Oil Painting Technique


Just so you know...

Everything that follows is a work in progress.

Hopefully It will all end up looking and sounding right...

Until then you can see all of my workings, mistakes and all... 

Hope you can still find something of use...

Enjoy :)

Hey, so if you have been to a workshop of mine or messaged me about my palette and materials... here they all are in a nice list.



Lemon Yellow

Cadmium Yellow

Cadmium Red

Alizarin Red

Ultra Marine Blue

Prussian Blue

Titanium White

Ivory Black


Burnt Sienna

Cadmium Orange

Naples Yellow

Yellow Ochre



Winsor & Newton Griffin Alkyd Oils

Winsor & Newton Artist Oils

Georgian Oils

Michael Harding Oils





Refined Linseed oil

Dalor Rowny Alkyd Flow Medium

Sansoder low odder turpentine

White Spirit.




Moderately priced brushes


Pro Arte Miniature Brushes  - Flat 1/8,

Rounds 000 - 3

Pro Arte Acrylix One Stroke Brush Series 204 

Pro Arte Series 008 Prolene Plus One Stroke Brush


Decent Budget Brushes


Polar Brushes -  Flats & Rounds

Daler Rowney Graduate  - Flats & Rounds

Gold Taklon - Value Sets


Oil Painting Technique & Walkthrough


Ok, I'm going to try and walk you through my process as well as my thinking behind why I'm doing what I am doing...


1. So the first stage is the idea and vision. I have my concept, I want to paint my English Bull Terrier's profile. Not my usual subject although I have painted him before, I had wanted to do this image for a while now. Its simple and bold and Colour in your life seemed like a good excuse.

I take my photos, I chose the one I think closest matches what I want. I drop it into photoshop and have a quick play with the composition and some background effects. Not to be too cheesy but I decided that the Union Jack would add to the UK feel to the program. It wasn't ever going to be a perfect all guns blazing show of pride, not with the mess of the UK amidst Brexit etc so a distressed flag fitted a lot better with my style and also the underlying message. I'm not anti-UK but I'm, not one for waving a flag regardless... I'm a realist after all.

Couldn't decide, square or rectangle so I left it a rectangle with the option to crop later... MDF :)


2. I prepare my surface by cutting a piece of 6mm MDF to the larger of my compositions and apply around 6 layers of acrylic gesso in my usual method.

Then I apply a layer of alkyd white, the same paint I will use later on. A day later and the board is ready to paint on.


3.With my Composition not decided I drawn up the head and do a pretty complete tonal study. I use my digital image to work out some measurements to keep the image the size I want it and keep the composition. Most Of the values are worked out her and even tho I am actually going to run this back its served two uses, 1 its made me really study the image before I even start painting so there shouldn't be too many surprises and 2. I now know that I am happy with the placement although I still haven't decided on the final crop.


4. After using a putty rubber, rolled over the whole drawing to soften the image right back I start applying a very thin layer of paint. If I left the drawing as heavy as it was the spirits I use would lift the excess graphite and it would mix too much with the paint. It would be ok but I'd rather keep as much control of the paint as possible and the grey would reduce this.

I am using a warm mix of burnt sienna and Ultramarine blue. Only a hint of blue to take the orange edge of the burnt sienna. I have added lots of white spits to the mix and its almost like water at this stage. I will let the mixture thicken slightly during this session and I will add a little Linseed oil as well otherwise the white spirit will evaporate and the pigment will be left with no binder... and won't stick.

I haven't washed a ground in on this one, the underpainting here will be sufficient as I know it will spread out to make enough of a mess to work into later, if it doesn't I can add to it.


5. More of the same, the mix gets slightly thicker again, we are still runny here just not so runny, seriously you have to experiment with this sort of thing, I am leaving the canvas where the portrait is lighter and building on the darker areas. I use a cloth to remove paint almost as much as I use a brush to apply it. It's not the same purpose but if you have ever seen a tattoo artist wiping away excess ink after every application you will know what I mean. This isn't, as far as I understand a normal practice for most painters. If it is I haven't seen it to the degree at least that I do it. 

I can also alternate my mix between blue and brown depending upon how I want the painting to progress. Where an area is going to be darker I can add more blue to the mix to darken it or if I want a warmth to an area I will let more of the brown show through. Even if the area needs to be cooler later on the warm underpainting will add contrast, from my experience Its easier to cool a painting than to add warmth.


