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Wax On, Wax Off (Breathe In, Breathe Out)

Rose in a Jar

Oil on panel, 12×9″

The title of this post refers to words from the 1984 movie Karate Kid and also my process in this painting except for the painting it would be more like “Paint On, Wipe Off (Breathe!) Paint On, Wipe Off… ” (click on “Keep Reading” below to see photos of the steps). I’m not happy with the front flower but I’m ready to move on to the next painting. With each one I learn so much more, including how much more there is to learn!!!!

I had two main goals for this painting/learning experience:

  • Think in terms of “Whole Canvas”
  • Keep trying to understand how to work with oil paint so that I’m taking advantage of its wonderful qualities rather than fighting them. (I’ll keep trying!)

In my many years of watercolor painting, I worked hard to capture what excited me about my subject. I often worked close focus without much background, or just using the lovely white of the paper as my background to set off the glittering glass or glowing flowers I was painting. If the composition didn’t quite work out–no problem, just crop as needed with a mat and frame.

In oil painting the background has to be an integral part of the painting–you can’t just leave the glaring white of the gessoed canvas as your background. And you can’t crop a stretched canvas or panel like you can paper. I was struggling with this concept and finally it clicked. It’s just another way of seeing and, like peeling layers of the onion, the haze peeled from eyes and I could see that a painting is not subject & background — they fit together to complete the picture, just as night completes day. While an object that interests me enough to paint it is the focal point, I need (for now) to think of the PAINTING as the subject.

1-orig setup




2-photoshopped photo
1. Set up the still life, photograph it, check composition in Photoshop.
2. The composition won’t fit on my 12×9 panel so experiment in Photoshop. Cut 2 top flowers and pasted them lower and shortened the height of the jar.
3-revised setup


3. Thinking Whole Canvas: Big empty space on bottom left. Composition needs balance so added a rose stem took another photo. Argh! Now I have to photoshop the flowers to move them down again….except I don’t because this time I CUT the actual flowers with SCISSORS instead of doing it in Photoshop which took two seconds instead of half an hour at the computer! (DUH!)


4-revised setup


4. The composition still didn’t look right–the new stem needed to overlap the jar. Moved it, took another photo.

5-oil sketch



6-next step
5. Getting really tired of the computer and want to paint so I skipped value studies sketch (big mistake–put me at a disadvantage later.) I started painting by putting in the darks.
6. Blocked in shapes and colors I see.


7-next step


7. Painted in the front flower and jar


8-wiped off jar


8. The front flower was good but I kept messing with it. Should have left it alone because I went too far and ended up with mud.

9-thought I was done but wiped jar and flower again


9.  Jar got all mucked up; wiped it off and started it over. Wiped it off again and repainted again, ditto for front flower. Ended up with picture at top of page. Decided I’d had enough and called it done.


7 replies on “Wax On, Wax Off (Breathe In, Breathe Out)”

What a wonderful journey you are sharing with us here. I’ll be making the same one soon and probably do alot of that ‘wax on, wax off’ proceedure too.
Your result is lovely, I’m sure it won’t be long before you are getting the results YOU are after.


I thought of you today and your journey into the world of oil’s. While shopping in a quante shop that sold new items, there on a shelf was a jar filled with used oil painting brushes.. I bought the ones that I thought would sever me and my oil painting adventure. I’m assuming that because they were used maybe some of the other artists talent is still in the bristles of the brushes *wink*.
Your roses are lovely … I enjoy seeing your growth and reading your trials along the way.


You achieved your objective! The composition is strong, and works well on the whole canvas. Great colors, too. Well done, and thanks for the step by step, I know it takes extra time, but we sure get a lot out of seeing it.


Wow – thank you for sharing all that with us! I agree with Nel about the composition and colors – they work very well. Your result is strong and eye-catching, even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind.



I also love seeing your process – i possibly learn more here than in my painting class! Thank you so much for sharing!


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