Tag Archives: painting process

Secrets of Storing Wet Oil Paintings

A recent post by Marianne Post (who is primarily a pastel painter) asked “where do oil painters store wet paintings?” This is a serious question because oil paintings can take anywhere from 24 hours to a few weeks to dry to the touch, depending on what medium the artist uses.  (This is where acrylic painters and watercolorists laugh. They, of course, don’t have this problem.) 

A trick I learned a couple of years ago from another student in an art class is this: an inexpensive dish drying rack. It works perfectly as a painting drying rack, at least for smallish paintings on panels of boards. Here’s one that I use:

Paint drying rack by Stephanie Benedict
You can fit several small boards–up to about 12 inches–in a dish drying rack to dry, depending on the size of the rack.

I have another, slightly larger one, too, that I use for boards up to about 12 in by 16 in.

Small stretched canvases can fit sideways, if you don’t have too many boards in the rack. For larger canvases or panels, about the only solution I’ve found is a shelf. Lots of oil painters have narrow shelves molding on their walls just for this purpose.

What do you use for storing wet oil paintings?


Painting the Inside of Trees

Blogger Des Moines Art Collector wrote recently about wanting to see into a painting of a tree, not just see the surface. So while I painted this weekend, I took some photos showing one way to do that.

Delta Eucalyptus by Stephanie Benedict
Delta Eucalyptus at the end of a plein air session. It will need some touchup when it’s dry.

I was out with painters from the Sacramento Plein Air Painters Meetup group in the Sacramento River Delta. The Delta is famous for its narrow, winding roads on top of the levees that both protect the islands from floods and cut off their source of new soil—silt from those same floods. It’s not unlike the situation in New Orleans.

We had a beautiful January day by the historic Grand Island Mansion. We pulled off in a rare wide spot by the road and set up our easels, where this eucalyptus tree called to me to paint it.

Setting for Delta Eucalyptus
The scene for Delta Eucalyptus. Minus the postal service truck!

This technique for painting the different layers of trees I learned from Terry Miura. Usually painters are taught to think of trees as shapes: cones or ovals or balls. But because there is shadow inside a tree, as well as any cast shadow on the outside, you first have to paint that interior shadow.

Delta Eucalyptus plein air first layer
First I painted the shadows inside the tree with a thinned dull blueish-purplish-greenish color.

I started with a cool bluish-purplish-green, because it was a sunny day and the shadows were cool. Using thinned paint, I laid down a transparent layer to color for the shadows, and then let it set up for a bit while I worked on the other parts of the painting. I tried to do similar interior shadows for all of the upright plants (though in reviewing photos for this post, I can see room for improvement!). Then I went back over the shadow color with opaque pigment, this time a warm reddish-yellowish-green, because the sunny surface of the tree would be a warm color on this sunny day. (And there’s lots of red in eucalyptus leaves.)

Delta Eucalyptus by Stephanie Benedict, in process
This shot shows the painting at an intermediate stage.

Because I was thinking about this blog, for once I didn’t overwork it, though I think I’ll do some touch ups when it’s dry. Des Moines Art Collector also commented he didn’t like to see the texture of the ground, but I rather like the very thin paint scumbled onto that canvas surface around the edges of the tree in this one. (I use a yellow-toned board for exactly this reason. If some of the canvas shows through, it is warm like the atmosphere.)

What do you think? Do you have a technique for painting the interior shadows of trees?


Why I’m not (really) a Plein Air Painter

I love to do underpaintings. I love that first layer, the first block-in, the first color on the canvas. Maybe it’s because I know that whatever I do doesn’t have to be either precise or perfect, so there’s a huge amount of freedom with first layers.


Fall reds and greens, underpanting
Sometimes I do underpaintings in acrylics, sometimes oils. For this one, I used Gamblin’s fastmatte paints, just to try them. I’m not sure I like them yet. When this is dry, I’ll work in regular oils to add at least one, perhaps several, more layers.

And when one paints en plein air, of course, they’re really painting alla prima, or all in one sitting. From start to at least pretty close to finished. Oh, it’s true, you can return to the same spot a day or few days later to finish something up, for example, on a larger canvas. Or you can be like John Singer Sargent painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, and get everything set up to allow you to paint for those few minutes around sunset when the light is perfect—and make your models do this for months. That is, you can return more than once if the weather holds. A day or two after I was at the park shown above, we got three huge storms that changed the scene completely. All those bright red leaves are gone.

Or, you can be like me and do little studies outdoors and then do larger pieces in the studio.

I’d love to say I was a better plein air painter than I am, but I’m not.

And this is probably why: I like to paint in layers.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Did you watch the World Series? No, I’m not going to talk about baseball. Did you see the Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial?

That commercial (despite the rude comments on YouTube) really is a great metaphor for what it takes to be a painter. I had never even heard of Dick’s Sporting Goods (there aren’t any where I live), but I watched that commercial of athletes practicing dribbling basketballs backwards, or practicing throwing footballs, or practicing balance beam routines, and I thought: this could be about painting.

  • Dancers take dance class every morning.
  • Basketball players practice dribbling
  • Musicians do their scales.
  • Baseball players take batting practice.
  • Heck, astronauts practice in swimming pools to simulate zero gravity.

And painters wonder why they don’t paint masterpieces every time they step up to the canvas.

I suppose it has to do with the fact that a practice painting feels exactly like “real” painting: get all the equipment out, go to a location (if you paint plein air), set up, use those expensive oil paints, do thumbnails, and then take an hour or four to do a painting. Only the grounds might be cheaper than for “real” paintings. Musicians know that when they practice, they aren’t performing.

With painting, anything you get might be frame-able, so you’re always thinking you’re painting. It must be the same with writing: any character sketch can develop into a novel.  But you have to develop the muscles to create, and keep them in shape.

It’s all in the attitude.

What do you think? How much do you practice? Do you draw every day? I’ll respond to your comments after practice.

Painter’s Block

Have you ever been blocked?

Writers talk about writer’s block. Being blocked occasionally is normal, but it’s an odd feeling.

My Mephistos by Stephanie Benedict. Graphite on paper
My Mephistos by ©2007 Stephanie Benedict. Graphite on paper. Collection of the artist.

I’ve recently finished a couple of months of pretty intense painting (for me!): submitting to shows, sometimes getting in, sometimes not; painting some large paintings to the gallery I’m in. And then there’s the rest of life that keeps jumping up and seeking my attention.

So I find myself now with nary an idea in my head. Not for a new painting, and hardly for this blog. But, following Steven Pressfield’s advice in Turning Pro, I’m getting up and starting anyway. Thomas Edison is reported to have said that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So I’m putting in the perspiration time.

I just started reading Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit. I’ve long been a believer in establishing habits to encourage your monkey mind to work. Things like having a studio set up, and only working in the studio (not including any plein air painting: I mean don’t try to work in the kitchen). That way, your brain starts thinking “oh, I’m in the studio, it must be time to paint.” Or, as Tharp describes, starting work with a ritual to put your brain into gear for work. What that ritual is, is up to you.

Creative types may rebel at the notion of ritual or repetition, but I’ve found it works. Always showing up at the computer to work on blog posts, or going for a walk before I start to paint.

Then there’s the idea of filling the well, too: the creative well is dry, so I need to refill it. Walking helps here, too. Motion. Movement. Mopping the floors, or cleaning the studio. So while I’m refilling the well, I’ll also keep to my habits, my rituals. I’m getting exciting for what might come next!

Do you have habits of creativity? Or rituals you follow?