Category: Oil painting techniques

mona lisa art supplies, how to take care of art

Reasons why da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is still here: use your art supplies wisely

Technical reasons why Mona Lisa is still here

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a scientist and an inventor. In his mind, his remarkable abilities to perfect the technique of painting took a back seat in favor of many other interests he devoted most of his time to. Therefore, very few of his artworks exist today, and the artist’s mindset about art remains as elusive as his paintings. Tall, handsome, and charming Leonardo was great at finding patrons for his military, scientific, theatre and art projects, projects that had never ended in his creative mind, and most he had never finished.

As an inventor, he also loved to experiment with his art materials, using new, untested methods and processes that led to a number of disasters. His greatest surviving achievement, the “Last Supper” mural painted inside a church in Milan began to chip off the wall during his lifetime. He abandoned the traditional fresco technique and painted the picture on a dry wall instead of a wet plaster, and experimented with oil and tempera and other materials that Leonardo combined in a new, untested method, flaking off his deliberate, masterful composition to dust almost as soon as he painted it. The mural has endured a number of renovations since then, but only restored and computer-generated models can show us his genius: perfectly sculptured figures in triangular sub-compositions.


It’s not a surprise that da Vinci experimented with “Mona Lisa” (started in 1503) as well.  Obviously, this artwork had held a very special place in Leonardo’s heart since it had never left his hands until his death. Da Vinci’s drawing of the figure was absolutely perfect, and his creation of a soft landscape behind her, (the sfumato technique) was his signature invention. I’m not going to talk about the mystery of the sitter, the beauty of this composition, or the artist’s preoccupation with the painting. There is numerous literature written about these topics. Rather I’d like to illustrate the importance of art materials used in the process of painting.

The artist played with the technical aspects of the painting itself that deteriorated its surface at a much faster pace than it normally would. The exposure to light and humidity darkened and discolored the pigments. Fine details in the face got lost as dyes mixed with the paint faded. Her brightly colored attire changed to shades of browns and black that we see today. Further applied varnishes during the early restorations darkened the painting even more, and today it has a rather colorless appearance of yellowed browns.

Italian painter, Giorgio Vasari was the first to write a comprehensive book about famous artists preceding his generation that he titled “lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors, and architects.” In his notes he reviewed the “Mona Lisa” as follows:

“The eyes had that luster and watery sheen always seen in life … the nostrils, rosy and tender, seemed to be alive … The opening of the mouth seemed to be not colored but living flesh.”

These are the words that describe the mastery of the artist that we sort of see here, only if we could take the sunglasses off to see the real colors.

So what happened to the painting? Because the artist painted on a poplar panel (soft, non-durable and susceptible to insect attack wood) that was removed from its original frame, the surface couldn’t withstand the changes in humidity, it warped and cracked. In the 18th century the braces were added in the back of the painting to stabilize the crack, and later the added frame and cross braces helped to stop the continuous warping of the panel. Over the years the panel has actually shrunk!

Today you can see the painting in the Louvre that’s kept in a bulletproof glass case. It’s rather small (21×30”) and it’s hard to enjoy the beauty of it, jumping over the heads of so many tourists surrounding it with the selfie sticks. To preserve the priceless artwork, this painting is kept in a climate-controlled room with a 50% (+\-10%) humidity and 18-21C (68-70F) temperature. To compensate for fluctuations in relative humidity, the case is supplemented with a bed of silica gel treated to provide 55% relative humidity (Wikipedia)

These are computer-generated models of the famous painting showing us true colors it probably had when Leonardo had just painted it. In these models we can see the pinks and the blues that Vasari mentioned and that have faded over the centuries.



Source for the images: World Mysteries at

Other sources: Art history lessons | the Natural Pigments at | Wikipedia at

Mona Lisa in the Louvre

If you’re interested to learn more, the Louvre museum website is a great source. Here you can see Mona Lisa up-close and personal going through the digitized images completed by the Louvre museum:

Close ups:


Scientific tests:

If you paint

Here you’ll find some good information relevant to the process of painting that affects conservation. The longevity of your artwork greatly depends on the environment you place it in. The best conditions you can set in your home or office include constant room temperature and low humidity levels. Don’t expose your artwork to the extreme sunlight, heat, oxidation, or humidity (water) – these are the main causes for the artwork’s deterioration. Don’t wash the surface with water.

