unfinished oil painting of violin showing violinist's hand. Brushes and pallet are to one side.

Paintings start out ugly

It’s been over eight years since I last used oil paints. Yesterday, after a year in my new studio, I finally got brave enough to get them back out.

I like to paint on panel, rather than canvas, and I usually make my own. It’s cheap, but it adds a significant delay to starting any new painting. Awhile back I ordered a few pre-prepped Da Vinci Pro artist’s panels to try, so I did the sketch on that, using a 4H pencil to minimize graphite smear when the wet paint hit it.

I toned the whole panel in acrylic because I hate working up from white. Ideally it would have been a nice even coat of color, but I did a particularly bad job this time — didn’t mix enough paint the first time, didn’t add any retarder to help blend the acrylic — so it came out patchy and hideous. Doesn’t really matter! It’ll all get covered, anyway, and I could see the sketch through it, which was the important bit. As my painting teacher told us:

[font_style fontsize=”20px” lineheight=”28px”]”Of course your painting is ugly right now. It’s trying to get born. You were real ugly when you were trying to get born.”[/font_style]

unfinished oil painting of violin showing violinist's hand. Brushes and pallet are to one side.
First day of painting, forms in titanium white, yellow ocher, burnt umber, and carbazole violet.

It’s been so long since I painted regularly that I’m not 100% confident in the method to my madness, but the main idea here is that I want a fairly refined under-painting of the violin in golds and ‘raw wood’ hues so I can use transparent glazes for the final color. It should give it a nice glow. I’ll use more opaque paints for the hand and arm (my dear friend Nancy’s hand and arm, in this case), but the under-painting still establishes form.

Before I got the oils out I toned three little square panels for later acrylic paintings. The texture of the panel was too extreme on the first one, so I sanded the next two lightly before painting them. The texture is Da Vinci’s ‘medium’, and it seems to vary from panel to panel. The 11×14 panel was great, but the small squares looked like someone had been at them with a drywall mud gun. It only took two passes with a sanding block to knock them down to something less obvious.


a gessoed panel with globs of unmixed brown, yellow, and white paint on it, brush and paint tubes in the background.
Highly scientific ‘gloop some paint on there’ process.
two square brown painting panels on an easel. The one on the right has a slightly lumpy texture.
Da Vinci Pro ‘medium’ panels. The panel on the left has been lightly sanded with 220 grit paper.


I toned these with brown, thinking it would be a nice neutral base for some flower studies, then read an article on landscape painting where the artist recommended bright red under mostly-green paintings. That sounds really interesting. I might repaint these fire-engine red.

Some regrets, but all in all a successful first foray back into oil paints.


Black and white tuxedo cat in the drawer of a large toolchest, lying on paint brushes.
Studio-supervisor Monkey doesn’t want me using the acrylic brushes.