Church Steeples in Oil - A Tutorial
I enjoy painting different subjects. Still, I have some favorites - Barns, landscapes, horses, cityscapes, and churches. There is something about these subjects that draw me into the painting process. Today, I decided to paint at least 1 small oil painting, and thought it would be a good opportunity to teach those of you who are interested, how I go about preparing a canvas from sketch to completed painting. In this case, it was a very small painting - 5x7 inches, and it took me 2 hours from start to finish. Well, almost finished anyway.
I start with a reference image. Most of my paintings are completed in the studio rather than on site (Plein Air). In this case, I referenced an image by professional photographer Patrick Schneider. He is an outstanding Charlotte photographer and has provided me with some wonderful reference material for paintings. I cannot always get out of the house to take pictures for reference, so I depend on professionals to provide me with some excellent material. Of course, I pay them a commission when a painting sells and I always reference the photographer for anyone who wants to know. It sure makes my life easier in the studio!
So, let's take a look at this reference. I made 3 copies so that I have 1 for graphing, 1 for my painting reference (that I can get paint on if I want to) and 1 for my files.
Graphing. I love my Quickline ruler. You can get one at any sewing store. Being able to see through the ruler makes creating the graph easier and more precise. I use it for making quilt pieces too when I am sewing.
I measure the reference image, horizontally and vertically.
Next, I place a horizontal and vertical line with a #2 pencil through the center of each measurement, cutting the image in half in both directions.
I now want to convert those 1/2 measurements to 1/4 measurements.
Since the steeple of the church is the area of the image that has the most detail, I want to create a smaller and more detailed graph around the area of the image that is the most detailed, thus, cutting the boxes of the graph in 1/2 more and more around the detailed area of the image.
I gotta tell ya, it is not easy taking a photograph with my left hand, while drawing with my right hand - with a right-handed camera.
Okay, back to the graphing - After you complete the graphing of the image reference, take your canvas and do the same steps, making sure to measure both horizontally and vertically cutting the canvas in 1/2 each time until the graph looks the same on the canvas as it does on your image reference.
Note: the dimensions of your image reference and your canvas do not have to be the same. As long as the dimensions are in a similar presentation (Portrait or Landscape) and they are similar, that is good. Your painting can be any size. It just so happens that I made a painting that was nearly the same size as my reference image.
Before you start sketching, number the horizontal blocks and alphabetize the vertical blocks. It makes it easier when you are sketching.
Start sketching. I like to work from top left to bottom right when sketching, that way my right hand does not start rubbing off the sketch as I work.
Detail is not important. I like to put sketch reference of values at times (value is the lightness or darkness of a shape as in the areas that are in light or shadow). I do this for my own benefit. I like to see the shadows when I sketch, but I ignore the detail because it will just be covered over with paint shortly.
I continue to sketch my image on the canvas until I'm satisfied with the results.
Next, take your rubber eraser (you can get this at any art supply or craft store) and erase the graphing lines. You don't have to do this, I just prefer to do it so that they don't distract me when I am painting. Your erasing doesn't have to be perfect either. Just lighten the lines and get them out of your distraction area.
Now, grab some hairspray. Huh? You know, hairspray. I LOVE this brand - S.G. Salon Grafix Professional Freezing Hair Spray (Mega Hold). Why? Because it smells so good and I like to do my hair when I sketch. Not. Actually, I buy this solely for my studio and when I sketch, whether in pencil or charcoal, I spray the completed sketch with hairspray to set the sketch. I don't like smearing.
If I hold my canvas in the sunlight I will be able to see that the hairspray has covered the entire canvas. I give it about 30 minutes to dry. If I'm in a hurry, just grab your hairdryer and dry the hairspray that way. It will take just a few minutes and will set your sketch so that the pencil sketch or charcoal sketch doesn't rub off on your hands or smear with your paint. That's nasty.
Now I want to prepare my paints - and my hands. I use one or the other of these products. They protect my hands while I paint, preventing the oil paint from getting on my skin (well sorta). It isn't healthy to get oil paint on your skin because it gets into your blood stream and is toxic. Not a good idea. Better yet, just put on gloves. But, I'm going to be bad and not wear gloves because the painting is small. Thank goodness for Artguard and Udderly Smooth Udder Cream.
After you have set out your paints, start mixing your colors.
I paint differently than I sketch. I work from background to foreground (what is in back to what is in front) and from thin to fat (thin paint first as in an underpainting, to a thicker more interesting texture to the paint).
More mixing. When you mix your paints, do not use your paint brushes. If you do, it will break down the bristles and ultimately ruin them. I use a palette knife to mix my oil paints.
When you paint, not only work from back to front, but from large shapes to smaller shapes.
Also, when I paint, I put down the most obvious color and value first, in a thin layer of paint. Then I add the details like shadows and other details.
I'm not real picky about my detail or painting style. I paint loosly and I also like to use a palette knife on larger areas. In this case, I used a palette knife to thicken and texturize the paint on the sky.
And here is the (almost) finished painting. It is no Monet, but I'm not trying to win any awards with this one anyway. It was just a fun little painting to do on a Saturday afternoon.
"Church Bell in Old Salem" Winston-Salem, NC. 5x7 Oil on Canvas.
Just so you know, this painting is not finished. I have a few tweaks till I'm really happy with it. So, once the paint dries a bit on the steeple and the church and I've had a day to get a fresh look at it (like the crooked steeple for instance) I'm going to make some corrections until I'm satisfied with it. That is the advantage of oil paint - you've got time to change your mind, make corrections, or scrape the whole thing off the canvas and start over if you're really brave. If you only knew how many times I've scraped the whole thing off the canvas. I'm not gonna tell.
Hope you had fun! Now, get yourself some art supplies and paints and start having some fun in your own studio!