1.     Don’t paint on glossy surfaces.

2.     Don’t use a lot of medium, it dilutes and weakens the paint. Use just a little bit of oil to help the paint flow.

3.     Paint with lead white, not titanium white, or worse flake white.  Lead white holds up everything together like a glue and minimizes cracking.

4.     If you don’t paint large, stick to painting on professional panels, the surface of which doesn’t fluctuate as much as the canvas does.

5.     Have strong stretcher bars and frames that keep the painted surface flat and unchanged.

6.     Use linseed oil to form the most durable oil paint film, although it yellows more than the walnut oil. (The walnut oil is your second best option. It yellows less but dries much slower).

7.     Always paint on a previously dried layer!

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Hope you enjoyed the read!





paintings of women

Magical realism in portraiture: my painting process

Hello friends,

I love painting portraits!  Although I see human anatomy as the most challenging to master, I’m strongly pulled by this subject to depict the beautiful complexity of a human spirit. I paint from real people who hurt, suffer, love, betray, care and ultimately encourage me to become a better person. I’m drawn to faces with enigmatic eyes: I believe in capturing the soul’s essence through my art. I paint in magic realism style that’s sometimes called pop-surrealism. It’s a departure from the surrealism style since I don’t paint dreams, rather I paint the reality with a surreal touch.

With every new artwork I’m presented with a new challenge and a discovery. Although I often work from my photographs, drawing from life is paramount to understanding the human form and the anatomy. That acquired knowledge could be applied to drawing from pictures, not the other way around. I put the information in that is taken out by the photography.

I love color, and I feel I’m finally getting closer to understanding how color mixing works in oil painting. I have more control over my process and I’m able to create color harmonies that resonate within me and help me describe a special atmosphere in my art.

This short video gives an overview of my painting process: how I create an image, work with the model and paint in layers.
The second part of the video shows a quick glazing technique you can start using today, if you paint. 🙂

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How to paint realistic portraits with oil paint

In this video you’ll see my 5-step process painting a female portrait. I find the female form to be the most beautiful and compelling to paint. Although portrait painting is super challenging for me (I used to paint the stick figures). In my opinion, portrait painting has the potential for high emotional impact in comparison to still life painting.

This surreal artwork is the manifestation of self-acceptance. The theme of self-nurturing is symbolized by a woman’s gentle hand holding the white orchids. Like taking care of flowers, nurturing becomes vital for inner growth.

I use high-quality materials to complete every artwork. I paint several pieces a year because every artwork becomes a long process of planning and painting. What you see in a 20-min. video is a compression of weeks of work.


what are the best brushes for painting?

Brushes to start painting in oils or acrylics and how to care for them

Admit it, if you’ve started painting recently you’ve noticed that it’s a challenge to get good brushes for your art. They either don’t last very long, or you get the wrong kind buying them online. Let’s look at their properties first to understand what you need to have in your art box.

Brushes differ in size, shape, and type of bristles.



The higher the number the larger the brush you get. For example #0000-0 brushes are for super fine detail, # 2-4 brushes are for small work, # 6-10+ for general application of paint.


There are rounds, flats, liners, chisel tips, filberts, and fans. The shape of a brush determines the stroke you can make with it. The rounds  have a fine point and are good for small, detailed application of paint, flats are for a large coverage of paint or to make a wide stroke; fans are good for gentle blending of the edges and for creation of some textures like tree foliage. My favorites are the filberts because they give me two distinct strokes. Depending on the rotation of my brush, it can give me either a flat stroke or a thin, fine line that’s great for defining and maintaining straight edges.

Types of brushes

There are very soft watercolor brushes and stiffer, oil/acrylic painting brushes. In general, watercolor brushes are too soft to maintain a point filled with oil paint, but watercolor 1″ flats are great for blending large areas of paint right after a painting session ( it’s a brush with a transparent handle in the picture).

