Photo reference for oil painting, Jesse in Oils
Original Oil Painting
14 x 18 Raymar Canvas Panel

Jesse, shown here, is the 1998 Clare County 4-H Grand Champion. I shot two or three rolls of film on this elegant Quarter Horse gelding at the fairground and later. This is my favorite.

In October 2009, in the course of looking through old ideas and new possibilities, I came across this photo. In addition to the photo, there was an 8×10 enlargement and a drawing in the file. I also had an abandoned 14×18 Raymar canvas panel waiting for a new painting. The perfect combination.

I reworked the drawing for a 14×18 composition, transferred it and began painting. Sometime after finishing the first color on the background, the painting was set aside and forgotten.

Until now. With a goal to paint more Quarter Horse images in 2012 and a desire to tie off loose ends in the studio, I resurrected this painting.

Jesse in Oil

This is what the painting looked like the last time I worked on it, back in December 2009. The plan then was to use a direct painting technique, building color from beginning to end.

At this stage, I’d painted a dark blue-green background around the blurred shape of Jesse’s body, which I’d painted in muted earth tones. The background was finished and set aside to dry. The painting was subsequently buried under portrait orders.

So this is the ‘not-so-blank canvas’ with which the current process begins.

This demonstration will also be a demonstration on reclaiming a used panel and on changing direction on a failed painting.

Step 1

Jesse in Oil

When I decided to convert the painting from the direct method to the classical technique, the first thing I had to do was decide whether to leave the background as it was or to paint over it.

Part of the decision-making process was rubbing in the first values on the horse. I used a clean rag to apply Raw Umber straight out of the tube. No work on details other than the eye. No fine tuning. Just color on canvas.

At the end of the session, I applied a thicker layer of Raw Umber over the right side of the background to see how it looked and to determine whether or not Raw Umber would conceal the existing background.

Step 2

Jesse in Oil

I liked the look of the new background enough to repaint all of the background. Almost all of the horse was rubbed with a cloth, first applying paint, then spreading it around. Because the blaze will be the brightest value in the entire painting, I left it untouched.

The umber applications covered the previous background so well, it will be like painting over a fresh canvas.

Step 3

Jesse in Oil

The painting was allowed to dry completely, then I began modeling the horse, beginning with the neck, chest and shoulder. I ‘sketched’ in the deepest shadows with a 1/4″ angle shader and pulled color into the mid tones with the same brush.

I added a little Titanium White to the background to create highlights. I’m not sure how that will work. Standard procedure is to use only the earth tone color in the umber layer. Since this is a reclamation project, however, I’m free to experiment.

Step 4

Jesse in Oil

I liked the white highlights enough to add them to other areas of the background. I also continued modeling shadows on the neck and chest, but also worked up into the head.

I like the way color looks when applied with a cloth, so I used that technique for the face. The soft, stroke-less color layers are perfect for a horse’s summer coat, though they require more thought in application, more layers and, therefore, more patience.

Step 5

Jesse in Oil

More cloth work in the face, layering color one thin layer at a time to build the middle tones. Earth tones usually dry over night, so I was able to work day after day. I had to be careful about pressure, however, since rubbing with a cloth will lift color, as well as lay it down.

The darkest shadows in the neck and shoulder had to be applied and modeled with a brush unless I wanted to continue the layering process indefinitely.  I want to try that some time, but that technique would require an untouched surface to begin with. I don’t have that here.

So I decided the umber layer was finished. Ordinarily, I would give it another few days of work. Detail would be more defined with a finished umber layer if the painting began with a fresh canvas.

In this case, there are blemishes to be covered and corrections to be made from the first go-round. Opaque paint layers are needed for that ‘cover up’ work, and the best place to do that is the dead layer.

So I concluded the umber layer. Three or four weeks to dry thoroughly, and it should be ready for the next step.