Shane's giant handful of pink peonies

Trying New Things in Oil Painting

My friend Shane—who is a Gardener Extraordinaire—has an immense English garden behind his house, and every year he cuts buckets full of the most stunning peonies.

So when he posted some of his peonies online, I asked him to send me a few photos of the cut flowers in a vase, with the idea that I would try to paint them. And he did (see photo below).

Shane's peonies in a vase
Shane’s peonies in a vase

I love peonies.

And I’m going to try four new things for this peony painting, all of which I learned from painting in my friend Kathy’s studio last month.

1. Choosing and making a palette in advance

I’ve noticed that I tend to paint in the same colors, so this time I’m going to choose and mix a palette in advance.

I’m not a big fan of pink, so it’s even more important with this painting to choose a color for the peonies, rather than do it on the fly. You can see from my palette that I’m going to try to work with peach, gold, and even dark red colors.

Peony palette
Peony palette plan

The purples are something I think I will work in; you’ll see why a bit further down below.

2. Planning my background

The neutrals on the right are for the peonies, but also for the background, which is another thing I need to learn to plan for. I never figured out background planning when I was doing watercolors, either, and it’s TIME.

I intend to go simple, like the background on these Robin Wellner florals. Robin is an NC-based artist and her backgrounds feel beautifully well-crafted.

3. Walnut alkyd

One thing that happened for me in Kathy’s studio was that I realized that you could mix oil into ALL the paints on your palette, in advance.

I had been dabbing it in here and there once in a while, but Kathy’s palette was glossy, rich, and buttery-smooth as a result not only of having higher-quality paints, but also because she mixes in a walnut oil alkyd with all her colors.

Walnut oil imparts amazing shine and nice flow, and alkyd helps the paint dry faster.

I’ve used both linseed oil and an alkyd periodically in my oil painting before, but I loved the walnut alkyd she had, so I picked up a small bottle of it at the art store to try as an advance mix-in.

(I also bought a plastic squeeze bottle for it. WHY don’t they make the bottle it comes in a squeeze bottle?? Otherwise it’s so messy.)

New oil painting supplies
New oil painting supplies

4. Three small tubes of slightly nicer paints in luxe colors

In addition, I saw in Kathy’s studio what a massive difference having a higher quality paint made. I’ve been using student grade (as cheap as possible) paints, which are sort of okay, but I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to use the richly pigmented paint; and wow, the colors were stunning.

I mostly only have primary color paints (red, yellow, blue, plus black and white); I had almost forgotten what a pleasure it was to paint with your favorite colors. I was really starting to hone in on a good color palette when I stopped painting with watercolors, and just hadn’t explored enough or invested much yet with oils.

So I decided to splurge on three SMALL tubes (my current primary set is large tubes) of slightly nicer oil paints. You can see crazy-bananas prices in the PS below.

I knew the most important one to get was going to be a cadmium-style red, since the crappy, pale, orangey-red I have is the tube of paint I hate the most in my entire set-up. But I can’t waste it, I gotta use it up, and it’s gonna be a while. So I plan to try to mix in a little of my new red to make it better. That’s the plan, anyway.

I said cadmium-style red, because the one I bought is actually a cadmium-free “cadmium” red, which I didn’t even know they made. Cadmium is highly toxic (even in trace amounts), but this red is marketed as being as close to the same color cadmium gives as you can get. We’ll see.

(Btw, I paint with disposable plastic gloves on so that the paint doesn’t get on my skin, and I have a well-ventilated space, too. Having Parkinson’s disease has made me MUCH more aware of the toxins in my environment…)

Also I wanted to get a violet/purple—which I never had in watercolors, but I loved using Kathy’s—and a (phthalo) turquoise.

Both of these are really “luxury” choices, because technically you can mix them yourself, but I like the idea of using more purples (which is why I included it in my peony palette, above) and turquoise paint is just pure magic for me. It’s a mermaid color, a sky color, an ocean color. I loved it in watercolors, and I’ve missed it.

I can’t wait to see if these particular colors, and this brand of paints, sing for me. Only one way to find out…

I’m ready to go again!

Whew. That feels like as much change as I can pack into one painting, which I haven’t even begun the painting. But it all feels like a good forward step in my journey.

I HOPE the peonies turn out!

PS: I want to say a big THANK YOU to all my Patreon supporters today. The bill for my tiny purchase above was (omg) $75.

  • 8 oz Walnut Alkyd: $24
  • Cadmium-free cad red: $22
  • Violet: $12
  • Turquoise: $9
  • Squeeze bottle: $5

Because of you and my Patreon account, I can buy canvas, paper, paints, painting tools & mediums, and explore things like this. I’m so thankful for you!

PPS: The content of this particular post is also over at Patreon, and it’s unlocked and available to all levels of members.

Here on Appalachian Ground I always post my finished paintings, but Patreon supporters see what it takes to get there; the behind-the-scenes, in-process work of my painting (and before this, of all my unpublished poetry).

But ALL of you who cheer, encourage, and support me in so many ways are wonderful.

Today someone stopped me in a parking lot to say that she enjoyed my posts, and it made my day!

Thank you ALL for everything you do and are.

2 comments on “Trying New Things in Oil Painting

  1. Reading about your process is so interesting. I know nothing about painting, so this is all new to me. Can’t wait to see your finished painting.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe

      I finished the painting, but I guess I didn’t really mention when I posted it how the new things I tried went! LOVED the walnut alkyd and the squeeze bottle, building the palette in advanced helped, and jury is still out on the new colors. Planning the background kinda failed at first because I didn’t actually DO what I planned, but I fixed it (more or less, ha). It’s a journey!

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