- Lesson details
Before going out into the field to start your oil painting, we need to familiarize ourselves with the materials used in the process. In this lesson, Ben details his suggestions for paint pigments, brushes, canvases, and easels.
Landscape painting in a studio compared to painting on-location are completely different experiences, each with their own set of challenges to face. Painting landscapes on-location means you’re faced with constantly changing natural lighting, as well as nature, but the experience itself can really make your inspiration flow.
In this painting course, Artist Ben Fenske teaches you the fundamentals of landscape painting through a series of lessons. These lessons include easy to follow instruction, analysis of famous landscape paintings, and demonstrations shot on-location, to help you better your painting skills.
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and different colored grasses. A good painter is able to look at that information, organize it in
terms of similar things, and simplify the information.
In this course I will start by talking about basic concepts in landscaping.
So things like mass, planes, and color. Some of the things you will learn will
be specific to landscape painting.
Things such as sky holes and aerial perspective. From there
we will go outside both here in Florence
and in California and I will demonstrate painting and talk as I go. What I like
about outdoor painting is just being outside.
There are so many things going on. When you're outside
you need to be looking at the overall picture, everything at once.
I like all of the possibilities, the endless possibilities. Outside you have changing light and changing
seasons, changing weather, and all of those changes are inspiring to me.
And I just want to talk a little bit about materials and let's start with pigment
or paint. The first thing to consider when buying oil paint is make sure that it
is oil paint. So for example,
this does say oil on it
but this is a water soluble oil paint,
which will not mix with the other colors,
so I want to just get rid of this.
Another thing to consider is every manufacturer makes two grades of paint. They make a student
grade and an artist grade or professional grade.
So I think it's a good idea even for beginner to just buy professional-grade oil paint.
You'll save yourself a lot of frustration mixing colors.
So in this case this - it's kind of difficult to see, it does say oil color.
But I know that this is their student grade paint.
So make sure that you find something on the label.
It will usually say artist grade or professional oil colors. So look for that.
Another thing to consider is what is in this tube?
So there are two things that make up oil painter, there’s pigment and there's a binder. The
binder is usually some sort of oil.
In this case, we can look at the back of the label and we can see
that this is titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
So even though the label says, it does in this case,
it does say titanium zinc white, quite a lot of times titanium will just be labeled titanium,
but there's actually zinc in it.
So you can just check on the back.
Each pigment has a little code here.
If you really want to look into it.
It also says safflower oil.
So that's the binder here, safflower oil.
Some of these pigments will be bound with linseed oil.
Sometimes it'll be walnut oil, there’s lots of different oils.
Personally, I like to find something bound with linseed oil.
It's the most traditional binder.
Another thing to consider is what brand of paint to buy. For me
they're all roughly the same. Anything that says professional-grade paint there all roughly the same, you
can spend more money less money
but I'm pretty happy using any brand.
Let's start to talk about the colors. One of your main.
pigments is going to be why it's going to be the paint that you probably will
use the most of. I'm happy using titanium.
I usually try to look for titanium without zinc mixed in with it.
So a pure titanium is what I prefer.
Lead really isn't available anymore.
So there are three whites available.
But really there are only two: titanium and zinc. I prefer titanium.
And I’m just going to place that out on the pallet.
And I give myself a lot of paint.
Okay. Next color is a cadmium yellow light.
And you might notice that I am laying out my palette the same way every time.
I've got a big place for the white,
it's this the color that I'm using the most of and all the colors will find
their own place on the palette.
Next up is a yellow ochre.
And a cadmium orange and in this case I've got cadmium orange deep.
Next up, alizarin crimson and an ultramarine blue.
And I usually like to have an earth color, a transparent earth color. Either transparent brown
oxide or transparent red oxide.
And I have two greens, one is a phthalo green.
It’s a very powerful green.
And a veridian. Okay. So with these colors I can
basically paint anything I want. I'm missing right now cadmium red,
which I sometimes leave off the palette. You might notice
I don't have a black on the palette and I don't necessarily have anything I guess
black but I can mix a black with some of the some of the dark colors
here, with the alizarin, the phthalo green, and ultramarine blue
I can mix something. That's like a black so I don't need a black.
Sometimes I'll have additional colors.
But this is really I like to keep it.
I like to keep the palette simple.
I don't like to have too many colors.
That's good. I just like to keep it simple.
