Oil Artist, Painter of Landscapes
Updated: 19 Feb 2018
I'm an oil artist, a painter who paints landscapes using oil paints on canvas and canvas board. I make paintings of the UK (United Kingdom) countryside and coast, inspired by my local scenery here in Yorkshire in the North of England, but just about any British landscape floats my boat.
I tend to call myself an oil painter, though I understand there are more searches for 'oil artist' on the internet and that may be how you found me, so that's why I'm using both phrases here. I believe they mean the same thing.
- An artist who paints in oils
- About painting in oils
- A bit about how I moved from illustrator to fine artist
An artist who paints in oil
I've always been a professional painter, having started my career as an illustrator after leaving art school at the age of 19. I used gouache, watercolour, acrylics, markers and pastels, mainly because they dried quickly, so I could work fast to meet tight deadlines.
Since becoming a fine artist I've quickly discovered the delights of being a painter who uses oils. However, where the paints I painted with before had a great many similarities, so could be used on top of each other in the same painting, oils are quite different – there's been a lot to learn.
Painting on canvas
Oil painting artists usually paint on to canvas, whether on wooden frames (called 'stretchers') or glued to strong cardboard, and these are the surfaces I use. This is because oil is quite a heavy medium and canvas can support it. It is perfectly possible to paint oil on to paper, so long as it's a light 'sketch painting' and the paper is a thick (heavy) one. Lots of oil artists create their art on wooden boards, though these can take a lot more preparation than canvas, are heavier and there's some doubt about some modern boards, such as MDF, from a conservation and longevity point of view. These are the reasons why I don't use wooden boards.
Oil does not mix
It's recommended that oil paints should not be mixed with, or painted over/under, other types of paint. This is because oil paints use… oil! This is the unique thing about oils. Almost all other paints are diluted with water and those that are not, do not use oil either. Oil and water do not mix. This is why oil painters tend to work exclusively in oil alone, even using oil paints to 'draw' on to the canvas at the very start of their painting. I do. It's not that this is the only right way to do things, it's acceptable to collage paper and oil, and to sketch on the canvas using almost anything before starting to paint.
Being an oil painter
I've found that being an artist who paints with oils requires more discipline than using other media. That doesn't mean you can't make wild paintings! By discipline, I mean you have to respect the distinctive characteristics of artist's oil paint. Apply it in the wrong consistency at the wrong point in a painting and you can end up with unsightly cracks when it dries. Thin it too much with certain thinners and it'll just rub off. Breath in too much thinning agent and you'll get ill. Get impatient with the speed at which oil paint dries and you'll just spoil your painting. These are perhaps the reasons why paintings in oil tend to be more expensive than other water based paint art, which is altogether simpler to work with. I've worked in both water-based and oil colours during my career and of the two, being an oil artist is the more complex.
Perhaps all that sounds like painting in oils is too much hard work and takes too long. Well, I explain the very specific beauty of working in oils below.
Beautiful, rich oil paint
It's not just the smell of the oil paint that delights me (yes, I'm strange), but the subtlety, and range of intensity of colour it's possible to achieve with this painting medium.
Being an oil artist is also a complete contrast with the medium of linocut which I also work in. Linocuts favour hard edges and require boldness to be successful. Not that it's not possible to be bold and hard edged with oils – it most certainly is possible. However, to answer the question of why oil paint, I think a lot of it, is that I can do things with oil paint that are near impossible in my printmaking.
Oils dry slowly depending on the amount applied to a canvas and medium added. The paint can stay wet enough to blend with new paint for hours, even days. It was a challenge at first, having been used to working with fast drying media, suited to tight illustration deadlines. The slow drying time is why I can achieve a softness to my paintings I find difficult in other types of paint such as acrylic.
Also, oil paintings, in my view, have a richer, but also subtler color to them than some of the other mediums. The way oil paint is made means it holds a lot of pigment. This is why, in my view, even subtle neutral colours have a purity to them that other mediums don't support.
Lost and found
The thing that excites me the most, I think, is the ability to create what is called 'lost and found' edges. I've not found an easy way to do this using lino printing. 'Lost and found' edges are exactly as described: hard and crisp in one place, then in another, so soft and diffuse that you can't find an edge at all, with all degrees inbetween. I worked with a lot of masking in my illustration years which again, favours hard edges, so being able to play with softness is a joy.
I've a great deal still to learn about this lovely medium, but having been through a similar learning curve when beginning my illustration career, I know the feeling of delight at mastering a paint medium is unbeatable.
View my oil painting collection or read more: A brief history ↓
Oil paintings in the middle of being painted
From illustrator-painter to fine art painter
The first eight years of my working life, after art school, were spent as a full-time illustrator, using mainly gouache paints, sometimes with pastels to create a mixed media work. I decided, however, that my highly representational and somewhat technical approach was not right for fine art oil paintings and that I should develop a new style.
Attempting to change habits, and a way-of-working, ingrained during my professional illustration years proved too frustrating and I took a big decision…
I reluctantly shelved being an oil painter in order to gain a ‘distance’ on it, concentrating instead on being a printmaker – painting only to help plan prints. I grappled with the decision continually however – the brushes, canvas and smell of oil paint enticing me into poorly planned, confidence sapping experiments, every so often. The success of my lino prints, and a serious illness, meant I spent far longer ‘away’ from painting than I ever envisaged or wanted, so it's only in the last few years that I've begun to see my way forward.
Fine Art Painter
My desire to be a fine artist had never dulled and I set about picking up my painting activity afresh with a great thirst. I began by studying other artists art, including those working in oil, but not only oil painters.
I researched artists paintings I liked, and didn't like, paying particular attention to why I liked, or didn't like them. I avidly collected examples of landscape painting over an extended period of time. I knew it was landscapes I wanted to paint, though beyond this I had little fixed idea about where to start – there were so many possibilities I had no idea which to pursue, to be honest – so I collected all manner of examples. Gradually, a clarity about the kind of paintings I wanted to paint began to emerge. There's no single painter I can hold up as 'the one' I wish to copy, but instead there are many whose work has aspects I'm absorbing in to my own.
So now my adventure begins in earnest and already my painting style is very different to my illustration approach all those years ago – so perhaps the strategy has worked in the end!