Oil painting techniques: learn how to “scumble” like a pro

Snowy Dawn oil painting by Francisco Silva
“Snowy Dawn” oil painting by Francisco Silva

Scumbling is an oil painting technique used by many painter’s throughout history. To achieve this technique, you apply a thin or transparent layer of paint over a dried layer of paint resulting in a visual, color combination of both layers.

Why you should use this technique

As artists, we’re always running into roadblocks during the painting process. Scumbling can be used as a potential solution during these times. You can use it to add depth by adding contrasting color layers if your painting is too monotone. Conversely, you can reduce contrast in an area with this technique.

How to start scumbling using oil paint

  • Begin with a dried base layer of paint.
  • You can use either a transparent color (like Perylene Red, Viridian Green, etc.) or “thin” out a paint color with a medium.
  • Apply the transparent color. I control the transparency by adding medium to achieve a thinner layer of oil paint.
  • You can apply more layers to deepen the color or add more layers of different colors. Pleas note that the more layers you add, the less the initial layer will be noticeable.

Scumbling examples

Detail of Turner’s painting “Sun Setting Over a Lake”. Click on the image to see the entire painting

Throughout the history of art, many painters have used this technique. In the detail above, I show how J.M.W. Turner used this technique. You can see the layers of different colors which add texture and depth to the painting. Additionally, the darker areas of this detail are achieved with scumbling. This is a common technique used by Turner.

Detail of “Snowy Dawn” by Francisco Silva

One of the challenges with this painting was to represent “snow” without using one flat “white” layer of paint. I achieved this by beginning with a light blue-green base layer. To this layer, I added a light blue layer that was lighter than the previous layer. In the third layer, I added a white (toned-down with gray) layer leaving me the option of using pure white very sparingly.

Summary

  1. Scumbling can be used as a solution to visually problematic areas in your painting.
  2. Use scumbling to add color depth.
  3. Use this technique to highlight an area or reduce a high-contrast area.
  4. Scumbling is a classic technique used by many painters of the past (J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet).
  5. Scumbling adds an additional technique to your painting arsenal.

Do you scumble? How have you used it in the past? Please leave examples in the comments.

My painting is on view at the Studio Montclair Art Gallery

The Lack of Privilege, an oil painting by Francisco Silva
“The Lack of Privilege”, an oil painting by Francisco Silva

One of my paintings is currently on view at the Studio Montclair art gallery. Additionally, an online exhibit compliments the physical show. This group show titled “Privilege, Power and Everyday Life” showcases 32 artists and their interpretation of the theme. Click here for a detailed view of my painting. Click here to view the entire exhibit.

The concept

Titled “The Lack of Privilege”, my new oil painting deals with an unexpected consequence of the pandemic: I depict a food line in Queens in a latino neighborhood. COVID-19 has been devastating to poor communities specifically black and brown neighborhoods. In the painting, I show figures standing in the cold, not interacting, and waiting for their turn. The faces are unclear, smudged or, in some cases, hidden in shadows. Some figures are hidden behind others or visually blend into each other. I painted them this way to emphasize that their identities are forgotten or overlooked. Although this is a tough time for everyone, some people are deprived of essentials such as food.

My painting process

In this painting I began experimenting in several ways. I normally take snapshots and use them as reference. In this case, I’ve searched online for videos taken by news outlets, I then took screenshots of the video and have used that as a foundation for this painting. I wanted to begin with a realistic, almost clinical view of the subject.

With regards to painting process, I outlined the figures in heavy black lines. The people in the food line are painted in mostly cool grays which visually separates the blue-gray sidewalk and the orange/terra cotta buildings serving to balance the composition. The brushstrokes are loose and expressionistic adding to the mood of the artwork.

The show is currently on view through February. Click here to register for a Zoom curatorial talk on January 21 at 7pm.

What do you think about the exhibition? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

6 ways artists can take advantage of online opportunities during COVID

Artist studio with brushes
Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

The spread of COVID-19 has forced the art market to increase their presence on the virtual space. The art world now relies on their online galleries to showcase artist’s work. For the artist, this means that in-person shows have halted but virtual opportunities have been created.

Why is this important?

The world’s behavior has changed during the pandemic. Zoom meetings, art openings, and artist’s talks have become commonplace. By actively engaging in these events you can reap short-term benefits and create a foundation for future opportunities. Additionally, I believe that these virtual events will continue to exist in the post-pandemic art market.

How you can take advantage of online opportunities?