Everything's laid out roughly, go in lightest to darkest with the exception of the white.
It's not so important which order the paints are.
It's just important that they are in the same place for you every time because your
hand will get used to dipping into different paints
and it's something that you don't want to have to think too hard about every time.
So that’s our pigments.
Let's talk about brushes. Because you're going to need something to take the pigment and put
it on the canvas. I like - there
are lots of types of brushes. There are lots of different shapes available. This one is a
flat. It's called a flat.
It's narrow from the side and wide and flat from the top.
This is a bristle brush.
This is the brush that I prefer.
It's - I think it's versatile, you can have a thin stroke by
turning it to the side, a wide stroke, and after a few weeks of use
it will start to look like a filbert because the edges will become worn down.
These edges will eventually wear off and you will have something that resembles a filbert.
So this is another brush shape called filbert. It’;s a rounded - it’s basically a flat that's been rounded
out. So I never buy these because my flats sort of turn into filberts. Another
shape is a round. And I also I don't use these or buy these.
It's a personal preference. Another thing to consider with brushes is, is it a bristle brush
like this one? This is made out of hog bristles,
or hog hair should say, and this one is a synthetic brush. And they behave very
differently. So the hog hair brush has a nice resistance and spring to it.
You kind of have to push a little bit,
there's a little bit of a resistance and then it bounces back and that's something that
I like. The synthetic brush will just lay down very easily.
There's no resistance to it.
And just a personal preference,
I don't like it as much. It's easier to load a hog hair bristle brush with
pigment. That's why I prefer that.
There are also other natural hair brushes like this one, it's - it might be a sable
hair brush. It's also, compared to the bristle brush,
it's very flimsy. And again,
just personal preference. I don't use it.
So I would recommend getting a variety of brushes and see what you like.
I would say to not buy a bright and don't confuse a flat
with a bright. Let’s see if I can find a bright here.
Okay, so here is a bright and a bright is basically a flat
whose bristles are not as as long and a flat would have longer bristles.
And so let’s see, although this one, this bright is pretty long.
Let’s see if you can see a difference. Okay there we go.
So a flat will generally have longer bristles, a bright will have shorter bristles.
I like a flat because these eventually again they wear down.
And this is easier to - it’s easier to lay the paint on a canvas with a little
bit longer bristles. Again that's partially a personal preference.
So let's just look at what I am using
when I go outside. I'll get rid of all these brushes that I'm not using.
Okay, so I've got - I’m using flat bristle brushes.
Some of them are new, some of them are newer,
some of them are old and used.
I've got a variety of sizes.
I've got here - I've got number six, number five.
This one I can't read.
Number four. So I've got a variety of sizes.
They're all the same shape.
They all start out as the same shape,
but I've got a variety of sizes.
Yeah, this is just what I have come to prefer over the years. Flats.
And I also have enough of them so that when I'm painting outside,
I can have a brush for every color.
That way I don't have to clean the brush when I'm switching colors.
I can just have a large flat for the sky and maybe a smaller flat for
the sky and then maybe a large flat for a tree shadow.
Just so I can have a different
brush and maybe even a different size brush for for each color.
Another essential tool is a palette knife.
This can also be used for applying paint to the canvas or taking paint off the
canvas. It's also good for cleaning the palette.
If you have too much paint mixed up on the palette and you want to get rid
of some of that paint.
So that's another essential tool.
They come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
This one is fine for me.
It’s got a flat edge, that's the important thing for me.
Another thing that you might want to have when you go outside is a sketchbook and pencil.
So what I use this for is sometimes I'll go scouting ahead of time, a day
ahead of time, and wander around free of all my gear so I can just find
a spot, make a little sketch, make a little thumbnail sketch, even record sometimes what time of day
it is, maybe try out a few different formats. That way I'll be prepared
for the next day. I'll have the right format canvas, I’ll know exactly when the light
effect that I want is going to happen and I'll be prepared.
So that's what I use a sketchbook for.
The next thing you're going to need is a medium cup.
So this is a medium cup that's got a nice screw on top so I won't
spill over in your easel.
Let’s just open that up. And this clips right to the side of the palette like that.
Now mediums is another big topic.
I like to keep a very simple medium.
I have a half turpentine or mineral spirits and half linseed oil.
There all kinds of mediums available.
This is a very simple one.
