2.4.2_On the application of oil paint

3February 2008

2.4.2  On the application of oil paint.

All artists have their own method of applying paint to surface.  I propose the painting process to be a meditative experience, where artists learn about Zein and Dasein.  The practice of oil painting for me is somehow magic, in that I always learn something about myself, my world, and my philosophy.  As it is always different for every artist, I can only speak for my own experience within oil painting.  The application process of oil painting is completely a personal choice for the student, and a choice based on conceptual needs for the professional.  

How the artist creates an oil painting is honestly irrelevant, although understanding the capabilities and limitations of oil paint is a necessary step to become an oil painter.  Essentially a path of experimentation and dogma for the oil painter, and a must.  For the artist running away from dogma and relying on pure intuition can accomplish many great works, but without a deep study of the traditional methods of oil painting, that artist will never evolve any further than their own sense of self.  Through trial and error, the oil painter will find the qualities and limitations of each type of oil color.  Oil painting is a philosophical and spiritual undertaking, painting is revealing of the artist’s character, if even only for a moment.  Working with oil paint teaches us our truths.

Regardless of personal preference, painting with oils does have a few guidelines that an artist should at least know and practice before moving on toward individualism.  The first of those traditional understandings is that oil painting is sculpting.  Oil painting is sculpting in that the artist builds a surface by applying layers of oil color.  Starting with a thin application of oil color by working in the pigment evenly over the canvas, not adding too much paint, but working with what small amount that was originally applied.  Now you have to wait.  

Oil painting is patience.  The application of thin amounts of paint at first and eventually adding more paint, can only happen in the drying process.  You must wait for the first layer of paint to dry on the surface before you can apply subsequent layers.   I suggest you sit back and look on in silence at your work between applications.  Truly investigate your work as it gets closer to completion.  

You paint with your mind.  All editing and decision making toward a composition is done in your mind’s eye.  Working with oil paint is a process of underpainting, and overpainting.  While you wait for your painting to dry between working sessions, the real work takes place, conceptually organizing your composition in your mind.  The first few applications of paint are initially filling in the teeth or weave of the canvas surface.  

Lastly, the application of oil paint depends on the artist’s ability to sculpt.  Traditionally sculpting is the teacher to the student of oil painting.  The oil painter must periodically sculpt, as it reminds him of the full content of the forms, and reestablish the concept of a surface.

These traditional methods of applying oil paint may have not seem to be about physically painting at all, but they are the traditional means in which the student of oil painting learns how to paint.  Fortunately, the oil painter is born knowing and acts accordingly when reminded by his mentor who was once reminded by his.