  1. Seek out online exhibitions – You’re no longer limited by geography since you don’t need to deliver artwork to a physical location. This gives you the chance to enter exhibitions anywhere.
  2. Participate during online openings – You must be present to support your art show. The gallery/arts organization hosting this event will be aware of your presence or absence. Additionally, if anyone is interested in your work, you’ll be available for questions.
  3. Actively participate as a spectator in Artist Talks – This is a good way to support your fellow artists. Be an active participant by asking questions.
  4. Be a presenter at an Artist Talk – If given the chance, take the opportunity to talk about your work. This is the single best way to let people know about you, your art, and your artistic process. This also gives a potential collector the opportunity to learn about your work.
  5. Be active on Social Media – There’s no need to overdo it. Just choose either Instagram or Facebook and post regularly.
  6. Update your website – Ultimately, you want to drive people to your website to see your body of work and to learn more about you as an artist. Update your website so it contains current work and doesn’t look dated. Remember, that your website is a representation of you in the virtual world.

How this strategy helps your art career

  • It keeps you visible to galleries and other artists during this time when interacting physically isn’t an option
  • Virtual participation allows you to network with other artists, curators and collectors
  • When the pandemic is finally over, you can leverage the connections you’ve made for potential exhibitions
  • Actively participating in Artist Talks gives you credibility by making others aware of your art knowledge. This can lead to organizations seeking you out for your art knowledge.

Have you done any of the above? How much have you participated in virtual events? Please let me know in the comments.

Should I enter juried art exhibitions?

Me with my painting "Ending Summer" at the "Exhale" juried show hosted by Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ
Me with my painting “Ending Summer” at the “Exhale” juried show hosted by Art House Productions in Jersey City, NJ

Juried shows are a source of frustration among artists. You enter a competition only to be rejected without ever knowing the reason why you weren’t accepted. The worst part is you’re out the non-refundable entry fee. The first juried art show I entered was held at a well-funded organization with a very nice exhibition space. It cost me $45 to join the organization and another $40 to enter the show. This seemed like a high price but I figured it would be worth it to see my paintings in that gallery space. My work was NOT accepted and I was out a total of $85. I quickly realized that this approach was financially prohibitive.

Based on this experience, I changed my strategy and began entering only juried shows that are FREE. I’m willing to make an exception and pay a membership fee to join an arts organization that offers benefits aside from the juried show. For example, I joined an arts group that has painting and social events where I can network with other artists. The juried show is an additional benefit.

Why should I enter a juried show

A juried show can have many benefits (see “How entering juried shows helps your art career” below) but the main reason to enter is the opportunity to exhibit your work.

How do I find juried shows to enter

You can try these two websites. They both list national exhibitions but can be filtered to include territories that are near you.

https://artshow.com/juriedshows/

https://www.entrythingy.com/forartists_calls

These websites are helpful but I’ve rarely found free juried shows that were appropriate to my work. I’ve had more success by researching local art groups that host juried shows.

When you find an exhibition that works for you be aware that there’s usually a theme and the hosting organization requires submitting the following:

  1. Jpgs of your artwork
  2. An artist bio
  3. An artist statement that explains how your work fits the theme of the show
  4. Occasionally, some will ask for a CV or artist resume

The above is important and time-consuming. Your images should have a professional look and follow the file naming conventions stated in the exhibition prospectus. Your bio should be well thought out and follow the industry standard. Additionally, your artist statement should be well-written and concise. If your CV looks anemic, I suggest skipping that exhibit until you gain more exhibition experience.

Do your research! Look online for previous years juried shows. Evaluate the artwork that was accepted. Does your work fit in with the others that were accepted? If you’re an abstract painter and previously accepted works were all photorealistic, this may not be the venue for you. But if it’s free, take a chance!

How entering juried shows helps your art career

  • It gives you the opportunity to exhibit your work
  • You gain exposure for you and your work
  • You can add the exhibition to your artist’s resume
  • It giives you the opportunity to compare your work to other artists’ work
  • A collector may buy your art
  • It’s an opportunity to network with artists, curators and collectors

Summary

  1. Only enter juried shows that are FREE
  2. Juried shows give you the opportunity to exhibit your work
  3. You will need good pictures of your work, an artist bio and statement and possibly an CV/artist’s resume to enter
  4. These exhibitions have additional benefits that can help your art career.
  5. Finally, learn to take rejection because it will happen

What are your experiences with juried shows? Please share them in the comments.

Product recommendation: RayMar Wet Painting Carrier for plein air oil painting

Raymar wet painting carrier
The Raymar 8″ x 10″ wet painting carrier

My plein air experiences began with lugging around a heavy, large French easel that tenuously held only one painting on the easel stand. After doing this a couple of times, I decided that I needed a dedicated wet painting carrier that held multiple panels and was lightweight.

I’d like to mention that I’m not getting paid for this recommendation although I wouldn’t be against that. I just think this is a very good, useful product and it could be a good addition to your plein air equipment.

Why use a wet painting panel carrier at all?

