Oil Painting Demonstration - Irises

Today is a bit different post - I'll take you into my studio so you can see how I do a painting. The demonstration painting is an oil on canvas of beautiful irises blooming in a garden.
The first step - Painting in the Composition - is described below:
Painting the composition
Painting in the composition: Above is my easel on which I have set a 16"x12" canvas.
I start out with a palette of primary colors - one cool and one warm yellow, one cool and one warm red, and one cool and one warm blue - plus white. I use only these clear colors which contain no black and I don't use black paint in any of my work. This makes for rich and beautiful colors in the final piece. If I need a black hue or any other color, I'll mix it from these six primary colors.

In the picture, you can see that I've painted an outline of the composition using a mix of red and blue, and started testing out some soft colors in the background. I am using as reference a photo that I took of the irises I want to paint (on the right). You can see that I've simplified the composition. I will be changing the colors slightly as well. The next step will be painting the background:

Painting the background colorsPainting the background: The background colors I tested look like they will work, so I continue to paint them in first. This gives me something against which to guage the colors and values of the flowers and leaves.

I am painting directly on the prepared white canvas rather than tinting the canvas with a color first. Many of my artist friends do tint the canvas, and sometimes I do as well especially if I want to create a certain mood. But I also like using white as a base color especially for flower paintings. Next I'll paint the tall, spiky Iris Leaves:

Painting the iris leavesIris Leaves: I used the same mix of blue and yellow for the leaves as I did for the background but with more intense color.

There will be additional work done on both the background and the leaves as the painting progresses, but this is good for now. It's time to start painting the flowers!

Painting the iris flowersPainting the flowers: I begin at the top and work my way to the bottom. First I paint in the purple colors by mixing blues and reds. The colors of the flowers will also be adjusted as I work.
I paint in a style called "Alla Prima" meaning "all at once." This simply means that I don't wait for the paint to dry and then glaze or paint the details over a dried layer. Instead, I paint "wet into wet" - blending colors as I go and painting details on top of wet paint. I'll continue to paint flowers and adjust colors:

adjusting the colorsFinishing the flowers and adjusting the colors: The irises are almost done except for the lowest one. For this, I mix a slightly different color of purple for the upper petals. I like it so much that I will go back to add more of it to the other flowers as well.
I have decided to make the "falls" - the lower petals - a deeper purple, so I'll mix a stronger blue and red and blend it into the falls on all the flowers.

I also blend and adjust the background colors as it becomes evident what is needed. As an artist, I do not have full control of any painting that I do. I start out with an idea, but once a piece develops to a certain stage, the painting tells ME what to do. If I can listen to the painting well enough, I will have a successful work of art! As I paint from top to bottom, I also paint the canvas edge:
painting the canvas edgesPainting the canvas edge: This canvas has a "wrapped" edge meaning the canvas is stapled to the back of the frame. This means the sides, top and bottom edges can be painted, so I carry the image around to the sides. The owner of this painting will have the choice of framing it or displaying it without a frame.
Only a few more details left to finish:

Finishing the detailsFinishing the last details: Only one stem remains. I've painted some additional petals behind the flowers in this section. They were necessary to keep the flow of the composition in a smooth arc from bottom to top. The last step is to sign the painting:

Signing the paintingSigning the painting: The painting is happy and is not telling me to make any more adjustments. It's important to know when to stop so that the piece will be fresh and not overworked.
I use a pointed brush and red paint to sign my name. Finished!

Iris painting complete
Irises oil painting completed: Compare this with the initial sketch. Quite a difference!
People often ask how long it takes to finish a painting like this. It's difficult to say exactly since I work on more than one painting at a time. For this piece, I did several of the steps, then put it aside to do some smaller daily paintings. The next day I continued it and again put it aside until the next day and so on. In all, I worked on it like that for four days.
The "breathing" space between stages is good because it lets me get away from the painting for a bit. When I come back to paint, I can see it with fresh eyes and know better where to make adjustments in the colors and design.
Thanks for stopping by my studio today.


Flowers said...

Nice blog. I am amazed to see the picture of Irises flower. It looks awesome. All I want to say that you are a blessed artist.

Janet Zeh said...

Thank you, Flowers for your comments - I appreciate that!

Kessie said...

Oooh, I just love step-by-step, in-progress paintings! Every artist has a different pattern and thought process. I love how you say that the painting takes over and tells you what to do. I've had stories tell me what to write, but I've never had that happen with paintings.

And you've made me want to paint with real media SO BADLY. But two toddlers in a 1-bedroom apartment and an oil painting just don't mix. Sigh.

I'd love it if you posted a few more of these in-progress pics.

Janet Zeh said...

I understand. Two toddlers and oil painting don't mix at all! But watercolors might as long as you don't let them get into them - certain colors are toxic even with watercolors. I'll be posting more demos. The next one may just be a watercolor.

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