What I’m learning about oil painting

Back in January I shared that my Christmas present from my husband was OIL PAINTING LESSONS — yeaaaaaaaah! — so I thought it was time for an update.

Remember my lemons? Well, our class runs in four-week sessions and I managed to finish my painting during the fourth and final class of the first session. (I’m partway through the second session now — more on that later!)

I took pictures of my progress at the end of each class so I could see how the lemons (and everything else in the painting) were changing from week to week.

During my first two-hour class, I gridded out the picture, sketched it onto the canvas, and did my “underpainting” a.k.a. It’s Just The Base Layer, Heather, Don’t Freak Out.

What I'm learning about oil painting {Heather's Handmade Life}
Two hours in …

During the second class, I added some detail to the picture frame (teeny tiny nervous brushstrokes) and my instructors described how to start making certain areas lighter or darker — “highlighting and shadowing.” Instead of a watery-looking green background that was mostly one colour, I darkened the right side which gave everything a bit more dimension.

One instructor kept urging me to put “big white splotches” on the lemons for their highlight, and I was SO FRIGGING SKEPTICAL because since when does a “big white splotch” sound like something that’s gonna turn out nicely? Really? But I did it, and she was SO RIGHT. Now I’m all about the big white splotch. 😉 

Oh, and the bowl was frustrating me, so I painted over it with bolder blues. And I still didn’t like it. Oh well, the lemons were looking better. What I'm learning about oil painting {Heather's Handmade Life}

The third two-hour class was when things REALLY began to come together. I took the white splotches even further to really shine up those lemons (yes, I was sick of thinking about lemons by this point).

I spent most of the class fighting with the lemons’ “shadow” and worrying I was making them “look too dirty.” One instructor had a great tip about doing a faint dark line around part of a lemon, and then using a clean + dry brush to basically “feather” the dark into the light to create a natural shadow. Once I got the hang of that, I was PUMPED.

What I'm learning about oil painting {Heather's Handmade Life}

I also agonized over the bowl, trying to give it the hand-painted look it had in my inspiration picture without looking like I’d had a stroke while painting it. I tried to copy it as closely as possible, but it did NOT look good.

In the final two-hour class, I decided SCREW REALISM and took some creative liberties with the freaking hand-painted bowl. I painted over the drippy parts on the rim (since they just didn’t look right in the painting) and highlighted certain points of the rim, and got everything to a point where my instructors suggested it was done. Of course, I listened — the fear of continuing on and RUINING IT was a very real fear.

I was finished, and it felt great!What I'm learning about oil painting {Heather's Handmade Life}

I didn’t work on the painting at home, so it was finished in 3.5 classes (7 hours total, including the time to sketch on the canvas).

Here’s a look at how it progressed each week. It almost looks like a cartoon in the Week 1 shot, doesn’t it? Then the lemons slowly get dirtier and big-white-splotchier (um, I mean “more shadowed and highlighted”) each week.

In summary, completing this first oil painting has taught me …

  1. The majority of the work is lightening colours and darkening colours.
  2. You will be shocked by how many shades of a particular colour make up one tiny area.
  3. The prettiest colours are sometimes the murkiest, strangest ones. (The bluey-green painting in the background, for example)
  4. Don’t be afraid of white splotches — they won’t look as weird as you think, especially when you stand back from your work.
  5. Don’t be afraid of going super dark in some areas. No, your lemons aren’t too dirty. 😉


I’m two classes into the second four-week session, and I’m attempting … a portrait of my babies!

(Of course, as soon as my classmates saw what I was doing, they all said portraits were super hard and they would NEVER attempt one and I was like … oh crud.)

More on that soon, including how Week 1 I’d officially named my painted-children “Ghost Eyes.”


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