It's traditional medium and you really can't go wrong with it.
So that's why I use that.
Just keep things simple. Here I’ve got a mineral spirit
and a cold pressed linseed oil.
And to go out into the fields,
I just mix them roughly half and half and put them in this little plastic bottle
that fits into my easel.
I've also got a neutral colored shirt
that won't reflect sunlight back onto the canvas.
That's important. I don't want to wear like a bright red t-shirt that's going to reflect
red onto my painting and make it difficult to understand what colors I'm actually using.
So that's why I've got a black shirt.
I've also got a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes.
And the only thing we're missing now is something to paint on.
what are called supports. That just means
what you're gonna paint on. So
there are two - if you're gonna paint on canvas, there are two
options. There's a cotton
canvas, which has this kind of light colored,
light tan color to it. And then there's linen which
usually is a darker gray. Linen
is a better quality material material and it's what
I prefer to paint on. Now there's a lot of things to consider
a canvas and that one of them is the weave. So you can get
a fine weave, a larger grain weave. That's again
personal preference and I usually choose a medium weave.
Let's talk a little bit about the
ground, what's called the ground. So both of
these canvases have been prepared with a ground.
The difference is the cotton canvas
is prepared with an acrylic gesso and
the linen here is
prepared with an oil based ground. So I prefer
to paint on oil based ground so that's what
I'm gonna paint on. You can always tell
if you - you'll learn how to recognize the smell of
oil based ground, it's unmistakable.
The acrylic based ground
tend to have a sort of plasticky look to them
and I don't like to paint on top of that.
Let's talk about stretched
canvases versus panels.
Panels are great to paint on.
I like to use them if I'm painting on something small.
So here are a couple panels that I prepared myself just with
some wood that I cut up and a little bit
of shellac on top and then an oil based ground on top of that.
And I've also put a
tone on some of these panels so they're slightly
different colors, one is left white,
light sort of yellowy brown, and
a slightly more red brown.
And I like to have a variety of colors and
formats to meet the
need of the scene. Here's some
canvases that I've stretched so these are
linen, oil based ground linen and I've put a tone on top
of them. This one I've got sort of a random gray
greenish mix that I like to paint on top of.
This one's a little bit darker and it's a very
You can also paint straight onto
wood if you seal it with something like a shellac or a varnish, you can paint straight
onto wood. So any of those things are fine to paint on.
So I usually prefer a panel with an oil base ground on it
or a linen with an oil based ground.
I tone the canvases
different colors because
having a tone on the canvas often helps me
get to a light effect quicker. So if I
have a middle tone on my canvas,
if I - if you imagine I can put a sky in and few shadows in
and it's already reading as a light effect.
Whereas if I was starting from a white canvas
it would take a long time to fill in all of the white
and only at the end of the painting would I be able to realize the
full light affect. There are some drawbacks, there are some
advantages and drawbacks to using a toned canvas. One thing
when I'm using a tone canvas such as this I will have a sort of a feeling
of a reddish brown running throughout the painting, which can be nice.
If I'm using a pure white canvas
I will get the most pure color
on top of that pure white canvas. So I'm trading off a little bit
purity of color for
a painting strategy that will help me paint a little bit quicker
outside. And I use both. I use white canvases,
I use toned canvases, I like to mix it up.
And if I'm using - if I know that
I'll spend many sessions on a painting I'll usually go with a white
So all kinds of panels and
pre-stretched canvases are available in stores. I like to stretch
my own canvas for several reasons. One of them
being that a high quality,
oil primed linen is not available pre-stretched.
So I will now show you
how I do that, how I go about stretching a canvas.
One of them is it's actually less expensive to buy in bulk a roll of canvas
and stretch it myself. You can find there are a few
pre-stretched linen canvases available in stores,
but they're very very expensive.
So that's the main reason. I also know exactly what I'm getting when I'm stretching it
myself. If you're just beginning it might not be necessary to have the highest quality material
because you just want to - when you’re beginning painting you just want to paint, just paint,
paint a lot of paintings. In that case it might be better to make up some
cheap panels or buy some cheap panels and just paint on them and don't worry about
them. When you're getting ready to - when you're getting a little bit better, a little bit
more advanced, it’s probably at that point
it’s nice to - it's better to paint on a nicer surface like a linen.
or an oil ground linen. Okay,
so let me just - I’ll take you through the steps of stretching a canvas.
