This week I’ve been back to the drawing board with my first Geisha painting. I still wasn’t happy with my second Gouache attempt so I decided to give oils a go. As this is my first ever oil painting I began by spending a lot of time online looking up tutorials and tips from other artists and watching instructional videos and speed painting demos on Youtube. Once I was relatively comfortable that I at least knew one end of a paint tube from the other I popped down to my local art store where they happily made my wallet lighter in return for paints, canvas and assorted bits and bobs that I could have probably lived without.
For my first oil painting I chose to use good quality water mixable oils. This choice was for two reasons. Firstly as I have never used oils before I felt more comfortable with the idea of using water and secondly I paint very close to my rattys (they like to watch what I’m up to) and I didn’t want to upset their delicate lungs by exposing them to strong smelling chemicals.
I have since got my hands on some low odour thinners and am confident that I will be able to use this in future without upsetting the rodents!
So, I started my painting bearing in mind what I had learned from my two previous attempts in gouache. I created a light oil sketch on the canvas planning out a rough outline and the areas of deep shade. I wasn’t going for any great detail at this point but I did learn latter on that taking a little more time to plan at this stage may have saved me effort latter.
Next I filled in the basic colour. I was very excited by the way the hair looked. I had always avoided using black when working in gouache and watercolour but decided to throw caution to the wind with this paining and the result was fantastic.
I did noticed at this point that the face was slightly the wrong shape but I decided to correct that latter. Next time I will refrain from filling in all the background in the beginning unless there’s something interesting going on in it as latter I realised it would have been nice to be able to rest my hand on the clean canvas, I was still in a gouache frame of mind and didn’t realise just how long the oil would take to dry. Looking back I also could have laid the paint a little thinner at this point, another lesson that I will be able to bear in mind for my next painting.
Now that I had the basic colours down I could concentrate on getting the tones into the face. This was a real struggle for me as I discovered that in oil mixing perfect colour is far more important and far trickier than in gouache and watercolour. In water based mediums you can get the basic colour and then change the depth depending on how thickly you lat the paint, with oils I quickly discovered that although you can blend colours far easier, the shade you mix is the shade you get. For the first time in my life all the lessons about colour theory at college seemed to make sense… I really wish I had paid more attention to them!
Disaster! At this point I was about an inch away from throwing the painting out of the window and curling up in a corner. Having got the rough tone in the face I added the red lips which were just plain wrong and the eyes which look more like hieroglyphic eyes than anything else. I also attempted to add a couple of highlights to the hair and accidentally ended up with a huge grey smudge in the middle of her head… I decided it was time to go away and come back to the painting latter.
Recovery! After a bar of chocolate and a nap I came back determined to make my geisha look human again. Here is where I learnt for the first time just how forgiving oil is as a medium. I soon had the badger stripe covered, the eyes looking more eye like and the mouth less skewiff. I was even able to improve the facial tone a little. Nervous breakdown averted.
Next I spent some time adding more tone and detail to the face to make it look far more 3D. I also altered the shape of the face a little and started blocking in the darker colour on the metal hair ornament.
The next job would be to paint in the kanzashi but at this point I realised that I needed one of those long sticks with a pad on the end, the name of which alludes me right now. Instead of heading out to the shops I decided that I could make one easily enough using things in the house so I headed off to the cupboard and found a new kitchen sponge, some spare fabric, a piece of ribbon and an arrow that I broke while roving. Ten minutes latter and hey-presto! My very own stick thingie complete with arrow fletchings.
Another hour and the kanzashi is starting to take shape and I’m now getting the hang of how much paint I need to use for what. From hating this paining and wanting to throw it out of the window I’m now quite proud that I’ve done so well on my first attempt in the medium particularly as I’m working nearly entirely from imagination. I’ve broken the back of the majority of the painting and just have the finer details to add. I’ve started thinking about the background and I think that I need to put some sort of detail on it, as if my geisha is standing in front of a curtain or screen. I’ll need to have a think, if the past week has taught me anything it’s that planning saves a lot of stress!
Finished painting to follow soon.