In this quick video tutorial you’ll learn how to prepare a masonite panel (or any other smooth wooden surface) for oil paint by gessoing it (or alternatively using acrylic paint) . Oil paint needs a bit of a texture to hold on to, that’s why canvas is a popular option. The texture of the canvas acts like a million little teeth that hold the paint when it is applied. If you are painting on a very smooth surface you’ll notice that streaks become more common place and paint application becomes more difficult. So follow the steps in the video to achieve a nice textured surface.
Cover the entire surface evenly with acrylic paint or gesso.
Use a criss cross motion to avoid having all your “streaks” going in one direction.
Let it dry for 3 to 5 minutes. The surface should still be a bit wet, and some areas tacky.
Repeat the criss cross motion in the opposite direction you were doing previously. This further diversifies the marks across the surface of the masonite, and creates a subtle texture which is conducive for oil painting.
Going to the art store can be a daunting task. I’ve put together this list for my students taking my beginning painting course at Prague College in Prague, Czech Republic. If you are interested in a summer painting workshop in Europe to correspond with a holiday in Prague then please contact me for more information. I run a three week painting intensive every summer there which is open to anyone who signs up. All other courses are done through Prague College and require admission to the school of Fine Art Interactive Media. Additionally, as you can see in the page above I am also offering a painting holiday / workshop in the heart of the Italian countryside as well this summer.
You have the option of using Oils or Acrylics based upon your preferences. Oils have the luster generally associated with classical paintings and stay wet longer which allows them to blended more easily. Acrylics have the benefit of being water soluble, so you don’t have to buy paint thinner (Redidlo or Turpentin) and linseed oil. They also dry quickly. They both have their benefits and drawbacks. There are student grade paints and professional paints. I’d recommend just getting the student grade paints since there is a huge price difference. The brand can be Umton, as in the picture below.
Cadmium Red Medium
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Pthalo Blue or Ultramarine Blue
Pthalo Blue is more electric and fluorescent looking. Ultramarine is beginning to get a bit more purple and is a softer color
Here you can see the difference between Pthalo Blue, and Ultramarine Blue
Cadmium Red Medium
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Pthalo Blue or Ultramarine Blue
What to paint on?
Figuring out what to paint on is a personal preference. But can be determined by cost and other factors. Pick one of the below to paint on.
Canvases have been used for centuries as a painting surface.
You don’t have to prepare the surface for painting.
They’re more expensive.
You can use the textured surface for certain effects.
Masonite ( Sololit )
Is very cheap. You can get many small pieces (30cm x 40cm) cut at Obi or Bauhaus for free. I often get 30 pieces cut at once and it costs me around 500Kc.
Has a rigid surface so you don’t have to deal with the movement of a canvas.
They’re smaller so they’re easier to store if you’ve got hundreds of paintings.
Students tend to be less precious with them, which is good, since sometimes a nice white canvas is an intimidating thing to “ruin”
You’ll have to prepare the surface by buying Gesso (Šeps) or acrylic medium.
You can buy a “blok” of them and have many pieces to work on quickly.
Super Budget Surfaces
You can paint on cardboard as long as you prepare it first with Gesso or Acrylic Medium.
You can dumpster dive pieces of wood, drawers, and other materials from the garbage. (Just make sure it’s actually garbage and you aren’t stealing someone’s stuff who is just moving out of their apartment.)
Buy crappy old paintings at Bazars or Flea Markets (Kolbenova) and paint over the surface of them, or add new characters to them.
Gesso prepares a surface for painting. There’s two types. Oil based, and acrylic based. But you don’t have to worry about that yet. Just get the acrylic based gesso no matter if you are painting with oils or acrylics. Gesso performs a variety of purposes. For one it smooths the surface of a canvas or panel (masonite) , and it also protects the wood, paper or canvas from linseed oil. Linseed oil will eat away at these materials over the years. So there are archival qualities that make using gesso essential, especially if you want to make sure your painting lasts for a thousand years.
Another option is to use Acrylic Medium to prepare your surface for oil paint. Acrylic medium is clear and can also be used with acrylic paints to create transparent surfaces.
Get a flat brush. That means it’s rectangular, and not like the pointy brush they use in cartoons. The brush below is a ½ from the company AMI. It costs like 60kc and is available at Alta Mira. You want your bristles (that’s the hairs of the brush) to be kind of springy and firm.
