Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oil Portrait: Wickers Gets Some Depth

Oil portrait showing a dark wash of Wickers the Warmblood.
Now that the color background layer is started, the painting is starting to have some atmosphere. In this image, I have begun to add a deeper, sharper layer of Burnt Sienna with a touch of Ivory Black. The large value masses begin to give depth to the portrait, but they have a cookie-cutter effect due to their hard edges. These will be softened where needed. Note how the lighter & whiter areas of the face are beginning to "pop" - becoming more contrasty and prominent.
Compare this to the first wash to see the transition from thin paint to slightly thicker.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Painter As Visual Leader

Step in the oil painting of Wickers the Warmblood with all colors established
Ok, finished with the 2nd background layer. I like the graduated tint from the cooler Cerulean Blue to the warmish Cad Yellow mixed with some Cerulean. I'm not ready yet to commit to anything definite in the background layer, but it will most certainly remain soft and without much detail. The focus will stay on Wickers.

Notice the areas where I went back and softened, such as along the neck top/mane, the ears, and down the shoulder. I used my fingers to blend the background layer into the horse and vice versa. These are areas I wanted to deemphasize, to bring the viewer back to Wicker's face.

My deciding to send the viewer to particular areas is a key difference between an oil painting and a photo. If I were outside in the pasture next door, talking to Wickers like I often do, I would be looking at her face and her entire body. However, being a human, in my focused field of vision I would have the most clarity looking right at one point on Wickers, such as her eyes and mid-face. Sure, I can see everything else, but not with the same level of clarity and detail. I could even paint the rest of her body without directly looking at it. It would, however, be softened value masses without detail, and probably somewhat distorted.

To test this, continue to stare at the screen you're reading now. Then, use your side/peripheral vision to see what's surrounding you. Don't turn your head or move your eyes! Now, imagine having to paint what you see peripherally, the way you see it.

If I were shooting a photo, however, unless I really knew what I was doing with apertures and exposures, most everything in the photo would have the same level of detail, lighting and focus. It's as if there is TOO much information at once. So when using photos as reference, use them with discretion. Think and plan what you're trying to accomplish in the end result so you don't slavishly mimic a camera's point of view. Make it your own!

I want to direct the viewer to what I think is the most interesting, intriguing place, then send them around the rest of the painting from there. When this is done successfully, it's much more like the real-time experience of being outside talking to Wickers & her big beautiful red self -with my eyes flowing from her eyes, face, neck, to her body, the grass, sun, sky, etc.

Photo of Wickers and Bethany at Wakefield: Twomey
Wickers and mom Bethany, With Carrots

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Expanding Palette! & Background Wash

Adding ultramarine, cerulean, alizarin and viridian to the palette
Expanding my initial palette, adding Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Viridian Green. Might not use all of them, but like to have them ready in case I decide to. 

Generally I start with thinner large puddle washes and add color to them as I move to other hues. This helps the colors relate to each other, as did the overall Burnt Sienna wash as a base layer. 

Below, using a large brush to add a thin layer of background color. This is mostly Cerulean Blue, with a touch of Cad Yellow Light.

Using a large brush to wash in the background layerFYI: I use the M. Graham oil paints. They do not pay me to do their advertising! I've just been very happy with the fact I can use walnut oil to thin the paint and clean my brushes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Using a Value Comp to Mass Values

Image of how to use the value comp to plan value massing.
That is NOT an alien in the upper left. Just my thumb. It's hard to hold all this stuff and shoot the camera too!

This is a tool called a Value Comp (found at art stores online) that can be used to find the "lightest lights" and the "darkest darks" plus all the grays in between in order to plan the painting. If you follow the green lines from the left squares to the arrowheads, you'll see the grayscale values for various parts of the reference image. This is one method that helps you understand what value belongs where in order to give a subject volume and mass. It also helps to think in terms of areas of blacks, whites and grays, without getting distracted by the all the color and details.

