My family moved a lot when I was growing up. My father was always chasing jobs with higher pay, no matter where in the world that might be. As a result, I attended seven different grade schools.
My favorite class in school was always art class. Whichever school I was in, I was always known as the artist of the class. However, I quit art altogether after high school because my parents wouldn’t support sending me to a liberal arts college.
I ended up going to Virginia Tech with my major undecided (I eventually chose Computer Science as my major). It was during an internship in my sophomore year in college that I found myself wondering whether I still had any artistic talent left in me. In 2001, I began taking art classes again in college, where they taught me how to stretch canvases and paint with oils.
This is one of my first attempts at oil painting. It is a still life of some potted household plants and large chili peppers.
Through centuries of use, oil paintings have become the de facto standard medium for art. Oil painting is such a popular medium because of the vibrant colors and detail that can be achieved with the paints, and the stretched canvas that can easily be framed and displayed in any household. Oil paintings also stand the test of time, as the paints do not easily fade or deteriorate.
A few of my favorite oil paintings
I’ve done about 30 oil paintings. Many of them don’t exist anymore because I painted over them. One of the great things about oil painting is that the paints are opaque. If you make a mistake or don’t like a painting, you can just paint over it. Here are a few of my favorites:
This painting was the result of my first and only experience of painting a nude model. I had drawn nude models before, but never painted them. I purposefully painted from the back because I was thinking about how embarrassed I would be if I came home from college with my paintings and my conservative parents caught sight of a large painting of a naked woman with breasts and pubic hair and all. In the end, I rather like the anonymity of this perspective and the glow around the subject. It makes the woman look eerie, like a ghost sitting in the dark.
This is my largest painting to date, and probably the easiest to look at. It is a 30″ x 26″ oil painting of a still life, painted during an introductory studio art class in college, 2001. It currently decorates a wall in the guest suite of my home.
At one point in college, I was teaching kendo classes as the president of the kendo club. Kendo is the modern incarnation of Japanese samurai sword fighting. We wore armor and battled each other with bamboo swords. This painting was a still-life of my kendo armor. I never finished the painting, so I painted over it.
I painted this based on a picture I found in a National Geographic magazine. It was a painting of the sunset over the water. The studio art professor thought it was too generic and boring, so I turned the sunset into a massive mushroom cloud and called the painting “Nuclear Summer.” I still have it, and it’s one of my favorite paintings to look at.
Before starting a new painting, I typically apply a thick layer of white paint to smooth out the canvas. This time when I was whiting out the canvas, some color got inadvertently mixed in and the results were nice. I put in a few extra purposeful strokes, and the resulting painting was what I call “City in the Mist.”
How you can get started with oil paints today
You don’t need artistic talent to make good oil paintings. To make good art, all you have to do is lay down every stroke with confidence. Even if you draw stickmen, as long as you put down every stroke like you meant to do it, it will come out looking professional. Neatness trumps skill.
All you need to get started with your own oil paintings are a canvas, a few tubes of oil paints, and at least one brush. You can find all of these at your local crafts stores like Michael’s or A.C. Moore.
Bare minimum to start oil painting:
- A canvas
- Five tubes of oil paints: red, yellow, blue, black, and a large tube of white
- A medium-sized flat brush
You only need one canvas because you can paint over your paintings as much as you want. You only need a new canvas once you like your painting enough that you can’t bear to paint over it. Once that happens, you frame it, hang it on the wall, and go buy a new canvas.
You only need five tubes of oil paint because you should be able to mix any color with red, yellow, blue, white, and black. Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors that can be used to make any color (red+yellow=orange, yellow+blue=green, blue+red=purple, red+green=brown, and so on). White and black can be used to lighten or darken colors. You will probably need white more than any other color. While a wooden palette is nice, it is not required. I found that old CDs make good palettes as well.
If I could only choose one brush to use, it would be a medium-sized flat brush. They are the most versatile. Because the brush is flat, you can use the corner for details, and the broad part for broad strokes.