[ Brushwork ] and its importance in the visual journey

One of the beauties of oil painting is its ability to have physical texture. Watercolor and pastels also have their own unique qualities but oil is the only medium that you can build up thick texture. In this short video, I will explain how I play with texture.

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Two of my favorite drawing tools


In art school I learned how to draw the figure with charcoal.   As an eighteen year old kid I didn’t have much experience with this medium but soon discovered its wonderful flexibility.  Basically there are three types of vine charcoal:

·  Soft

·  Medium

·  Hard

Most often I choose to use the medium hardness. It allows me to achieve rich darks with ease and draw hard and soft edges.  I start every painting by drawing out my design with charcoal. The reason I use charcoal is because I can wipe it off very easily. If I draw a painting out late in the day I can still adjust the drawing the next morning when I am fresh. It is amazing how a fresh eye can see design flaws. If you use paint to draw it dries and leaves you little flexibility to adjust.  Do not be afraid of the charcoal showing through in your painting. It will disappear once you start applying paint over it.

Of course, a pencil is my other favorite drawing tool. Did you know the history of the pencil goes all the way back to Roman times? I read they were called styluses and used lead cores. Who knew!

My all-time favorite pencil hardness is 8B. I can get amazing darks with this pencil, plus sketch very soft values.  I found the 2B will not do the job as well as my super hero 8B. If I can get my hands on a 9B I will grab those quickly too. The only thing to note is the softer the lead, the more easily it will break. I think it is worth the trial and error though.  When you frequent your favorite art store and you do see an 8B or 9B I suggest stocking up because they are usual out of these. I have a started to order boxes online so I am not without.

These are my faves, but by all means do not stop drawing if you can’t locate these exact tools.  I have used pens in a bind. The point to strive for is: always build on your skills, learn from your mistakes and be eager to fulfill your goals. I live my art career knowing it is a marathon, not a sprint.

How I layer oil paint


The ability to layer paint really depends on the medium. Most often when I hear layering I think of oil paint. It is one of most diverse mediums out there. I know of several mix in’s for acrylic and gouache which thickens them and adds body, but when working with oils they have this ability straight from the tube.  I layer with oils a lot in the foreground of my paintings. Generally, landscape paintings have less texture as the planes recede. By layering paint in the foreground it can become one way to show the illusion of distance.

Most of my works start with a thin wash in the foreground. When that sets up I add another layer of semi-thin paint. This second layer will not add much texture yet. I am more concerned with color and value at this point. In about 3 or 4 days when those layers dry is when I go in and start layering thicker paint to build texture. I will use a combination of palette knife and brush. Sometimes I pile it on with a palette knife and then with a stroke of a brush drag around unique textures. Other times I will do this in reverse. Brush first, palette knife second to create texture. There are no rules here. If you want you can even use your fingers.  

If you allow the paint to completely dry, or should I say almost dry which could take up to one year depending upon the thickness, you will be able to sand down those layers for even more interesting textures. I highly recommend wearing a mask to filter out any airborne particles entering the lungs while sanding the thick surface.

Usually will not layer paint in the sky if my area of interest for the particular painting is in the foreground. Layering is most effective when you do it in one general area only.  Not to say the sky couldn’t be the focal point. If this was the case, I might choose to add layers to draw attention and interest. Having texture everywhere is confusing for the viewer and makes it difficult for one to engage with you overall message. The “less is more” phrase applies here too.

Oil paints are extremely versatile, so it really depends how experimental you become. It will take time practicing control with your tool of choice, but learning the ability to layer paint effectively can make your work even more unique.


Creating Mood

When you hear the term “mood” used to describe a fine art painting most often (at least for me) I visualize a grey, stormy emotional scene.  Illustrators on the other hand always have to create a mood in order for their art director to please the client. This mood will sell the intended product.


But as fine artists we can choose the mood and decide how to execute it. We are in full control of the outcome. No art director hounding us at all.  Creating mood can be achieved many different ways. For example: take a mountain scene you may have painted many times. But imagine the mood you could create if a quarter of the mountain was encased with fog or partially covered by a cloud. Or what if you played up a strong light source reflecting bright onto one side of the mountain or down low near the base each of these details would create a completely different mood.

What if your painting’s foreground was in full light or in complete shadow this would make the background sing even more.  If the painting has an architectural structure what if appeared in half shadow. If you start experimenting with your ideas while keeping in mind the overall design so you don’t end up with chaos the possibilities could be endless.  Those average reference photos could be made into exciting, mood driven, finished works.  

The point here is to experiment and don’t always stick to the story portrayed in your reference. Create your own. Nature shows itself in many forms. There is no such thing as a wrong light source, only a misplaced light source in relationship to the overall design. Use technology like Photoshop to start putting ideas into action. I will tend to push and pull values and colors around on my computer before I even touch it with the brush if I am unsure of the outcome.  You may have watched videos I have posted on my blog where I show you endless possibilities you can achieve while using Photoshop. Here is a great video post where I demonstrate how to play with shadow on shapes all while being on my computer.

If you are technically challenged, no problem. All of this can be done using pencil and paper.  Once you feel and see you are in control of your own paintings mood the possibilities will hopefully excite you to be adventurous and create something new. These unknown paths I believe are how we grow as artists. So enjoy the journey!