  • To carry and store your wet paintings when plein air painting
  • It’s a necessary piece of equipment especially when you’re producing multiple paintings
  • Convenience! It removes the hassle of carrying a wet painting in your hands

Advantages of using the Raymar carrier?

Every company that produces a pochade box most likely makes a wet painting carrier. Sometimes, the panel carrier is incorporated into the pochade box and sometimes it’s an entirely separate item. The problem with both of these options is that they’re heavy. In comes the Raymar wet painting panel carrier. It has 3 slots that can hold six 1/8” painting panels back-to-back (although I only use it for three panels). It’s made of fluted plastic making it lightweight and waterproof.

NOTE: this product holds painting panels not canvases.

As a backpacker, I’m very conscious of how much things weigh and what a drag it is to carry unnecessary weight. This product’s light weight was a big selling point for me. The price depends on the size. I went with the 8” x 10” although they have different size carriers and multi-width carriers. My 8” x 10” set me back $35 (including tax and shipping). This seems a bit pricey for plastic but it’s worth the cost (and convenience) as it’s a very sturdy item.

Inside of Raymar wet painting carrier
Inside of the Raymar wet painting carrier

Above is the Raymar wet painting carrier in action. See the two canvas panels in one slot? It has a velcro closing lid and adjustable strap for easy transport

Summary

  1. A dedicated wet painting carrier will simplify your plein air painting process
  2. The Raymar wet painting carrier comes in different sizes (and multi sizes) to hold different size panting panels
  3. The carrier holds up to six panels back-to-back
  4. It’s lightweight and waterproof
  5. More info on the Raymar website at https://www.raymarart.com/collections/wet-painting-carriers

What do you use to carry your wet paintings when painting plein air?

My painting is on view at the “Transformative” Online Art Exhibit at Hoboken Arts

Painting by Frank Silva on view at Hoboken Arts Online Gallery
“Forever” by Frank Silva on view at Hoboken Arts Online Gallery

One of my paintings is currently on view in an online exhibit at Hoboken Arts. The group show titled “Transformative, Picturing Life after the Pandemic” showcases 40 artists and their interpretation of the theme. Each detail of the artwork includes the artist’s description of the piece and its relationship to the theme. Kudos to Hoboken Arts for using this format as the viewer is able to understand the thought process of the artist and what they’re experiencing during this time. Click here for a detailed view of my painting and description. Click here to view the entire exhibit.

The concept

My oil painting titled “Forever” was painted in the early stages of the pandemic. Coincidentally, I had started a series of paintings with the theme of “Isolation” and “Self-Isolation”. This painting deals with isolation in a social setting. I wanted to convey detachment and separation; the figures are together but not interacting with one another. The bar creates a physical separation between two worlds: the world of the patrons and the world of the bar area (or presumably, bartender). The patrons being unaware of what goes on behind the bar.

My painting process

I wanted to create an apathetic mood by using cold blues. I used varying hues and tones of blues and emphasized loose brushwork. The only yellows exist in the figures helping them to stand out against the cool blues of the rest of the scene. To draw the viewer’s attention even further, I added dabs of oranges only on the faces and hands helping to make the figures more relatable.

The show is on view through May 31, 2020

What do you think about the exhibition? Please share your thoughts.

Thumbnail sketches are the answer to your plein air painting problems

Four gray tonal thumbnail sketches
Four gray tonal thumbnail sketches

Have you ever worked on a plein air painting only to realize that some serious compositional issues existed halfway through the painting? The purpose of this post is to show you how you can use thumbnail sketches to work out these problems before you lay down any paint.

What are the advantages of using thumbnail sketches?

  • To quickly sketch different views of the subject matter
  • To crop a view to make it more visually interesting
  • Thumbnails help establish a strong composition
  • They reduce visual elements to values and shapes thereby making the painting process easier

What’s the process for creating thumbnail sketches?

I start with a 5b or 6b drawing pencil which allows me to get a dark black. I quickly sketch a small box (approximately 2”x3”) that’s proportional to the canvas or panel that I’ll be painting on. I sketch loosely and reduce the subject matter to simple, large shapes and tonal values. I limit my sketching time to 3 or 4 minutes to avoid getting bogged down with any detail. Finally, I use this thumbnail to lay out my painting.

Using this method I can create different thumbnails from different angles giving me options to choose from. Additionally, these sketches help me decide what view will work out best as a painting.

Examples of usage

Please note the four thumbnails on the top of this post. I’ve sketched out a couple of thumbnails to choose from. I think the top two are boring . The bottom two have a better composition with a strong focal point. But the bottom-right one is a better value study and I chose this one to create a painting.

Below you can see the quick thumbnail sketch that I used to begin the painting on the right. Looking back, I should’ve better developed the different values in the thumbnail.

