Oils are time-tested and honored. The oil paintings of the Great Masters are still as fresh and vibrant today as they were the day they were completed. Colors are still rich and luminous.

The paints I use have been proven through the decades as reliable, color fast and richly pigmented. My preferred brand is M. Graham Oils, which are ground in walnut oil and can be used exclusively with walnut oil. Walnut oil is well-known for its resistance to yellowing with age. It’s only perceived disadvantage is that it takes longer to dry than linseed oil or other vehicles. For my painting techniques, that is not a disadvantage.

I use two types of supports. Canvas and panel. All supports are selected for performance and permanence.

My current canvas of choice is Raphael Oil Primed Belgian linen. This excellent, Italian-made canvas is an incredible canvas made only from the finest prepared linens. It is a sturdy weight, strong canvas prepared with five coats of priming beginning with traditional rabbit-skin glue and concluding with two coats of oil primer. The resulting surface is smooth, almost silky in look and feel.

But I also use wood and Masonite panels, especially for larger paintings. The smooth surface and sturdiness of panels make them ideal for paintings over 20×24 inches.

Layering & Glazing Technique

Every portrait begins with a detailed drawing. During the drawing phase, the overall design of the portrait is determined. Design includes the size and placement of the subject; establishing light and shadow and determining background elements. The drawing is approved by the client, then transferred to canvas.

Once the drawing has been transferred to canvas, it is ‘fixed’ with thinned paint.

Most paintings are then fully developed in half-tones using two or three colors that will provide a complement to the final colors of the background and horse. Details are placed at this stage. Lights and darks are established and adjustments can be made if necessary. Working out the details in this manner can take up to six weeks depending the size of the portrait.

This under painting is allowed to dry for a minimum of four weeks after, then colors are glazed over the under painting. At this stage, the painting process involves applying each transparent color, waiting for it to dry completely, then applying the next color. The result is a rich, luminous painting that cannot be duplicated by any other method.

Muscle Hill, the classical method

Original portrait of Muscle Hill in oils

Direct Painting

I also work in a more direct manner. With direct painting, the finished drawing is transferred to the support and I begin painting with full color.There is no under painting. Color, value and shapes are developed simultaneously. the painting is developed area-by-area, finishing each area as much as possible at full color before moving to the next area. Most generally, work proceeds from background to foreground and top to bottom.

While this process may appear to be faster, it takes about the same amount of time.

Once the painting is painted over once, it dries a minimum of four weeks, then I go over it again, adding details, darkening shadows and brightening highlights, and making any other adjustments.

Morning Dreams, the direct method

Original portrait of Morning Dreams in oils

Mixed Technique

Sometimes, the best technique is a mixed technique.

With this method, the painting is first painted in shades of brown. As with the classical layering and glazing method, the composition is fleshed out and developed as much as possible in the under painting stage.

Unlike the classical method described above, however, there is only one under painting. That under painting is allowed to dry, then the painting moves to the color phases.

At this stage, the painting process involves applying each transparent color, waiting for it to dry completely, then applying the next color.

Guienne Hanover, the mixed method

Original portrait of Muscle Hill in oils

To see the mixed method step-by-step, click here.

Which Method is Best?

Each method has advantages and disadvantages. The painting technique is chosen based on the subject, on painting location (in the studio or out of the studio), and on time considerations. My preference is the classical style of painting.

Finishing Touches

Whatever method is used, the completed portrait is  allowed to dry thoroughly before a protective varnish is added.

The portrait is then ready for framing to customer specifications and delivery.

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