Oil painting history as we know it started to develop in the 1400s with some of the early Flemish Masters like Jan Van Eyck before spreading to other parts of Europe. Up until the 19th century, artists had to make their own oil paints and part of the craft was learning this under the tutelage of a master. You generally studied under a master artist in their workshop over many years.
How brushstrokes can influence works of art is seen in the above Jill Poyerd groundbreaking video. There are many different brushstrokes that artists can use and it’s interesting to see which strokes the Masters used that made them so famous. In the video, she traces back the history of famous artistic brushwork in the period from the early Renaissance to the late 1800s.
As Van Eyck wanted to move from painting on boards to canvas he realized to get greater detail he had to change his oil painting technique and the qualities of the materials he painted with.
Pigments came from various plants and minerals and were added to a binder to create a paste. The most common binder that was used was egg. This lead to inconsistency in the oil paints created. Something more reliable was needed and this led to the use of oils.
Oil paint is basically a combination of pigment, thinner, and binder. The pigment is the element for color whereas, for the modern-day binder, the most commonly used ingredient is linseed oil and the thinner is turpentine. As the oil paint is applied it dries by oxidation. Other oils can be used and each has different properties like drying time and sheen. Also, different pigments dry at different speeds.
Before the modern-day tubes of paint were available a painter had to make fresh paints each day. Certainly from the 15th to the 19th century, a painter would work under the guidance of a master artist studying for many years the craft of making their own paints and learning the properties of each pigment. The included the art of grinding pigments to get the particle size right, as well as mastering the combination of pigment with a binder.
Pigments could be expensive such as gold, ultramarine, and red lac. This led to the use of extenders and fillers to get more for their money and reduce the overall cost of painting.
The beauty of working with oil paints is the wonderful depth of color and flexibility of the medium. Oil paints may be applied thick as impasto or lean by diluting it with a thinner such as turpentine. And, as it is pretty slow to dry, it can be worked over longer periods of time.
The Flemish Masters would paint in 7 layers allowing each layer up to 7 weeks to dry. Even modern paints can take up to 3 days or more to dry. This allows for blending, layering, a far greater richness in color, and a wider range of shades and tonal transitions. The great advantage of oil colors is that they don’t change noticeably when they have dried, and in the fantastic hands of a master painter incredible effects of color and light can be created.
Other great painters who influenced the development and use of oil painting were masters like Rubens (1577-1640), Velazquez (1599-1660), Jan Vermeer (1632-75), and Rembrandt (1606-69).
The Art Of Portrait Painting
To start off with your painting, you would need the following equipment, so keep them handy.
· Brushes of all size and types (synthetic or natural bristles)
· Basic painting colors (at least one full set)
· A color palette to mix the paints/colors
· A drawing board or canvas
· Painting mediums like linseed oil or turps
Remember that watercolor brushes do not work well in oil paintings. Big brushes are best for oil paints. So choose your brushes and your paint carefully to come up with the finest quality painting which would find its place in an art gallery.
Follow Examples. If you thought you cannot follow the footsteps of famed artists, you’re wrong. On the contrary, it’s a good practice to start copying the masterpieces and then move on to creating your own. But copying, just the 2D painting, isn’t as much a help as trying to recreate the same painting by choosing the same 3D subject.
Sequence Your Painting. Be it a pet portrait, a person or a landscape, in portrait painting, it’s very important to know where to start from. Old wisdom says ‘start from the eyes’. So be it. It’s best to draw the eyes first and then move on to develop the other features on the face in the correct ratio. But focus on one section at a time, before jumping on to the next.
The Golden Rules. Most painters forget to spend sufficient time looking at the subject which is a basic requirement. It’s a golden rule to spend 60% of the time looking at it, 20% time looking at your canvas and the rest 20% looking at what you’re actually painting. Look deep and analyze your subject to bring out the best in your painting.
Another golden rule is to be confident. Think well and believe in your subject. An artist should never be deterred by the feeling that he/she would not be able to do justice to the subject.
So even if you are attempting a dog portrait, just enjoy doing it as you’d enjoy being with your dog. That makes the job much easier. Analyze its features, work your way outwards from the eyes, believe in yourself and bring the painting to life.