, the best angle for a portrait, how to mix accurate flesh tones, and more.

Part IV: Color and Design

Painting is all about self-expression and communicating ideas in a visual way. In Part IV, we help you begin to express your own ideas in painting by talking about how to plan your painting and get your ideas down on paper, and looking at ways you can use photographs as resources. We talk about good design and show you ways to avoid the mistakes beginners make. We show you how you can enhance your expressiveness by looking at ways that you can tie the way you compose your painting to your ideas. Finally, we give you all the tools you need to be an expert at using color in your painting.

Part V: The Part of Tens

This part covers what to do and where to go with your new interest. Check out these chapters if you want to build on your new skills and get some inspiration from other artists.

Icons Used in This Book

In the margins of almost every page of this book, you find icons. They serve the purpose of directing you to some particular types of information.

This icon saves you time and energy by letting you know an easier method for doing something, or telling you where to look to find more information on the topic we’re discussing.

Important information is present whenever you see this icon. It serves to remind you that you need to remember this informative item for later.

Although the info in this book is user-friendly, sometimes we just have to supply some very important details about oil painting. This icon indicates some specialized information and may not be entirely necessary for the project at hand, so feel free to skip over these sections.

This icon tells you what not to do and why, and when to expect those bumps in the road. Its purpose is to save you time and energy — you have to learn some lessons yourself, but when you can, learn from the mistakes of generations of painters!

We use this icon to point out and define technical terms and other jargon that you may hear when you’re immersed in the art world. Some of the terminology behind these icons even helps you to become literate in the language of art known in some circles as artspeak.

We use this icon to point out fun and informative exercises in the book. Try these exercises to really embrace the lessons and become a better painter.

Where to Go From Here

You don’t have to go through this book in sequence. Part I is an overview of lots of practical information, and you can use it as a reference. If you’re just starting out, we strongly encourage you to go through the projects in Part II, step by step. If you’ve been painting for a while, check out Part II for a refresher or to make sure that you know the basics. When you’re ready for more of a challenge, head to Part III.

Part I

Getting Your Feet Wet in Oil Paint

In this part . . .

We cover everything you need to know about how to get started painting, from buying the materials to putting your signature at the bottom. We also give you some projects to put your skills to use along the way. This section gives you a good overview of what it’s like to paint. When you finish reading it, you’ll feel much more confident about starting to paint.

We, your humble authors, believe in you. Our goal, more than anything, is to teach you how to paint and give you all the information and support that you need as you progress. Whether you’re starting a pleasant pastime, picking up where you left off years ago, or beginning a serious pursuit of painting, this is the place to begin.