There are three main kinds of oil/acrylic brushes: the bristle ones, the synthetic ones, and a blend of synthetic and sable hairs. Both the bristle and the synthetic ones are necessary for oil or acrylic painting.

The bristle brushes ( shown at the top of the picture) are always used in a first, rough layer of painting to put paint on canvas and to mass out shapes. It’s difficult to paint the first layer with the synthetic ones on canvas, because they are too soft for this step and don’t spread the paint around easily. Use a bit of Gamsol with your first paint layer to dilute and to move paint around a canvas. I find that major manufacturers produce similar bristle brushes that don’t differ much in quality. I would avoid the cheapest ones though because they shed hairs a lot that get embedded into the wet paint, if you don’t take them out of your artwork during painting.

The synthetic brushes are often used in subsequent applications of paint. With each layer your painting becomes more refined just like the brushes. I use #2 round and #2-4 filbert for most work and #6-8 to paint larger areas.

I find that this 5-pack synthetic brush set works best for beginners: . It has different brush types to try out. Also, the Robert Simmons brushes’ quality is OK for its price. They don’t last forever, but perform quite well in comparison to other more expensive brushes I’ve tried so far. I also buy them separately, if I need a particular size or a tip.

For fine detail I also use a #0 liner “scepter gold II”, a sable/synthetic blend by Windsor & Newton.

If you want your brushes to keep their shape, it’s not only the quality of the hairs to pay attention to, but also how you wash them.

Brush care

If you want your brushes to last, take good care of them. Squeeze all the unused paint out of your brush, using a paper towel. Then use a solvent like Gamsol to swish them around in a glass jar, and then wash them out with a soap bar and warm water. I skip the solvent step most of the time because of the two reasons: one is a plain health precaution and another one is care for my brush hairs. The solvent dilutes the paint and damages the hairs, in my opinion.

I wipe the water off of every brush, and rest them flat on a paper towel, so the excess water doesn’t run underneath the ferrules, damaging them.

One more thing. Brushes wear out a lot faster working on textured canvases. Use smooth panels or slightly textured canvases to keep your brushes like new.



Visit my website  to see new art. The tutorials page has one oil painting demonstration in both a pdf file and a video found here.


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how to draw highlights

How to draw realistic highlights in graphite, colored pencil and oil paint

When we look at realist paintings, we try to figure out how an artist manages to achieve such level of realism in his or her art.

There are three elements that make drawings and paintings look three-dimensional on a flat surface:

  • the drawing accuracy of shapes
  • clear understanding how the light turns the form
  • and the correct placement of highlights on objects, fabric and people.

In this post I cover how to see and place highlights, using various media.

 What is highlight and how do you find it?

Highlights are the lightest lights or the whitest spots you find on your objects. Always analyze the light direction and the light source. Is it coming from the left or right, top or bottom? You’d find the lightest areas on all objects being the closest to that light source.

The distribution of light on objects


The placement of highlights on your object is often logical. Analyze the light direction. If it comes from the left corner, then your highlights would be on the object’s left hand side. If the light comes from above, then the highlights accumulate on the object’s top.

If it’s a vase, a cup or a bottle directional highlights would appear on the object’s surface where the object usually curves or changes direction.

You may see secondary lights in your set up as well. Usually they’re light but not as strong as the highlights. Make sure they remain secondary and don’t compete with your major few highlights. This way you create a hierarchy of the light and shadow.

Aphrodite plaster cast | Here the light comes from the left, illuminating half of the face. Therefore all highlights remain on the left side of the face.


How to place highlights in graphite drawing

To draw the highlights on your objects, shade over the area lightly with a hard pencil (2H) and then use the kneaded eraser to pull the highlights with it. This eraser doesn’t leave any residue and gives a perfect soft edge around the highlights. Therefore, the highlights look natural, rather than outlined.

