Tuesday, June 23, 2009


oil on canvas

This commission was done at least 3 years ago. I am gratefully very busy this week and wanted to post today, so meet Penny.

I remember feeling very out of control when I did this particular portrait. When I started painting pet portraits, I felt compelled to finish a portrait a week—I guess due to the insane deadlines from my previous career—and as a result the work did not turn out the way I would have liked. At that time, I hadn't a clue how to use oil paint and started my work day by squeezing out a blob of color from every tube of paint I had in the studio! I'd then thin the paint—as I worked—by dipping my brush in turp substitute
and try to cajole it into a workable consistency. The result was too thin paint that would dry dull and transparent by the next morning. Some of that is evident here.

When it dawned on me that perhaps there might be a better way, I Googled and found The Carder Method. It's a great tool for beginners and professionals alike, and offers a complete course in still life painting, but I was mainly interested in the mixing, storing and using of oil paint and this was just what I was looking for.

With a few changes to suit my needs, my experience with oil paint went from weird to great virtually overnight! I now use very few colors—burnt umber, Frenchmarine blue, red, yellow and white in air-tight canning jars, thinned to a luxurious texture with Delq Oil Painting Medium for my work. I dole out generous portions of those colors with inexpensive tongue depressors, into a large, rectangular shaped, air-tight plastic container lined with a few sheets of taped, cut to size palate paper. When I work, I mix the colors from the air-tight container,
onto a large serving tray with die-cut handles, also lined with taped sheets of cut to size palate paper. I then compare the color I mixed to my subject matter or reference using the patented color checker included in the Carder Method and I'm off.

This process has saved my sanity, my time and lots and lots of paint. I store the air-tight container in the fridge when I'm done and the colors stay moist and skin-free for at least two weeks. I change the mixing tray sheets as needed by just untaping the used layer, carefully peeling it up and re-taping the layer underneath. Now, if I could just get my brushes to wash themselves, I'd be set. If anyone knows how to keep brushes plush and usable for more than two weeks, please don't hold back! On his DVD, Jeffery Hein mentioned that he stores his brushes in mineral oil and rarely cleans them. I'm tryin' that next.


  1. I love the rich reds in Penny balanced by the greens around her. For someone "out of control" you sure kept it together on the canvas.

    I enjoyed your insights on using oils. I haven't used oils in years (since having kids and needing to keep the fumes out of the house). Now that I'm addicted to acrylics I don't know if I'll ever go back...

  2. Thanks for sharing your success with your new system Suzanne. I'm still at the plop a blob method but I'm going to try and incorporate some of your tips. Have you tried Winsor & Newton 's Brush Cleaner & Restorer? It's great.

    My mentor uses olive oil to loosen paint from the brushes and then hand cleans them by rubbing them on their side on a bar of Dove soap. She also suggests dipping the brush in solvent before applying paint because it keep the paint from creeping up into the furrele.

  3. Awesome work! Have not heard of the Delq medium..will look for it. Thanks for the tip! You get an amazing range of gorgeous colors from your scaled-back palette.

  4. Love Penny! Thanks so much for sharing your palette and process. I need to re-read the part about the plates. Very interesting!

  5. Hi Suzanne, I posted a painting with a bee in it, so I gave your blog a plug in case there are other bug lovers out there.
    Thanks for sharing your oil painting methods.Your paintings are so rich and beautiful.
    I got the Carder method DVD awhile ago, because I have been struggling with painting in oils too. I just can't get past wanting to paint in oils the way I do with watercolors; in many layers.
    Keep up the good work!
    Barbara Fox


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