Things I Learned as an Oil Painter: Thing #20

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maccski's avatar
Thing #20 and still a ways to go! This is a big one:

If you plan to paint seriously, then seriously plan.

I think the big thing for me, in terms of staying focused and motivated, is planning. At any point I know at least the next 3 paintings that I'll tackle.  I know how big they are, why I'm painting them, where (I hope) they will end up, when (I hope) they will be done and sometimes I even have a plan-B in case the intended audience doesn't bite. It's never set in stone and I have to remain flexible because things come up. I don't spend sleepless nights beating myself up about a painting taking twice as long as expected, because priority #1 is not the time taken, but the quality of the end product, right?

I'm sure that this will all sound a bit too much like a job to some of you, but I know what my life artistic is like without it. Up until early 2011 I didn't do this and I simply drifted along with negligible progress. I was a "kinda-sorta-painter". When I finally resolved to make a go of this art thing, I needed to figure out what to paint way in advance. No more showing up at the easel clueless. To me, that would be an express bus to artist's block.  The time taken planning is more than paid back in painting time.

I mentioned I know the reason why I'm painting each piece. The "why" is all about what draws me to a subject (the shadows, light, lines and shapes). I find I like to alternate between complicated cityscapes and loose flowing natural landscapes. The intense perspective and piecing together of a city piece is extremely rewarding, but draining for me. It takes time and, for some reason, I like to do 'em big. Once done I need to cut loose and dash off a quick landscape or two. It's like my kids going nuts running around after a long road trip. My last "going nuts" session produced 4 reasonably sized landscapes in 11 days (that's a lot for a guy with a day job).

The "where" in the plan refers to upcoming shows, galleries or specific buyers (from commissions). I'm a member of one national and two local artists' organizations and they organize group exhibitions throughout the year.  To avoid getting caught without a coherent body of work to show or with nothing at all (gasp) to show, I plan way ahead. I spend months before the exhibition working out what I'm going to submit and when I need to paint it. I work backwards from the show date, building in a minimum of a month's drying time and a week or two for framingp. I also want to make sure that (ideally) the same piece doesn't show up at the same show two years running. I'm also in a gallery and the owner is doing a pretty good job of selling my work, so I have to keep "feeding the beast" (no, the owner's not a beast; it's just an expression). On top of that, I'm lucky enough to get commissions here and there, so I also have to plan around the client's needs. Without a plan I couldn't possibly make everything fit together and keep my sanity.

The plan-B is something I've only recently started. It's great to sell paintings, but it's also great to have a back-up plan. Sometimes this will mean that I paint a particular piece for two shows. In this way, the plus side of not selling is not having to paint so much for the next show. Also, if your're shrewd about how you select works for shows, your "old" work will be seen by a new crowd.

Right now I'm planning thing #21...

Why am I posting this stuff?…

Take a look at my Facebook page...if you like it, please "Like" it!…

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hannacoy's avatar
Wow, thanks for writing this -- it's helpful to see the 'nuts and bolts' of how people succeed at painting.  I think I am where you describe yourself pre-2011, and I'm not sure if I am ready to go to the next level of organization yet, but this is good to read. 
maccski's avatar
Thanks for your comment - glad you liked it.
glunac's avatar
You are a fantastic artist so obviously all your planning beforehand is working out great.

I've noticed many the art shows revolve around a "theme". Often this theme is given/made public just months (3-6 months) before the deadline which means that there is no way an OIL painting will be dry in time for the show. Most of the entries are watercolors or photos. I am often told I should switch mediums, but I like the bright intensity of oils. How do you deal with this issue? (not having enough time for a painting to be dry in time to enter it into a show)
maccski's avatar
Thanks for the compliment!

When preparing for a show I make sure everything is painted at least 6 weeks before to give my work time to get touch-dry. I generally don't enter a themed show unless I already have the work available. Also, I'm a pretty straight-forward kind of painter, using visual inspiration as opposed to thematic. This means I generally don't explore deep issues, but try to describe a scene as best I can. This means themed shows are not usually my bag.

There are tricks you can use to dry a painting faster such as using a spray-on accelerator that will dry your oil painting in much less time. You could try using alkyd oil paints - or perhaps just use alkyd white.  These paints dry much faster.

Don't be forced to switch mediums!  But if you must, then I would suggest acrylics.  I started with acrylics but switched to oils because I felt acrylics forced my style a little bit.

Hope this helps!
citypainter's avatar
If you ever feel like expanding on your comment "acrylics forced my style a little bit" I'd love to know your thoughts on the difference between them and why you made the switch. I've only ever painted in acrylics for practical reasons (small condo so I can't really leave paintings and materials out most of the time) but I wonder what I'm missing with oils.  It seems more professionals use oils and more amateurs use acrylics, but then again there are some awesome acrylic pros too, like Duytter ( so I assume that it's more about artist choice than one type of paint being objectively "better" than the other...
maccski's avatar
I started out using acrylics for the same reason you use them - at that point I was an apartment dweller and the extra complication around cleaning up oils didn't appeal.  After I'd "settled down" into suburban parenthood I had more space and started exploring oils. I found them to be far more forgiving. If you don't like a section...SCRAPE! I was always aware of the speed of drying with acrylics and I would tend to hurry through things - that's the part that forced my style. With oils I can go as fast or slow as I like.  I like to paint wet on wet so I don't have any issues with waiting for a layer to dry before continuing.  Your're right about Duytter - he's played a big role in inspiring me to paint the city.  He clearly demonstrates that acrylics are in no way second rate. You should also check out Robert Genn ( a master acrylic painter from BC.
citypainter's avatar
Ah so the drying speed is what forced your style... agreed, it is a big challenge, part of the annoyance is that I can only mix a bit of colour at a time or it will dry on the palette, but then sometimes it's hard to mix the exact shade again.  Thanks for taking your time to elaborate on this, I appreciate it.  And I'll check out Robert Genn, too!
glunac's avatar
Yes it does! Thank you.
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