A study of the David’s eye, 9×12″ graphite on white Strathmore drawing paper. The highlights’re pulled with the kneaded eraser to make the whitest areas.


portrait drawing in pencil
Believing that the impossible is possible, graphite on paper, 11×14.

The highlights’re pulled with the kneaded eraser on her cheek, neck, ear and in and around the eye.


How to place highlights in colored pencil drawing

On white paper:

In colored pencil drawing on white paper, I preserve the highlights by carefully reserving the white space around each highlight with a light colored pencil, using light peach or cream color. So, the whiteness of the paper is the highlight itself.

Highlights always stay free of any shading. Don’t use white colored pencil to color your highlights! You will lose the luminosity. This technique is similar to watercolor painting where you paint around your highlights. However, there are times when I shade with the white colored pencil around the highlight itself to soften the edges, and to transition into the light.

Still life with a vase, 9×12 inches, lightfast colored pencils on paper, available for purchase.

This drawing was done on white, Bristol smooth paper with the lightest areas remaining free of any shading to preserve luminosity.

On colored paper:

If I draw on colored paper, I place the highlight by mixing two colored pencils together. The first one gives me either warm or cool undertone and the second one is the white colored pencil itself. Usually I use a very heavy pencil pressure  to shade over the space with white.

A study of fabric, 9×12 inches, lightfast colored pencils on Stonehenge paper. Here the light comes from the left. Therefore the lightest part of the fabric with its highlights remains on the left side.


This is a drawing detail completed on orange paper. It has the white highlights placed over the light yellow and light blue colors.

How to place highlights in oil or acrylic painting

Even the brightest highlights have a little bit of color in them. Analyse the light to see if they are warm (yellowish-orange) or cool (bluish-greenish), and add a touch of color to your white paint. Titanium white is a cool, dull color by itself. That’s why the beginner paintings have a lot of white in them, but no sense of the light, which is created with glazes, scumbling, and layering rather than with lots of chalky, white paint.

David’s eye with sea shells and white fabric, 16×20″, oil on canvas, available for purchase

To learn more about the distribution of light, reflections and reflective surfaces, you can buy my digital book here:


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How to draw & paint realistic shadows in colored pencil, graphite and paint

If you’re interested in understanding how to draw anything realistically, you’ve got to understand how to see the shadows. The right placement of shadows helps artists create the three-dimensional illusion on a flat surface.

The distribution of light

This image shows a general distribution of light on reflective objects with the light coming from the right. As a result, the shadows are on the left.

How to draw shadows | This image shows the distribution of light on a solid object with the light coming from the left, forming shadows on the right. |Image taken from the “Creative techniques” art instruction book.

What are the shadows?

There are two types of shadows: the form (or core) shadow and the cast shadow.

The form shadow is present on the object itself, and is of the darkest value (tone). It appears where the light turns into darkness. You can see the form shadows on various objects including faces, fabric, flowers, etc. The form shadow makes the objects look three-dimensional, and if you don’t see it, the objects remain flat in your artwork.

The cast shadow(s) is situated right under the object and is always attached to it.

While the form shadows give the objects the roundness or volume, cast shadows give the physical presence to objects. They “make” the object look heavy set in the environment it’s in. Sometimes the cast shadows are a lot more interesting to draw than the object itself.

Some additional examples of cast shadows and form shadows:


how to draw shadows
The distribution of light on a sea-biscuit

Adjusting the light

If you see no clear shadows in your still life or a photo, it’s much harder to create the 3-D illusion on paper, if you’re a beginner. While we usually have no problem spotting the cast shadows seen on tables or windowsills, found under the fruit or vases, we do often find it difficult to pinpoint the location of the form shadow present on the fruit/object itself. Strong, directional lighting helps to find the form shadow. Play with the light to see a variety of shadows on and under your objects.

Seeing shadows in glass

Still life with a wine glass, 9×12 inches, lightfast colored pencils on paper, private collection

Not every object confirms to the same formula I’ve described above. For instance, drawing reflective objects and glass requires a different approach to create the 3-D illusion. I explain how to draw a wine glass and other surfaces in the step-by-step demonstrations listed here.