Rarely is there a pure pure white in a subject, for example. The blaze on Miss Wickers is very close to white, but I would paint it using Titanium White and probably a touch of Payne's Gray or Burnt Umber/Burnt Sienna. If anything, I'm going to want to "push back" (decrease the value of and attention to) the white blaze and bring the viewer's focus to a highly contrasting area around her eye. Doing this makes me in charge of how the painting is viewed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Value Massing: Unfocus Wickers the Warmblood

A softened reference photo of Wickers to help the painter see the massed values of light and dark.

Up early today, it's going to be 90+ and we're not anywhere near summer yet! Have to get some outdoor things done before it's too darn hot.

What's that fuzzy thing to the left? Your eyesight is failing and you just can't focus? Well, it's just another method you can try to break a painting into large masses of values. 

This age-old technique is to squint your eyes at a subject and paint the simplified results. This doesn't work well for me; it's hard to hold my eyes squinty for any length of time and it starts to hurt! And we won't even mention what kinds of squinty wrinkles it causes....

I you happen to be nearsighted/myopic, try taking your glasses off and start painting those simplified masses. If this option is open to you (i.e. you're blinded without your glasses!) it's really nerve racking at first! I had to calm down and accept the shapes and colors as just that - not as an actual something. I use this method often when painting outside/plein air (for once, I'm happy to be nearsighted!) and it's helped my paintings a great deal.

Compare this massing method to the more formal color-coded post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Massing Values: Twomey's Wickers Portrait

A softened image color-coded to a range of values.
It's at this point of getting ready to seriously build volume that I take a moment to analyze which direction to go. It's too overwhelming for me to just throw paint on the canvas - at least for this kind of piece. I need a plan.

To start, I would take the reference photo of Wickers and bring it into a photo editing program. I use Photoshop. Along the top menu bar is a category named "Filters." Select this, and from the drop down menu choose Gaussian Blur. Up will come a window containing the image, and a handy sliding bar that can be adjusted from barely blurry to very very.

Above is an example of how to mass values to help plan and start a painting. This method may work for you - or not. I'll share several. I'm showing what's really helped me over the last lots of decades! Take a look, for example, at the areas outlined in the light green on the softened image. There are four of them.

The values within these areas combined are all closely related. Their hue, depth, amount of dark and light are very similar.

To make use of this knowledge, I would mix a large amount of this particular color and put it down on the canvas in these areas. Then I would continue on with the next group of related masses. This technique can also be accomplished using a program like Photoshop, using levels or Artistic Filters.

I will eventually go back into the large masses and add subtle nuances of value shifts and details, and soften the cookie-cutter effect left by the application of massed values.

Eventually, the more you practice and understand values, the easier and more automatic it becomes.

Extra help here; a link to Adobe products. And no, I don't work for them let alone get any kickbacks for linking:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Twomey Painting Reference Photo on Monitor

This shows how I use Photoshop and a monitor to edit and reference for my oil painting of Wickers the Warmblood.Here's my reference photo in Photoshop, set up on a large monitor right next to my easel. I love the way the monitor enhances the photo and light. Also, as I paint away I can try out different filters, colors, levels, etc. as the mood strikes.

Painting Tools: Whatever Works, Plus Elbow Grease

Image of my gloved hand removing paint from the bottom layer of the Wickers the Warmblood Oil Painting.
Washing in the background, using one of my favorite tools - tissues! I'm establishing the overall shape(s) and foreground/background values. At this stage I'll grab lots of different things to work with: kleenex, old soft clean rags, big brushes, sponges, my fingers, etc. I'm just beginning to think about what edges should be soft and hard (where the greatest detail is).

Note: I most always wear disposable gloves from CVS. My hands can't take excess water and constant drying. I've long since gotten used to wearing them and have adapted well to their quirks.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Decent Introduction

Well, I leapt right into this blog, which at the moment is teaching how I paint an oil painting. However, I provided no introduction, background, or any kind of reasoning as to why I can or want to write this!

That's typical of me (hyperenergetic and jumping right into it), but confusing. Everything needs context. I don't believe in wordy blog posts (please let me know if that happens), so I'll just provide a bit at a time to establish credibility and offer a philosophy about painting, art, horses, and life.

