Oil Painting 101

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My interpretation of Ghost Ranch, Butte. 18×24, Oil on Canvas. Palette Knives.

When  I was a young girl, around 8 years old, my parents treated me to weekly painting lessons.  In Bayonne, NJ, the name of the game was Miriam Brown.  She taught children and adults how to paint.  Following the Walter Foster painting books well known in the day, we picked a painting of his to copy.  At the time, that was the best way to begin the journey, get familiar with the paints (and the smell), and work out some details with brushes.

I put painting aside for many years.  I studied art in college, with an emphasis on jewelry, crafts, and then followed up with a masters degree in Art Education and fiber, weaving tapestry for many years. After an amazing career as an Art Teacher at Bayonne High School in NJ, I moved to Colorado to be closer to Navajo and Pueblo art, Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon and a host of muses.

As a sweet, generous, gift, a friend of mine treated me to Oil Painting lessons at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  Georgia Okeeffe country.  A week of immersion in oils jump started my passion for painting once again.  I learned plein-air (outdoor in natural light) painting from  Michelle Chrisman,   Michelle describes herself as a Contemporary Colorist; the reason I want to learn from her.  Colorist’s give me permission to love color.  Purple shadows, pink skies, coral colored red rock.  Michelle’s work can be seen on her website and at the Joe Wade Gallery in Santa Fe.

Here’s an example of Michelle’s painting style.  I love the loose color, and forms.  I am inspired by her quick strokes of palette knives and the shadow and light she captures.

Michelle Chrisman- Ghost Ranch Plein Air

I met up with Michelle at Ghost Ranch once again, over the Thanksgiving weekend. We both set up easels and painted the buttes of Box Canyon at the Ranch. She’s a wild thang.

Michelle teaches the “limited” palette.  Color mixing has become a real joy and I use the palette knife to mix.  A limited palette consists of these colors:

  • White
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Ultramarine Blue

All other colors are mixed by combining those hues.  And we added Res-en-gel to speed up drying of the oils.  I don’t use mediums in the studio as I like to work a bit slower and to have the luxury of the slow drying time of oils.

I’ve added a few other colors to my palette too:

  • Indian Yellow
  • Cobalt Blue

The use of the palette knife and heavy application of paints means that I go through lots of paint.  In some cases I buy Dick Blick brand, but mostly use Winsor Newton or Daniel Smith.  I recently bought a palette box and installed glass in the bottom of it, I love this system and although at times I use a disposable palette, it’s too small for mixing from a limited palette of colors. The larger palette gives me plenty of room for my “puddles” of the mother colors, purple and orange.  A box cutter helps to clean the palette, and I save my piles of color for another session.

Zion Majesty

I call this painting Zion Majesty. It began as a small plein-air painting (sketch) and is close to completion as a studio iteration. 20×24 Oil with Palette Knives.

A pochade box is on my wish list, but for now I’m using a french style easel in the field.  In the studio I have a large easel as I like to paint 20×24 or larger. For plein-air,  Guerrilla painter makes a sweet oil painting drying box and carrying case, so much better than trying to get paintings home in my car…wet.  You can only imagine what my car looked like after two weeks of painting outdoors!  Pizza boxes work for storing wet paintings too! Get the wet painting carrier.  I have the 11×14, and it holds both panels and stretched canvas.  Next purchase, the 12×16 size.

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This is the first iteration of a studio painting inspired by the Bluffs of Utah. I took a digital photo and used photoshop to clone in some trees at the bottom to see how they would work for me.  Some painters use a mirror to look at their in progress works.  

This is the next iteration.  I really love big, bold color.

This is a detail of the latest iteration. I really love big, bold color and the textures of the palette knife.

Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods Photos

Our Chase the Light Photography Workshop in Southeast Utah and Arizona: 5 days/4 nights photographing the monuments of Monument Valley and the spires and buttes of Valley of the Gods.   Eight participants attended the photo workshop.  Our first location was at the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, where I taught about using the widest focal length lens to capture the big scene.  The day was blustery to say the least, so handheld photography from the overlook rim was in order.  Students determined how wide they could photograph, set up their wide-angle lenses and chose an ISO for obtaining deep depth of field as well as a shutter speed that would avoid camera shake.

Learning about using our wide angle lenses ©Nora Whalen

Learning about using our wide angle lenses ©Nora Whalen

As the week progressed, lessons included metering properly for balancing indoor and outdoor lighting (we used a hogan in Monument Valley for that lesson).  By using the digital camera’s “live view” or LCD, to assist in metering challenging scenes, students learned to balance and choose the correct exposure.

Image 23

Discussing how to capture the varied exposures in the Hogan at Monument Valley. By turning on “live view” you can see exactly what the camera is metering.

An example of using "Live view" to meter the inside and outside of the Hogan.

An example of using “Live view” to meter the inside and outside of the Hogan.

Some students were working with advanced Point and Shoot cameras, some DSLR, some played with their iPhones and when we had service, uploaded their images to instagram and social networking sites.

The Road to Monument Valley ©Nora Whalen

The Road to Monument Valley, many people call this the “Forest Gump” road. ©Nora Whalen

Shot with an "in camera" effect: vignette. ©Sherry Ketner

Shot with an “in camera” effect: vignette. ©Sherry Ketner

Shot with an "in camera" effect: vignette. ©Sherry Ketner

Shot with an “in camera” effect: vignette. ©Sherry Ketner

iPhone Photography, Monument Valley, Instagram images ©Nora WhaleniPhone Photography, Monument Valley, Instagram images ©Nora Whalen

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One of the workshop participants, Anita, photographing along the 17 mile drive in Monument Valley

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Walter never took that camera down from his face. He had a great time on this, his first, photo workshop

More participant examples to follow.  I’m prepping up for a two week adventure, a photo and road trip to California.  More to follow.