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5 great art supplies to use in your drawing & painting

The following products are great tools for artists to use in their drawing and painting process. These art supplies make a big difference in my drawing and painting process due to their high quality and great features.

1. The color shaper set

These are great tools for oil painting, pastel painting and even colored pencil work (if you work on the Icarus board to blend wax-based pencils). When I paint, they help me clean the sloppy edges up. They also take the extra paint off the area I put in by accident. Moreover I can “carve into” the freshly applied paint to make a specific pattern. Made of silicone, the paint comes off their tips easily and doesn’t need washing. Just wipe the color shaper off with a paper towel.
Besides moving the paint around, removing or carving into it, the color shapers are great to blend the oil pastels or wax-based colored pencils (Prismacolor Premier) while heated, using the Icarus Art board. The color shaper set has several tips that you can buy separately or as a complete set. I find that I mainly use the taper point (round tip) size #2.

Buy at:


2. Gloves in a bottle

This is a truly unique product that I love! I especially use it when I paint since the lotion provides relief from a very dry skin, making a protective layer between the skin and the chemicals. A modest amount of lotion works like gloves I don’t use while painting. Its unique formula bonds with the upper layer of my skin and creates the invisible protection from harmful chemicals. It’s waterproof and doesn’t wash off, rather it comes off naturally shredding the dead skin cells. The bottle comes in two sizes. Give it a try!


3. Luminance colored pencils

Swiss-made, Luminance colored pencils is the Cadillac of the professional colored pencils. All colors have supreme lightfastness rating. They’re very durable with the soft core. The price tag is near $4 per pencil! So, guys, I’ve learned to create colorful pieces with very few colored pencils.

You can buy them in a set or separately. and in sets

4. Panels for oil and acrylic painting

These are durable, archival and acid-free surfaces that are great for painting. Remember, paintings of the old masters have survived through the centuries because they were painted on panels, not canvases. If you paint professionally and want your art to last, paint on panels.

The cradled gessobords provide much greater support against humidity, so the panels warp the least. Toned, neutral gray surface of Richeson panels is great to begin painting without any additional preliminary work needed.

5. The Grumbacher final fixative for drawings and scratchboard art

This is a truly great product that’s very different from cheaper brands. It makes a very nice, even sheen, eliminating the surface’s unevenness, finger prints, and other imperfections in scratchboard. Colors look nice and bright. It works great on paper too.

Like other sprays, the final fixative protects your artwork from the UV-rays, moisture, smudges, and humidity. Spray it in a well-ventilated area or outside.


*A disclaimer: no product was given to me by the companies mentioned here in exchange for my review.

educational books, drawing instruction books, travel books
Art Lessons in Drawing, Painting & Beyond, 2014

Artists share their painting and drawing secrets in the Art Lessons book available in print, on Kindle and as a digital download (pdf file) from


Why painting from life is different from drawing from a picture: how to improve the process

Many artists draw from pictures today or at least use them as a reference material once in a while. I use them a lot in the creation of my artwork, especially when working in colored pencil. Both good and bad comes out of it. Being aware of the advantages and the limitations using photography, makes you a better artist because you learn to adjust this tool to make it more suitable for your practice. So here I list a few major advantages and drawbacks using the pictures in painting and drawing.

The good:

  • The convenience of working from a picture is so tempting. We want to snap a picture of a model instead of paying her for many hours of posing.
  • There are those lucky moments when the moment is just right to capture a moving subject or a facial expression.
  • Fast-changing weather conditions are easy to capture in photography when I travel, and I either have no time to paint or have no capacity to carry my art supplies to the top of a mountain.
  • Working from a picture in colored pencil is almost easier than drawing from life, especially when it’s about capturing the reflective surfaces or real flowers. I usually keep the real object as a reference, but end up drawing from a picture.
  • By taking pictures yourself in a controlled set up, it’s possible to get nice images. For that I take a cardboard box used for shipping and cut two sides out, to which I glue the white tissue paper that diffuses the light. I place my object inside it and I light it up with one, two or three lights, depending on my idea. My set up is similar to this one:
This photo is taken from this website:–photo-8278

This is a striking image of a cloud with the fairly balanced tones between the sky and the ocean. Yet, the color is really off here, too blue and too dark to paint a large painting well without having a sketch made from life that captures the real colors I saw taking the picture.