Get a piece of glass, and a scraper (A razor). Or coat a piece of cardboard with Gesso and you can also use this as a palette. I’ll bring some extra pieces of glass, but I only have a few.
Varnishes, Mediums and solvents
Cobalt Siccative is a medium which makes oil paint dry faster, and gives it a bit of a glossy finish. Add it to your linseed oil (in very small amounts)
Paint thinner is used to clean your brushes and to thin your oil paint. We will be using it mainly in a jar to clean our brushes. You don’t need such a large container of it. Or maybe you do, if you want to paint a lot.
You’ll also need a container to put your thinner into. A jar with a lid that screws on tightly is a good option.
Linseed oil is the oil that is contained within oil paint. Often we need to add more oil to the paint in order to extend it, and make it easier to manipulate. You’ll also need a small container to hold it. A shot glass works well. Just don’t accidentally drink it.
Damar is also optional but is used on a painting once it is completely dry. It will also darken your dark colors more and give your surface a unified glossy appearance.
You’ll need a paint rag to clean your brushes, and use while you are painting.
I’ve found all these items on Amazon. Since I am going to the US for the summer to paint I had to pre-order all of my materials which I would need for painting. I was surprised that it actually took quite a bit of time, and amazon and other sites don’t have a very good compiled list. The total of everything I bought came to 250$, but I was buying many items in the larger size. So here you can see each of these items one by one, and easily add them to your cart on Amazon.
3) How to see the value (shade) of color. (Color Value)
First things first! It is important that you know how to buy the right paint for what you want to do.
There’s two types of paint. Transparent and Opaque. When you start painting it is HIGHLY recommended that you start by using only opaque colors. This will reduce the possibility of your paintings becoming streaky and dull. Transparent colors can be used later when we get into glazing. For now you need some strong opaque colors in order to learn how to mix your colors and get them to stick to a surface. So how do you identify which colors are opaque, and which are transparent? Many tubes of paint will have a small box graphic usually on the front underneath the brand name. If the box is black, then it’s opaque. If the box is half full then it’s semi-transparent. And if the box is white, then it’s transparent. Stick to the basics.
The ideal starter palette of Opaque colors would include
Cadmium Red Medium
Cadmium Yellow Medium
That’s it. You can mix all the colors you’ll need from these three. It should be noted that Cadmiums are toxic, as is Titanium white. So don’t eat them. They’re the best available and have been used for centuries. If you’re scared of them then ask the person at the store for help finding other opaque primary colors. I don’t know of any.
Second thing you need is a brush. For brushes there are a few different types. For now just buy a simple mid sized Flat, or Philbert. Around a 6 to an 8 (that’s the size as indicated by a number stamped on the brush). You don’t need any little brushes for details. Not yet. Just get some flat synthetics like the one below, and you’ll be fine.
Find an old cup you don’t want to use anymore to hold some water. And for a palette you can use a piece of cardboard.
The Color Wheel
At this point in the course you will be concentrating on a few basic elements of color theory. This will be expanded upon later but currently you need to grasp the essentials so you can begin painting.
The color wheel
The three primary colors are Red, Yellow, and Blue. Primary colors are called “primaries” because they aren’t a mixture of two other colors. When you mix two primary colors together you get a secondary color. The secondary colors are???…..You guessed it. Orange, violet, and green. Easy isn’t it? So, for those who don’t know, in order to make violet you mix blue and red. To make orange you mix red and yellow. And to make green you mix blue and yellow. Pretty straight forward.
Now, we’ve got some colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. yellow is opposite violet, orange opposite blue, and green opposite to red. These colors which are on the opposite side of the color wheel are called complimentary colors. It is important to memorise all the colors compliments because you use a color’s compliment in order to control color intensity.
Color intensity is, well, the intensity of a color. Think about it as “brightness” or “radiance”. Color straight out of the tube is generally high intensity. In order to lower the intensity of a color (aka make it less bright) you are going to add a small amount of it’s complimentary color. For example: for red, you add a small amount of green to lower the intensity of the red. Just a dab of green and the intensity of that red will come down. Yes they do get darker.
