Learning how to start oil painting can feel like a daunting task, but let me tell you a little secret – there is a process, that once learned can make starting that much easier!
In this article, I’m going to share with you five important first steps to help you kick-start your oil painting. From setting up your canvas to sketching your first outlines and laying the foundation with an underpainting, we’ll demystify these initial steps, just as I did in my early painting days. So, let’s dive into the beautiful, transformative world of oil painting!
Prepare your canvas
One thing to note, is that if you’ve purchased unprimed canvas, you’ll need to prepare your canvas before applying any paint. This involves applying an initial coat of gesso to prime the surface and create a barrier between the paint and the canvas fibers. Doing so, ensures that your artwork is protected from any impurities in the linen and will last for years to come.
Start oil painting with an imprimatura
An imprimatura is a very important step of starting a painting. Painters have used it as far back as the middle ages – though it became standard practice during the Renaissance. Essentially, it is a monochrome base that allows you to establish the key and color of your painting before adding anything else.
Reasons for an imprimatura
It is a bit difficult to start on a blank canvas for a couple of reasons. One being simply the fact that it is a blank and stark white canvas can make it mentally difficult to make a start. Putting a light wash of color over it gets rid of that crisp clean whiteness and makes it so you can make it ‘messy’ with your paints.
The second reason is a little bit more practical. When starting on a bright white canvas it is hard to determine what the values of your colors are. Anything next to something that is bright white will look much darker than it is in actuality. Thus, it can be easy to ‘accidentally’ paint everything too light when starting on a bright white canvas. Therefore, again, putting a light wash on your canvas is extremely helpful.
Create a painting sketch
A painting sketch, is a preliminary drawing you make on your canvas that will help guide where your painting will go.
Whether you are working from observation or imagination – follow the movement of the line and try to capture a general sense of its ridges. They key word here is general. This is not meant to be a completely exact drawing – you will be saving the perfecting and exacting for when you start your painting with color.
Create an oil underpainting
An underpainting serves as the foundation for a painting, applied before the more advanced layers are added. Various techniques can be utilized, but the most prevalent involves a monochromatic layer. This initial step establishes the composition, values, and shadows, effectively. Which provides a roadmap for you to follow as you build up the subsequent layers and colors into your painting.
How to start oil painting, by applying first colors
It is important to think of color values first while you’re painting. Doing so will help you create a believable sense of light in your paintings right from the start. One of the best ways you can achieve this, is by thinking in terms of color spots.
By learning how to use spots of color in your painting, you’ll completely revolutionize the way you see and paint. You can move away from fixating on the end result and instead appreciate the vibrant hues that shape it.
In conclusion, starting an oil painting can be a little overwhelming at first, but following these five steps will help ensure that you have a great start to your painting. First, make sure you have a properly primed canvas and then apply your first layer of paint (imprimatura). Next sketch out your layout and take it further by creating an underpainting. This will help you determine your composition and value structure! Finally, you’ll begin adding color to your painting–remembering to focus on first 3 color values right from the start. With these five steps as a guide, you will be able to begin creating beautiful oil paintings in no time!