Techniques and Tips

An Oil Painting That Embraces Humanity (And a 7-Step Demo)

An Oil Painting That Embraces Humanity (And a 7-Step Demo)

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Oil painting takes center stage in today’s newsletter, featuring New Realism, a newly released magazine that celebrates the work of 27 masters who share their secrets. To give you a taste, here’s a step-by-step oil painting demonstration from Robin Smith, who Ephraim Rubenstein refers to as “one of the finest portrait/figure painters working today,” who has “created a cross-sectional vision of our contemporary world.” Enjoy! ~Cherie

Oil Painting Demo in 7 Steps

By Robin Smith (

Step 1: With extra-soft vine charcoal, I loosely laid in the head, torso and a hint of the legs. I spent about three hours on this sketch, using plumb lines and abstracted angles to find proportional relationships between the body parts.

Step 2: Having laid in a loose approximation of the figure, I shifted to drawing with paint. I generally try to nail down the proportions of the head and facial features and then use those measurements to help me find the size of the torso and body parts.

Step 3: I continued blocking in the figure. I like to establish major value shapes early, massing in the shadow shapes broadly, looking for the large abstract shapes they make and filling in the background with color.

Step 4: I deepened the background to help bring out the effect of the bright light falling on the figure. I also explored the volumes of the model’s form by letting my lines wrap around the figure in cross contours.

Step 5: I used a painting knife loaded with flake white to work out the light side of the face. I like painting with a knife because I can get fine lines with its side, make crisp triangular shapes with the flat trowel or drag a loaded knife over dry paint. The thickness of the application allowed me to go back in, scraping into the paint with the end of a brush handle or blending a thick application into a neighboring thinly painted area. I also like the expressiveness of thick paint. When this thick, whitish paint is dry, I often glaze over it with transparent color.

Step 6: With the broad masses established,I began working out dark accents, looking for anatomical details and smaller plane changes.

Step 7: I subdued some of my initial construction lines while looking for harmonies within the separate light and dark masses. I darkened the background to increase the contrast where the upper part of the body faces the light.

FINAL: I continued to develop the halftones and lights, building up the paint quality throughout the canvas. I then added more mass, color and detail to the hair, shifted the subject’s right hand slightly and further developed both hands. I also added movement lines to the background. Here you see the completed piece Julie (oil on canvas, 48×30). ~Robin

Watch the video: I ALMOST GAVE UP! alla prima OIL PAINTING DEMO (August 2022).