Now, Take a look at the image below. We’ve got a red which is super intense at the top, then by adding green to that red we take down the intensity (as indicated by the second strip down). I know what you’re thinking. It looks brown!! That is where you have to be careful. Take a look at the second image. That is the “brown” (or more correctly a lower intensity red) surrounded by a black box. That brownish red in the context of another color will be red. For the purposes of this course you will be taking down the intensity of all of your colors by adding their respective secondary colors. This is because our eyes rarely see super intense colors in the real world.
Assignment #21 Playing with color intensity.
For this assignment you will start with an intense color, and then slowly add it’s complimentary color in gradual amounts to create a color intensity scale. As you can see in the examples below you can start with a Red, then add a bit of green to get the second gradation, and then more green to that mix to get the third gradation etc. When it comes to dark colors (Blue, and Violet) you can add a bit of white to these in order to see the color intensity manipulated.
The Value Of Color
The darkness or lightness of a color is its value. Just as we can make grey scales from pitch black to white, we can also do the same with colors. Take a look at the image below. We’ve got our happy little primary and secondary colors cascading from light to dark.
This is the one you will be copying.
And here we can see all of their values (darkness)
Now lets look at how we can use the value of color in painting. Check out this painting by Rolling Stone illustrator Philip Burke. Notice how the shadows of the face are done in green, and bright dark reds, but the painting still flows and makes sense. This is because the green/red is the correct value which corresponds to the shadow. You can throw any color in there and it will makes sense as long as the darkness of the color correctly matches. Think of whatever you are painting as a black and white photocopy, and you are simply mixing your colors to match the various greys on the photocopy. Also beware of red, it seems lighter than it really is. A medium red is actually very dark.
Now compare the high value contrast of Philip Burke with the low level color contrast of Edouard Vuillard. In Vuillard’s painting he broke the rules of what color value meant by keeping all of his colors this medium grey. The gradations in value are extremely subtle, but they are still there nonetheless. In the black and white copy of you can still make out how Vuillard finely manipulated the value of his colors to create shadows and depth.
Assignment #22 Color Value Scale.
For this assignment you will be copying the color value scale above. The important thing to remember is that you’ll start with the color out of the tube
Many claim that the real color wheel contains Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K (which stands for key, not black) . This is true for printing processes and was largely taught to graphic design students in the 1990s. However using cmyk as a color wheel for painting doesn’t make much sense because it ignores a few important factors.
For instance. In printing, in order to make red, one must mix magenta with yellow optically. This means that in order to get a true red (following the cmyk model) you would need to mix a magenta, and then put a thin glaze of yellow on top of it. But in painting there are many more variables at play. For instance there is no “red” as we all know when we go to buy paints. There’s cadmium red, vermilion, and permanent rose and so forth and so on. But the point is that the red that we choose to start with can vary greatly from the get go. When you create any palette of colors you are immediately limiting yourself in some way.And if you limited your palette to cyan, magenta, yellow (not even specified), and key (which isn’t a color, but a tone) then you would be given a different set of limitations.
There is one other commonly held idea about the “real” color wheel. It is a 12 color system based on a rainbow and the proponents believe that this gives an artist the largest possibilities for mixing . If you want to try it the colors are
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Green Pale
This set of colors could easily cost more than two hundred dollars. So that’s one major downfall. The second is that you shouldn’t think about one palette as your savior. It won’t be, in fact in the beginning your palette should be limited because the more tube colors you introduce, the harder it will be to create any type of color harmony. Also you should remember that artists personal decisions as to what colors to use on their palettes is as varied as art itself. There is no absolute answer one way or the other. Giving a beginning student this 12 color rainbow mix would be like buying a 7 year a drum set the size of a living room.
The palette I have given above is a very powerful starter palette. As you may have noticed the weakest colors created by this palette were the greens, and the violet. If you are looking to make a stronger green then I’d suggest buying a Pthalo Green, and in order to push your violet I would suggest Dioxazine Violet. Remember though that it is important to master the basics before moving on to a more extended palette!
Painting on masonite is a cheap and easy solution for many who can’t afford to buy expensive canvases. One of the best words of advice I ever got in Art School was to always have multiple surfaces ready for paint. This way you don’t have to go through the boring stage of preparing the masonite with gesso first. In this video I go through the best way to prime masonite with gesso. By using a simple criss crossing technique you can create a surface which will accept paint easily. Gesso is recommended, but it is also no problem to just just titanium white. House paint doesn’t work well because it is kind of chalky and will absorb the acrylic paint.