Fooling Around with Oils

Ever since I became aware of the colorful birds known as bee eaters I have been fascinated by the gorgeous colors and charmed by their cute little shapes. 

I wanted to try real oils – as opposed to the fast-drying alkyds – and decided on a bee eater in a small format.  This painting is 7″x7″ and it’s on a piece of 1/2″ thick MDF which I prepared with three coats of white gesso.

Because I knew that oils have long drying times and I didn’t want to be working on this painting forever, I decided to paint an undercoat of acrylics.  I just used the bottled decorative paints because there is such a wide selection of colors.  The main purpose of my first coat was simply to get the design down and the main colors blocked in.

I wanted an iridescent background to complement the jewel tones in the bird and chose an iridescent blue Daniel Smith acrylic.  The paint was so transparent that I needed four coats to get a satisfactorily even look.  I decided to go over it with my iridescent blue oil paint just to try it out.  It was equally transparent.

Then it was on to the leaves, branch, fruits, and, finally, the bird.  I had a lot of trouble managing the transparency and opacity of the various colors and it seemed that these qualities mattered more than in either alkyds or acrylics than in oils, perhaps simply because either of those media allow re-coating so much more quickly.

Once I started with the oils, it took four painting sessions to finish this piece.  The last one was to add an Ultramarine Blue graduated glaze around the edges.  I painted the sides with black acrylic so the piece can hang without a frame.  In a few days I’ll add a coat of retouch varnish then wait a few months to add the final varnish coat.

I like the luminosity of the oils, but found the pace at which I was able to work painfully slow.  Nonetheless, I will continue working some of the time in oils to develop my skills.


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