It's fairly simple process.
These are stretcher bars. You can buy them in all kinds of sizes.
And they vary but these go together fairly simple, simply.
Okay, I'll just gently pounds the corners together.
And I'll just check - I’ll find something that I know is square.
And I'll just check the corners for
squareness. Okay looks pretty good.
Next I've got a piece of linen cut already to size.
Just lay this down. And I've cut it so there's enough
extra on all sides so that when I'm pulling with the canvas pliers,
it's not going to be too difficult to grab ahold of it.
So I like to leave
2 inches or so. Next thing you’re gonna need is canvas pliers,
a hammer, and I like to use tacks
because they're easy to take out but a lot of people use staples.
So these are just carpet tacks. Yeah,
you can buy the fancy copper tacks if you really want but these are cheap and
they do the job. And I'll just start with one tack
on the top. I’ll line up the canvas
and do the same on the opposite side.
This time I'll pull with the canvas pliers.
And I'm just going to pull hard enough
that I don't rip the nail - ripthe canvas out of the other end.
Then I'll do the same on the long sides.
Okay, so now I've got one in the center of each side
and now I can start pulling even harder and I'll do one on each side of
the center. And go to the opposite side and do the same thing.
And the same on the top and bottom.
So the reason I use tacks instead of staples is I'm often unstretching canvases and
re stretching them for traveling and I find that it's much easier to take out a tack
that I need then to take out a staple.
It also looks nicer. It looks like a kind of old timey
painting and I'll just keep moving around and
I'll do another two, further and further away from the center,
always working opposite sides. And the opposite side again.
At this point I can pretty much pull as hard as I want without danger of ripping
the canvas. A couple more. Okay now I will just tuck in some of these corners
and it will be done.
I'll do that a little slower so you can see what I'm doing.
Just pull that over and I'll make sure not to hit the tack that’s already there.
Okay, and it's ready to go.
I'm going to hold this up to the light and see if there's any wrinkles
in it and there - looks pretty good except for right here there’s a slight wrinkle.
I'll just put two more tacks here.
When it's - when you have a flat surface,
you know, it's tight enough.
Okay. Looks pretty good. It's ready to go and I think the next stage is to
put a slight tone on this canvas
or I can leave it white as well.
a tone on it. And I'll show you how to do that now.
So a lot of people use a sort of brown.
A brownish tone. I've got a few different earth colors here
and I think I'll use this one it's a Van Dyke brown.
It's not as intense as this transparent brown.
Put a little bit on the canvas and take out the mineral spirits.
and with a rag just kind of rub that around. And actually,
that's grayer then I want it.
So I'll add a little bit of this transparent brown.
Maybe a little bit more of the mineral spirits.
So you can make the tone as even as you want as chaotic as you want.
I like - as dark as you want, as light as you want.
I think I want this a little bit lighter.
So I'll just remove a little bit more pigment with the rag.
And I don't mind the tone being a little bit mixed up and a little bit
uneven. I kind of like that.
So there's the toned canvas and I want to let this dry before I paint on
it. Got our paints, brushes, medium cup, palette knife, palette,
and canvas to work on. Now
let's talk about an easel.
There are lots of easels available for outdoor painting.
You have simple metal tripod easels,
you have a lot of people use a little what's called a pochade box that
screws onto a camera tripod.
You have gloucester easels which are huge, have a huge stands for making big paintings when
it's windy outside. You've got the soviet easel.
You've got lots and lots of options.
They're coming out with new easels all the time.
I've come to prefer over the years a French easel.
It suits my needs, it can hold a very small panel, they can
hold a large canvas, it has a a tray that I can set my pallet on,
which is really nice because I don't like to hold the palette because I want my
hands free to hold brushes and maybe a mirror or a palette knife.
And it also holds all of my equipment and holds my brushes, my paint, my medium,
and it holds a wet canvas when I'm ready to pack up and go home.
So that's why I use a French easel, everything that I need fits right inside of
it. So just a little review here. All of the gear that we're going to need
to paint outside. So we've got our paint,
got the medium, the medium cup,
got a palette knife, and throw my brushes underneath here.
And extra medium just in case. And this folds nicely up.
The palate is held in place.
I can even hold a canvas.
So there's all my gear.
I'm ready to go into the field.
I've got everything I need right here.