I'm a fine artist and Board Certified Medical Illustrator. Since I was a kid I knew I'd be an artist, and that's what I've aimed for since grade school. Bragging rights: I've worked very, very hard and I've won lots of national and international awards for my artwork ( I'm also a published author (articles & journals) which means I have no excuse for bad writing or editing. Mea culpa.

Regarding my past life (in this body) as a medical illustrator, I'm posting a piece that recently won the opportunity to be exhibited at the medical division of TED (, TEDMED. It was a great honor to be selected:

As you can see, my medical work is extremely realistic and detailed - along with accurate. I'm a Fellow of the Association of Medical Illustrators and consider it a noble and rewarding career (

Of late, however, because I want to and can, I've been focusing on my lifetime love of the fine arts. The goal is to loosen up from the medical illustration style, do wonderful paintings and/or sculptures, give back  a lifetime's worth of knowledge via teaching, and finally, to sell some of my work. 

What I'd like is to continue teaching, but invite you to freely ask any questions you may have about my process or anything else art related. Your input is greatly welcomed and important.

I hope to offer critiques in the future. One step at a time - I'm still trying to figure out what tags are vs. labels...

For a detailed resume, please follow this link to my website:

And thanks for your attention.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Twomey's Oil Wash of Wickers the Warmblood

Step by step process showing the wash oil stages of a Wickers Warmblood painting.
Starting to wash in the sketch using a large brush. Immediately I want to get something down on the canvas as tones & values - otherwise, I'll worry too much about detail & color & not the overall painting.
Another good reason to use the same color wash all over the painting - as I apply layers, that color will serve to unify all the elements. I can leave some of it showing through the entire process. Or, if applying thin layers, the end result always includes that first layer of color.
Why burnt sienna & cadmium yellow? Well, it helps that Wickers is such a rich chestnut mare. Also, it's just that I have always loved those colors. An artist's prerogative!
Note: this process is NOT a hard & fast set of rules. It's how I'm approaching this oil with this subject at this time. I have a vision in my mind about how I want this to turn out - but I'm open to changes in technique as I move along. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Twomey's Oil Painting Palette for Wicker's Portrait

Twomey initial palette for portrait of Wickers the horse.

Here's my initial palette. I use one of the biggest brushes I have as I have a (nasty) habit of getting lost in detail without seeing the overall painting. Burnt Sienna mixed with Cadmium Yellow Light & a touch of Titanium White are made into a thin wash. I only use M. Graham oil paints as they're non-toxic and I can clean up using just walnut oil and a bit of green turps. Coming up - tools of the trade.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Editing Wickers in Photoshop

To the far left is the final reference photo for Wicker's portrait. It's been edited using Photoshop filers (and levels) for greater warmth. It also helps clarify my vision for the final painting.

Compare the left photo with the one on the right, which was the original reference photo. Try to isolate the decisions I've made as an artist about what to include and what not.

I've zoomed in a little closer for a more intimate portrait. Per discussions with Wicker's mom, I've removed the halter by combining photos - one with a halter, one without. In Photoshop, I've softened the background and created distance so the focus is on Wickers. I've retained the greatest detail around her eye and the slope of her face. I pulled out depth in the shadows and balanced all the colors.

Oh, and I removed the hand and mini-carrot, commonly used for equine photographic bribery.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Horse Portrait Oil: Wickers Sketch

Wickers sketch - layout on canvas. I like showing her beautiful neck and body as well as that lovely face. My goal is NOT to reproduce a photograph. What would be the point? I only paint when I have an emotional connection to my subject. The result is an emotionally subjective reaction enhancing an objective depiction. Now that's a mouthful.....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Painting Again!

I've been recovering from a total knee replacement (old annoying riding injury) since Feb. 28, so this blog is a new thing. I can now sit at a desk and use a keyboard, yeah! Recovery is almost over, but I've relearned how to walk correctly and will be on a horse for the first time at the end of May. Hard to believe!

Before surgery, I started an oil painting of a gorgeous warmblood, Wickers. I stopped painting during the surgery (obviously!) and recovery, but I'm starting up again tomorrow. Here's my Wickers reference photo:

So looking forward to painting again. More tomorrow or over the weekend.