6.  Here still more of the same really, patiently building up the layers. Its gone past a kind of staining stage, but it doesn't feel like paint either yet. I also started to add a little Alizarin to the mix just to add a little more variety.


7. Now I'm getting a little bored with the same mix of paint and I have put off work on the nose long enough now. I wanted to get onto this bit but because it's quite a light area I wanted to have at least some darks next to it ready to add some relativity to it. Painting light colours on white make's me more likely to paint them to light and then I will have to darken them later which is harder. I prefer to be slightly dark and have to lighten than the other way round. It helps me leave more texture naturally rather than adding it artificially.

The snout is again a simple mix of Alizarin, Cad Red, Titanium White and a hint of the shadow mix I have been using so far. This paint is thin but It is still fairly opaque and covers the hint of an underpainting I have done here easily.

I am painting the colour and relative tone now but I am leaning towards the darker end so that I can lighten certain areas later. Knowing that I am going to do an area in more than one pass lets me feel more confident to get things close but reduces the perfectionist desire in me that usually leads me to overwork an area. 

The greys in the bottom lips are a midpoint between the pink of the snout and the shadow mix in variations.


8. I go back to working the darks and I start to experiment with shaping the background with thin washes again, looking for pleasing shapes mimicking what I played with in photoshop. All of this has the gradual effect of making the nose look lighter without me even touching it.

Plan ahead - everything is relative, I'm not even sure I went dark enough on the nose now...

There's more blue in the mix and I'm trying not to work over too many of the mid tones that are now appearing.

I'm starting to add details more clearly now just by being more careful where I paint.

Still no white or opaque colours in this area yet. White would make me push and pull the painting too much and this, in turn, would make me lose the transparency in the darks. This is what makes them look believable and adds the depth in this kind of painting.


9. Happy with the previous experimentation on the background I add a bolder textural layer and let it dry.

Notice how quickly this mix of blues cools the brown. It's only thin but already it has a dramatic effect on the feel of the piece.


10. Now I start more confidently working up the background, I have enough layered in to give a rough feel to the piece.

I don't want to polish the subject and then have to paint around it carefully and then inevitably have to fix areas that I mess up. Instead, I want to be free with my background but with purpose and then finalise the face at the end.

This is a great theory but there will always be some back and forth however it really helps to try for this as it does make things easier.

The hard thing here is actually painting over the cool, interesting textural effect made earlier with the dripping paint. I know I can't leave it all but choosing what and how much is the art and it's not as easy as it may seem. When you are indecisive and creative it can be really hard to destroy what you have made even for the greater good... just in case it turns out you don't like it... This battle is all part of it and so long as I don't get too precious its a lot of fun.

I'm mixing my shadow colours here along with a little viridian and white. This makes it more opaque so I'm scrapping or scrubbing back a lot if I want to see more of the underpainting along with the texture it creates with the weave if the gesso textured board.

Even though white is included in the mix I still aim dark, I already know where I will lighten at a later stage fo added contrast but it will work better added fresh on top.

11. The last stages of the painting appear to change the least but this is where most of the time is actually spent. Even if its just contemplating...

I eventually add a little of the opaque colours to the darks in only a few relevant places, I then glaze over these with the shadow mix again and do this until I am happy. There is a lot of leaving the painting overnight and doing the same again the next day, happy, not happy etc. It's all very subtle at this point. Always on the edge of overworking the painting. Sessions may be become a lot shorter, doing what slight changes are needed then leaving to dry. 

Or messing up a tiny detail and spending an ungodly amount of time trying to undo/redo what was actually totally fine in the first place... Control, Edit, Undo buttons would be gratefully used here...

Meanwhile playing with the background, trying to add hard highlighted edges to make areas pop out or losing some unneeded contrast that distracts too much from the focal point.

There really is a lot of fiddling at this stage.


12. Eventually, you have to stop...


The last image is a scan of the final painting.

I still haven't decided on the crop a year on so I have just left the painting as is until a time I either know or have to make the decision for framing...


I have a square frame that I have tested on the painting, something I do throughout the process if I have a frame to had as It helps me to visualise the completed painting. A frame is going to be a part of the final work so incorporating it in the creation process early on is something I find invaluable to my method.

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