The bad:

  • The sky is washed out, the land is too dark. This happens a lot in the pictures of the amateur photographers. You need to learn to compensate for the colorless sky by either adjusting your camera settings by 1-2 stops, or taking more pictures of the sky itself separate from the land. Many phones have the HDR function in them, when they automatically snap several pictures and combine them into one, giving the right light balance between the land and the sky.
  • It’s imperative not to draw from the copyrighted images or use the photos without the written permission of the photographer. It includes the photos made or taken as the movie stills. Years ago I lost a lucrative deal with one of the companies that wanted to feature my artwork on their product. I knew nothing about the copyright rules and drew a movie character they liked, but as you may guess, the image didn’t get cleared by their legal department.
  • If a picture you paint from is not yours, you can’t enter your artwork into the juried shows, unless the artist has the permission from a photographer to do so. And even then, some national contests prohibit the use of someone else’s photography because the artist must be the sole creator of his work.
  • Although painting from pictures is convenient, it has hidden difficulties. Even if the quality of your camera is good enough to capture reality, it misses out on a lot of information artists put back into their drawings or paintings. In other words, the camera filters through some information that the artist responds to when he paints directly from life.
  • Cameras distort reality. Colors, shapes, and shadows never look the same as we see them with the naked eye. Most lenses distort the linear perspective to such a degree that I never use a printed picture as my map to transfer the image. I have a nice Nikon D80 that gives me a wonderful range of hues. I can also change lenses on it that gives me additional advantage in painting with the relative accuracy. Yet, I still use my pictures selectively, and I don’t buy into everything I see in them.
  • The distortion in color and perspective also changes your perception. Camera makes a choice instead of the artist making it. As artists we make decisions what to see and what to leave out in images. For instance, you see a thin horizon line and a single tree in the wind. You feel the air’s blowing coolness; you see a wide range of greens in that tree. You notice a huge cloud looming over it. Snap a picture. What do you see? The sky in the picture registers too bright in comparison to the dark, green land and the shape of that enigmatic cloud is now too light and incomplete. You lose the subtle shifts in color of the sky’s along with its incomplete cloud shape. In the picture, the tree also misses your real perception of it. The range of greens that you see with your eyes doesn’t look the same in the photo. Finally, you lose your feel of the nature, the violent and mighty power it exhibits while you are in the moment with its wind and the rain.
  • This is especially important for artists who paint realistically in oils or acrylics. Our perception of reality is instant, and we respond to it swiftly by mixing the right colors without over-analyzing the information. When we paint from pictures, we tend to analyze the same reality a lot more, which is already adjusted by the camera for us. My paintings done from life always have this freshness and liveliness that is virtually absent in paintings done solely from pictures. Only the experienced artists can paint from pictures very well, because they have the knowledge to place or replace the elements that the camera doesn’t catch or overemphasizes.

Examples of bad pictures:


  1. There is no sense of the directional light source here. It’s hard to turn the form shading such dull objects.
  2. The lens’ distortion makes it great to draw a cartoon, but not a fine portrait.
  3. Everything is uniformly gray in this picture with no clear focal point. Nevertheless, this photo can be used as a reference to understand the atmospheric condition.
  4. Pictures taken with a flash cut on the natural shadows and throw off the colors. Never draw from pictures taken with the flash!
  5.  The sky is really boring here. The absence of an exciting focal point also makes it rather dull to draw.
  6. While the sky looks OK, the foreground is so dark it makes it impossible to use it as a reference to see the shifts in tones drawing the tree.
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How to paint still life step by step: oil painting techniques

If your goal is to learn painting in oil or acrylics realistically, you have to paint from life. For that artists set up a still life under unchanging, controlled light in front of their easel. The artist studies the light and shade by developing a complete drawing and then transfers the outlines onto a canvas or panel to paint. Because it’s a controlled set up, the light remains unchanged and the artist can work on his/her  painting almost indefinitely.

