top of page

Oil Sketching in Lockdown

I've recently started making small, quick alla prima (single-session) paintings based on what I learned from copying some Baroque masters' oil sketches. It's been the most relaxing end enjoyable method I've EVER experienced with oil painting, and during this stressful time I think we could all use a dose of relaxing and enjoyable.

More details on the master copies soon in a separate post, my apologies because I promised to include it here, but it got way too long to include all in one post!

I'm really excited to be sharing this process, so enjoy these time-lapse films I made of a few recent sketches. The complete materials list is at the bottom.

I have also written a detailed, step-by step lesson on this method for my online students, so please join us in my Online Atelier if you want to learn more!

Still life oil painting by Sadie Valeri

Applying what I gleaned of the technique to my own oil sketches of still life objects has been a long process of figuring out what works, which after a lot of trial and error, turned out mostly just getting out of my own way (Am I an over-thinker? CHECK!).

I like this technique because it feels similar to drawing with dry pigment like charcoal or soft pastels. Once loaded with paint, the brush becomes like a drawing implement, allowing the artist to gradually build up the opacity of the pigment with pressure and layering. Also like drawing, the pigment can be "erased", with a cloth or small makeup sponge.


I know it's hard to get art supplies during this era of lock down, so if you don't have all the exact materials I suggest, just try it out with whatever materials you have on hand. Support: Small Oil Primed Linen Panel, 8x10 up to 11x14 Any cloth support you have on hand probably works, but I prefer oil primed linen. A smooth wood panel is probably too slippery for this method. RayMar’s C13DP has the right amount of tooth and texture to grab and hold onto the paint. Brushes: Filberts, medium and small. Soft natural or synthetic sable. Not hog hair/stiff bristle. You can try other shapes, and you’ll see I sometimes use flats in the the videos, but I’m finding the filberts work best. My favorites are Rosemary Eclipse and Rosemary Masters Choice 278 series. Oil Paints Any white, yellow, red, blue, black and brown will work, but these are the pigments I’m using: Lead White Indian Yellow Quinacridone Red Burnt Sienna Burnt Umber Raw Umber Ultramarine Blue Note about Lead white: Lead is very, very toxic, so especially since you are probably working at home with kids and pes around these quarantine days, be careful with it. It will get in your brush cleaning jars and mediums, so treat all your liquids like they are very toxic, too. Or just use titanium! Medium Don’t use mineral spirits (turp, OMS, gamsol) alone for this method. The paint needs to stick well so can built up the wet pigment over wet pigment, and if you use only mineral spirits to thin the paint, it will lift up when you try to brush more paint on (something that makes me CRAZY). I’m using linseed oil with a little bit of stand oil in it. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little mineral spirits. When I have a more specific recipe I’ll post it. Experiment with different proportions of stand, linseed, and mineral spirits to see what works. Make-up Sponges Makeup wedges work great when you want to lighten or erase the paint if it gets too thick or if you want to correct a mistake. Press gently to lift up a little paint, or wipe firmly to completely erase a passage. If they are not too dirty when you are done painting, they work great for cleaning your palette, too. Unfortunately they don’t work well to re-use once they are full of paint, so you will probably need to throw them out and get fresh ones on your next painting day. Prepare your panel Note: Tone your panel a day or 2 in advance. This method will NOT work if your base color is wet, it must be completely dry. Moisten a large clean bristle brush with a little bit of medium and apply a thin, even layer of raw umber. The goal is to get a middle value. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it’s better to be a little too light than too dark. It’s ok if it is brushy, don’t spend a lot of effort on smoothing it out. Let it dry overnight at least. If it lifts up when you try to paint on it, it’s not dry, and it will be super frustrating to fight with it (my experience speaking!). The main thing about this method is it should feel fun and easy. More fun and much easier than most painting techniques feel! So take a slow breath, spend a few minutes setting up an object you like on a shelf, and then just pick up a brush, and make your first marks.

I hope you have enjoyed the post, leave a comment! Please share this post with any painter friends who might be interested. Browse my online art courses or become a member to access all the courses for an affordable monthly rate with personal instruction available.


bottom of page