Oil Painting

Yesterday my mum and I went to what is by far the most expansive and well stocked art store I’ve ever been to in Delhi. I felt like a kid in a sweetshop, drool and all. Sketchbooks of every size, type, colour, binding and brand lined the walls. Open stock varieties of charcoal pencils, drawing pencils, fineliners and markers were everywhere. Some brands I was so certain couldn’t be found in India, such as Stillman and Birn, and Copic and Rembrandt were all stacked neatly, shelves upon shelves of products lining two floors from ground to ceiling. I couldn’t stop grinning as I explored. I’ve always hated the pretence of looking for something specific when entering art shops; the truth is I’m usually just there to browse and gaze to my heart’s content at stuff I can’t actually afford. (And then walk out with something relatively cheaper just to satiate my stationary addiction.)

Anyway, the purpose of the visit was to get a basic starter set so I could start oil painting. This we did, choosing a few tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist’s grade oil paints, some turpentine and linseed oil, a basic set of brushes, and a basic canvas pad a little bigger than A4 but a little smaller than A3 (B4?). Last night, performance anxiety manifested in the form of strange dreams; half conscious strands of thoughts about painting wove in and out of my dreams. Today I tried oil painting for the first time. Actually I’ve only ever painted once or twice when I was in school, but that was acrylics, so in many ways it was a very new and strange experience for me.


What I learnt:

  • Oil painting workflow seems to be the opposite of watercolours and dry media. Instead of establishing a good ‘sketch’ before and then loosening up and going wild, you have to first go wild and throw down colours, tones, and forms, and then take smaller brushes and add details and tighten the image.
  • Colour theory comes to the fore. For instance, when Ivory Black (the basic black shade) wasn’t available, I shrugged and tossed Lamp Black into my basket. It looked black enough to me. But then I was working with warm colours and I realized that Lamp Black is actually a blue-black, that gave poor Jaime Lannister’s face a very ugly smudge down the side of his nose. Looking at my palette, I realized just how woefully I’ve neglected this aspect of art and illustration.
  • You can’t be timid. And you don’t need to be, because you can literally go over a mistake with another layer of paint 10 times until you get it right.
  • BUT it takes SO long to dry, so messy to set up, and I’m a bit wary of turpentine fumes- probably not something I’m going to do everyday.
  • You have to be committed to a work session. Trying oil painting really made me appreciate the simplicity of a pencil and notebook.
  • You basically can’t be like me and cry and quit and question your existence if things don’t look promising within the first ten minutes.

All in all, an interesting medium. I can see why art in this medium is so highly valued; it takes a lot of devotion and time and dedication. And patience. Oh god it takes patience. I told myself I’d return to it tomorrow, but the set up and mess and clean up is something to consider. All my life I’ve been a dry media sketcher, except for inks which I love. Art was never really something I took out the time to do- it just happened in the spaces in between other, official, more serious work. Sure I worked as a storyboard artist in a studio for a while and took on some concept work for TV and film, but there more than ever I my freedom to experiment was curtailed; things would invariably go digital after the thumbnail stage and then it was more tweaking and adjusting than actual loose freehand drawing or painting.

Would I go back to Jaime tomorrow? Maybe. Maybe day after. Maybe next week, or when I’m back from France the week after. Unlike a sketch, this little scrap of canvas is going to be ready to rework and develop even after months. So I don’t regret investing in oil paints, even if it’s not something I end up doing all that often.

I now find myself writing a little message to myself in the corner before I start drawing- ‘Relax, this is just for fun’. It helps. I don’t need to make high quality work to have fun and experiment and just play. If it turns out good that’s a bonus.


  1. Hi, Saachi, if you’re not using your oils everyday put your pallet in a sealed plastic container in the freezer. Your paints will keep much longer. Also, try working on more than one painting at a time. This way you don’t get bored or walk away when you are waiting for something to dry. Keep painting, looks great! šŸ™‚ -Dragonfly

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