Thumbnail tonal sketch on the left and beginning stage of the plein air painting on the right

How they improve your plein air painting

  • A thumbnail sketch will quickly show if a view is worth painting
  • Give the ability to crop or change elements that won’t work in the painting
  • Help in the painting process by simplifying the view to simple shapes and tonal values
  • You can quickly rework elements to improve the composition

Summary

  1. When painting plein air, use thumbnail sketches to quickly lay out your painting
  2. Sketch out approximately 2”x3” boxes that match the proportions of your painting surface
  3. Work out any compositional issues in the thumbnail
  4. Establish tonal values in the thumbnail that can transferred to the painting
  5. Use the thumbnail to lay out your painting

Do you use thumbnail sketches when painting plein air? How do you avoid compositional problems?

Oil painting basics: reasons to tone your oil painting canvas

Photo of the canvas toning process using Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna

Why do you tone a canvas?

  • To make a “white” canvas or panel less intimidating to paint
  • Toning creates a neutral background
  • It covers the entire surface leaving no areas of blank (white) canvas

How do you tone a canvas for oil painting?

In my experience earth colors work best. My preferred color is Burnt Sienna but I’ve also used Burnt Umber. Additionally, I’ve experimented with Ultramarine Blue and Perylene Red.

I use a rag dipped in Turpenoid. Then I dip the rag into a glob of paint on my palette. Finally, I cover the canvas with a thin layer of that paint. Make sure to let the background color fully dry before you begin painting. If wet, any colors you apply will mix with the background and muddy your colors.

CAUTION: Be careful when using strong colors like Ultramarine Blue or Perylene Red. When I’ve used Perylene Red, I struggled throughout the painting process to tame the strength of that color. This can be very frustrating.

Examples of usage

Plein air landscape painting on easel by Francisco Silva

In the plein air painting above I used a Burnt Sienna background. Although strong colors dominate this painting, you can see hints of the background color through some parts it. Look at the reds as well as the yellows in the lower part of the painting.

“Forever” oil painting by Francisco Silva

“Forever” shows the usage of an Ultramarine Blue background. After my negative experience using Perylene Red, I used this blue background as a foundation for a monochromatic painting. The blue contrasts nicely with the highlights as well as the yellows in the painting.

How it improves your painting

  • It creates a neutral base that you can build upon
  • It’s particularly helpful when plein air painting when you’re fighting against time to capture a scene. The neutral background covers the entire panel eliminating the need to cover it with the paint you’re applying.

Summary

  1. Tone your canvas to create a neutral background
  2. Use earth colors (Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber)
  3. Be cautious of using strong colors as a background
  4. Toning creates a layer of color that you can build on
  5. Helpful when plein air painting as you have a limited time to paint

Do you tone your canvas? What color(s) do you use? What have been your experiences with toned canvases?

How to mix subtle grays for your next oil painting

Paintings by Francisco Silva named Full Stop
“Full Stop” an oil painting by Francisco Silva

Why can’t I just use a tube of gray paint?

…or mix Titanium White and Ivory Black to make gray? You can, but as a painter you should learn to mix paint:

  • to expand you understanding of color
  • to increase your range of color choices

How to start

I prefer Gamblin oil paints (my choice for using Gamblin may be a future post). To get a neutral gray, I start with equal parts Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and Titanium White. But I prefer to mix equal parts Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna to get a dark, rich gray. I then add small amounts of Titanium White to get the desired tint. My next step is to add small amounts of Burnt Sienna to make a “warm” gray or Ultramarine Blue to make a “cool” gray. Try experimenting to create a range of grays with different values.

Examples of usage

Detail of Painting named Full Stop
Detail of “Full Stop” by Francisco Silva

Above is a painting I recently finished. Detail A is an example of a warm gray. Detail B is an example of a cool gray. Since this is a night scene with many light sources, I wanted to emphasize the subtlety of the lighting by using a range of warm and cool grays. If you look at the entire painting, you can see that I’ve created cool colors on the left side to warm colors on the right side. This was done to create different moods.

Detail A shows a warm gray that creates a more interesting contrast in the lights and darks within the painting. It’s this subtlety that we’re trying to achieve.

Detail B shows cool grays that have more blue paint. You’ll notice that there are variations of cool blues within this detail.

How it improves your painting

As a painter, you want to increase your choices by creating a wide range of colors and values. Why settle for one choice (Payne’s gray) when I can mix a multitude of grays and have something that will create more visual interest in my painting.

Summary

  1. Learn to mix color to become a better painter
  2. Start with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna to mix you initial gray
  3. Add Titanium White to tint the gray
  4. Add Ultramarine Blue to create a “cooler” gray
  5. Add Burnt Sienna to create a “warmer” gray
  6. Use this technique to improve your color range and create different moods within the painting

How do you mix grays in your painting? What colors/techniques do you use?