Art Oil Painting Watercolor

Farewell Oil Painting; Hello Watercolor, My Old Friend

Strawberries, Cheerios and Milk, 20×21″, watercolor 2013

The watercolor paintings in this post are from 10-20 years ago. I haven’t been posting new work for several months because I got stuck working on one oil painting portrait. I struggled with it, overworking, reworking, starting over, rinse and repeat. There’s something about being able to endlessly work on an oil painting that triggers my perfectionism, and not in a good way.

Pink Rose, 2003, Watercolor, 16×12″

Watercolor and gouache have natural stopping points. You have to pause to let the paint and paper dry. You can’t keep painting layer on layer endlessly or you have a muddy mess. You either call it done or you start over.

Sister City Parade, Watercolor, 22×30″, 2001
(An actual parade going down the street in my neighborhood
when I was moving in 22 years ago)

I also became sensitive to solvents. I stopped using Gamsol while painting but even the smell of drying oil paint without solvents made me feel icky. Just using a little Gamsol for brush and palette cleaning left me with the taste of metal in my mouth and a headache, both signs of chemical sensitivity. I already have funky lungs so that was it. Bye-bye oils.

Ruth Bancroft Gardens Old Barn, ink & watercolor, 5x8"
Ruth Bancroft Gardens Old Barn, ink & watercolor, 5×8″ 2013, SOLD

I’ve always preferred the look of watercolors to oil paintings anyway. In fact the only paintings I have hanging in my home are watercolors. I thought I would go through a grieving period but it’s been a couple months and I’ve felt only relief and excitement.

Sleeping Neighbor, Watercolor 30×22″, 2009, SOLD

I have thousands of dollars worth of oil paint, oil brushes, canvases, panels and oil paper that I will sell at some point. In the meantime, I’m finding it thrilling to watch water and color flow on paper again.

Sold. Michelle’s Rose, Watercolor, 2015 (SOLD)
(Painted as a demo in a watercolor class I was teaching)
Art Faces Oil Painting People Portrait


Emi, oil on Arches Oil Paper, 10 x 7.5"
Emi, oil on Arches Oil Paper, 10 x 7.5″

This commissioned portrait of a darling little girl was really fun to paint but had some challenges, like trying to invent the pajamas hidden by the highchair straps. It took several drawings (including one of a baby skull I found on Google) before I was ready to move ahead with the painting as you can see in the process steps below.

Emi’s face was actually easier to paint than the pajamas, and I was tempted to keep working on them, probably forever, but the friend who commissioned the painting was happy with it as is, so I am too.

Below is some of the work in progress steps. Please note that the lighting changed the colors in some of the photos.

Art Digital art Drawing Faces Oil Painting People Portrait Sktchy

Three Portraits of Dayris

Portrait of Dayris, Oil on Arches Oil Paper, 10"x8.5"
Portrait of Dayris, Oil on Arches Oil Paper, 10″x8.5″

I’ve had so much fun painting and sketching the lovely Dayris from Sktchy in oil (above), and before that, in pencil and then doing a digital sketch in Procreate (below). Also below you’ll find a slide show of the work in progress. Doing the two initial drawings really helped me quickly get a pretty accurate drawing for the oil painting. You can see her reference photo on Sktchy here.

Initial pencil drawing of Dayris, 12x9"
Initial pencil drawing of Dayris, 12×9″
Digital Sketch of Dayris in Procreate
Digital Sketch of Dayris in Procreate

Below are the steps in the process of making the portrait.

  • Initial pencil drawing of Dayris, 12x9"
  • Digital Sketch of Dayris in Procreate
  • Umber underpainting
  • Some background and shirt
  • Some paint on face
  • Icky background in with palette knife
  • More work on background, still icky
  • Background better but not happy with shirt or hair
  • Almost done
  • Scraped off shirt and some hair to redo
  • Portrait of Dayris, Oil on Arches Oil Paper, 10"x8.5"
Art Oil Painting Portrait Procreate on iPad Sktchy

Last Portraits of 2019

Portrait of Kori L from Sktchy, 10x8” oil on gessoed watercolor paper
Portrait of Kori L from Sktchy, 10×8” oil on gessoed watercolor paper

After working on this portrait for two months, trying over and over to capture this lovely woman in paint, I have to admit I never truly succeeded. I learned from all the struggles and attempts but it’s about to be a new year and time to start something new so I’m moving on. You can see her reference photo on Sktchy by clicking on the image of my painting here.

Below are two digital sketches in Procreate from Sktchy, done this month while waiting for the paint to dry on the portrait to try once again on a new layer of oil paint to get it right.

Sketched in #procreate5 from a #sketchyapp photo by Nicolas Schram Illustration
Sketched in Procreate from a Sketchy app photo by Nicolas Schram Illustration

You can see the reference photo for the sketch above here and the one below here on Sktchy. Just click my drawing there to see the reference photo beneath it.

Sketch of H. J. Haggerty from Sktchy in Procreate
H. J. Haggerty from Sktchy in Procreate

Art Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait Sktchy

Portrait of Hannah from Sktchy

Hannah W from Sktchy, 14x11” oil on Arches Oil Paper.
Hannah W from Sktchy, 14×11” oil on Arches Oil Paper. 

Learning to paint (well) for me means a constant but gradual process of 1) learning from my mistakes and 2) having “layers of the onion” lifted from my eyes until I at last can see something that was previously mysteriously hidden from me. (You can see the reference photo for this painting on Sketchy here.)

This painting taught me once again how much harder painting can be when you don’t start with an accurate drawing, going directly to drawing with paint and then correcting, correcting, correcting.

Getting the drawing right and capturing a likeness can be as “simple” as recognizing the big shapes, contours, divisions of space and observing where things line up with each other. Getting the values right can be as “simple” as observing where the light comes from, how it lands on the large and small planes of the face or any object, and asking myself where the darkest and lightest areas are and how this plane compares. Getting good color “just” means accurately observing the overall and predominant range of colors (saturated or grayed, warm or cool) and then asking is this the spot “warmer or cooler, more or less saturated, lighter or darker.”

I can ask myself these questions over and over, but until yet another layer of the onion is lifted, I just can’t see the answer. When that happens my brain tells me it’s too hard and just jumps ahead with a lazy guess, which then sets off another round or layer of correction, correction, correction. But I do learn from my mistakes and each next painting is an opportunity to put what I learned from them into practice and hopefully remove one more layer until at last I will be able to truly see!