Painting with a ‘Show Me’ State of Mind

30 Jan 2014

Oil painting by Darrell Brown, oil on canvas.
Darrell Brown paints simple, seemingly timeless "portraits"
of fruits and vegetables.
A few days ago a reader came to me with a good point: If an artist running a workshop can talk about the philosophy behind his or her oil painting art, all the better. But what the reader really loved to do was just watch a painting happen. I couldn’t agree more. Seeing a painting progress from blank canvas to completed work is high on my list of awesomeness, too.

Here's a painting demonstration that reveals New Orleans painter Darrell Brown's process from beginning to end. The steps below outline Brown’s painting techniques and guide you from blank panel to his finished work, Red Tamarillos.

Oil painting demo--Step 1
Find the center.
Find the center. Using a red-sable brush and iron-oxide oil paints thinned with turpentine, Brown starts his oil painting by pinpointing the visual center of his still life and creates a line drawing of the objects. He works out from the center of the panel. He also draws a ¼-inch barrier around the edge of the panel to reference where a frame will eventually overlap the work.

Oil painting demo--Step 2
Block it in.
Block it in. With filbert brushes, Brown blocks in the fruit’s shadows and the background and foreground values. He leaves the areas indicating the mass of the fruit white so that the eventual layers of color will pop with intensity and brightness. Artist tip: If the color of the fruit is earthy, opaque, or dull, Brown recommends toning the entire panel with raw umber or a mixed gray.

Oil painting demo--Step 3
Paint on a "large" scale.
Paint on a "large" scale. Brown layers in the big shapes of the fruit with iron-oxide pigments, cadmiums, or cobalts when appropriate. He emphasizes the basic value contrasts in the work, from the deep shadows in the background to the bright highlights on the fruit. Only then does he zero in on the small shapes—the stems and areas around them. For these small areas, he uses pointed round brushes.  

Oil painting demo--Step 4
Going back in.
Going back in.
Ready to overpaint, Brown brushes a thin layer of retouch varnish over the dried areas of the surface that appear matte. This allows him to bring up the true values of the darker colors in his composition. He paints from darks to lights, and uses transparent pigments to capture the visual effects of light across the forms, from highlight to light, shadow, core shadow, reflected light, and cast shadow.
While the paint is wet he softens edges and refines details of the stems. His final step is to apply a layer of transparent color and glaze most of the surfaces of the fruit to build up the paint and tone down the reflected light in the shaded areas. After the painting dries for several days, he applies a light layer of retouch varnish.

Seeing the end product—a painting—and knowing the steps and strategy that went into it makes all the difference in my appreciation of a work and my understanding of the process. Art is funny that way—there’s always something to learn from looking at a work as it progresses, especially if you can see a sequential demonstration like Brown’s. That’s why video downloads are so beneficial for artists. You can see all the action as it unfolds, and that's why Pastel Techniques for Painterly Portraits is being so well received. Artists want to see a painting happen—Pastel Techniques for Painterly Portraits delivers! Enjoy!


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