1. Draw from life

If your goal is to learn painting realistically, please draw from life as much as possible.  You can’t skip this step! Numerous problems can be resolved by learning to see the shapes and proportions, by designing compositions, and by shading your objects from life. Later you can partially substitute life drawing for painting from your pictures. Just be aware that pictures distort reality. We respond to the information in front of us very differently when we paint from life.

2. Make a shadow box

oil painting techniques shadow box

To set up your still life, make a shadow-box out of black foam board (see the pic above). The color of your background can be changed at any time by placing some fabric, colored carton, or any colored paper you like to paint as your background color. The size of the shadow box can be changed as well, depending on your space and the size of your still life.

Put a direct light source (a lamp) next to the shadow-box ( it’s located to the left here), and play with the light, looking at changes in the cast shadows and highlights on objects. It’s much easier to paint objects with dramatic light as opposed to even, diffused light. While the diffused light can bring a different mood with soft and subtle shadows creating peaceful atmosphere, it’s much harder to control and paint these subtle shifts in color and tone for beginners.

If you have no time to build the shadow box because you itch to draw and paint now, make a set up with a simplified background space that cuts off all the unnecessary information behind your still life. In the photo below you see a small box placed behind the starfish that’s covered with some fabric.

3. Preliminary drawing

It’s much easier to begin painting when the artist has done the prep work. Work out the outlines on a piece of sketch paper of the same size as your canvas. When the outline looks correct, transfer it onto canvas using either white or black transfer paper with a pen (image 2 & 3).


oil painting techniques step by step

4. Creating the underpainting (indirect painting)

The strip of grays represents the value scale. It’s mixed from 3/4 ivory black+1/4 warm brown with equal increments of titanium white.

After you have transferred your drawing, check for mistakes one more time. Fix them in 2H graphite pencil. Now you’re ready to paint.

Indirect painting means creating an underpainting in one color first and then layering paint in color. The underpainting can be done on black-and-white called grisaille, in green tones or in warm browns. Here I’m showing you the grisaille method of painting. The grisaille method is useful for still life painting and although many old masters painted the figures the same way, I find the gray underpainting to be too cold for the depiction of skin tones. I have a YouTube video titled “keeper” that shows this method of painting in detail.

Mix the value scale (titanium white or lead white+ ivory black+ a touch of brown to warm up the black) with a palette knife. No color is added at this point. Begin painting your objects using the grays. Focus on shadows and paint them first, then create transitional values leading to the lights. By painting in grays you focus on tones/values as opposed to color. As each color has its own value scale, you train yourself to convert the colors into the values. This is not easy to grasp and requires practice.

Let your first layer dry. Complete the second pass of black-and-white painting, refining edges and tones.


5. Painting in color

Paint in color by glazing and layering paint over the grisaille layers. I usually have 2-3 color layers in my painting. I finish up by adding texture in my last layer.

oil painting techniques still life with starfish and peacock feather

6. Varnishing

After the gazillion of hours spent on my painting, it’s finished! I let it dry for 6-12 months before varnishing the oil painting.


Interested to learn more?

If you’re interested to learn more about the indirect method of painting step by step, glazing and color layering, you can download my still life painting demonstration in a pdf format and as a video (sold separately.


The blue vase demonstration is available for download from my website both as a step-by-step pdf file and a video.

Other step by step demonstrations are available here:

Oil painting techniques: what is lightfastness of oil paint?

While I’m not an expert in art conservation, I am the artist who paints full-time. After years of painting, conversations with other professionals and some research, I can offer the very basic guidance in choosing your oil paints for your art. Feel free to research this topic further via my references at the bottom of this post or by contacting the products’ manufacturers. 🙂

Picking the right brand of oil paint can be a challenge. Some brands are promoted so heavily by the art supply companies that artists buy their paints without having a second thought. When I was a student, the quality of paint hardly ever mattered to me and my most common determinant was the price. Today as I take care of my art my buying choices are strongly influenced by the overall quality and lightfastness of oil paint.

There are several important properties of oil paint artists should pay attention to. The most necessary information can be seen written right on a tube of paint. Don’t buy the paint that doesn’t have the following data printed on it.

1. Transparency vs. opaqueness of oil paint

While some colors are transparent, others are opaque or semi-opaque. An empty square, half-empty, or a filled square gives artists information about the paint’s transparency.  Some brands just say “Transparent” or “Semi-opaque” as opposed to assigning a specific symbol to it. So when I chose my paint for glazing, applying the transparent layers of paint, I look at the square/ or a note on transparency to determine if my paint is naturally good for glazing. Some transparent colors are Gamblin’s ultramarine blue, Michael Harding’s bright yellow lake, or Charvin’s transparent yellow ochre, etc.

Opaque or semi-opaque colors are often good for scumbling, layering the light opaque paint over the dark area.

2. Pigments used in oil paint determine the lightfastness (resistance to light) and the longevity of your art.

This is the most important principle in choosing your paint. The pigments used in oil paint are described in letters and numbers. For example, PB15-phtylocianine blue is rated lightfastness I. PW1-lead white is lightfastness I. PR2-Napthol red G- lightfastness II, etc.

While some basic colors have just one pigment, there are many colors that consist of several pigments mixed together along with oil, fillers, and binders. These “new,” not historical colors give artists a lot more color choices, but every pigment present in such paint tube should be checked for lighfastness separately. For example, Winton flesh tint has 4 pigments in it (PW6, PW5, PY42, and PV19).

Here is extensive pigment information database that lists oil paint properties including the lightfastness of paints:

Each company performs its own tests. This information is written on the tube, and it reads either as +, ++ or +++, or lightfastness I, lightfastness II, or lightfastness III and so on. The higher the number (3-4) the less lightfast the paint is.

By nature, browns and ochres are often more lightfast than some funky colors, like alizarin crimson or turquoise. Those colors that have lightfastness 3-4 are fugitive and fade pretty quickly. If you paint professionally, those colors should be avoided painting with.
Artists can perform their own tests by exposing 1/2 of paint to the sun (while the other half is covered by black tape or cardboard). Lift the tape in a month of continuous light exposure to see the change in color. Artist Virgil Elliott has tested numerous colors of various brands. You’ll find a lot of useful information on painting in his book Traditional oil painting and in his facebook group.

3. Type of oil mixed into the paint.

All tubed paints have some oil mixed into the paint. Linseed oil is the most stable oil that is also used widely as paint medium by artists. It’s long-lasting and dries quite quickly.

Safflower oil, poppy oil, and walnut oil are less stable oils often used as vehicles that are mixed into the oil paint. Avoid using safflower oil.

4. The amount of fillers and binders added to oil paint.

Various amounts of fillers and binders are mixed into the oils as well. They dilute the pigment by “stretching” the paint, making it cheaper to the consumer. Such pigments have a much longer shelf life. Fillers and binders greatly affect the consistency and texture of paint. It could affect the drying speed of paint as well.

Rublev colors, manufactured by Natural Pigments, don’t have any fillers in their paint, making the oils more stable and with high tinting strength. Like other professional-grade paints, they give artists a lot more pigment in a small tube as opposed to cheaper oil paint put in a large tube. But because NP have no extra binders, their shelf life is very limited and it’s best to use the paint within a year. I could barely squish the paint out of the tube after that.

Professional brands of oil paints include:

  • Rublev colors by NP
  • Old Holland
  • Michael Harding
  • Gamblin
  • Chroma, etc.

These are great resources for further research:

  • The atelier movement– a closed group on Facebook-exists for artists interested in classical painting. The group’s administrator is classically trained artist-Graydon Parrish.
  • Artist Virgil Elliot:
  • Douglas Flynt’ blog:
  • “The artist’s handbook of materials & techniques” by Ralph Mayer:
  • Sadie Valerie blog:

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