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A New Hobby


I’m not sure yet whether this is going to end up being a new hobby or just another way to waste money, but I’ve decided to start oil painting. I’ve actually been kicking around the idea for a while now — which at least gives me some confidence that I might keep this up — so last weekend I finally broke down and headed to the art supplies store to get a basic oil painting kit.

Surprisingly, I managed to keep myself more or less on budget while getting what seems to me a pretty decent kit. I got eight tubes of basic paint colors — red, yellow, blue, green, two shades of brown, and of course black and white — a couple of brushes in various sizes and shapes, mineral spirits for cleaning the brushes, a little table-top easel, a palette, a couple of canvases, and a few other little odds and ends to round it all out. Total price: about $175. A little more than I wanted to pay, but overall not too bad. I figure that if I make five or so paintings it will pretty much be worth it.

So I brought everything home, laid it all out on the table, and looked at the blank canvas. And then I realized that I didn’t know what to paint. Don’t get me wrong: I have plenty of ideas. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been kicking around an idea for a landscape that is an amalgamation of the different textures and colors I saw on our New Zealand trip. But a completely from scratch landscape might be a little ambitious. I don’t even know if I can paint yet. Well, back to the drawing board.

I kicked around some ideas with Dore, and finally settled on one of the pictures from our trip. It’s a landscape, which satisfies my aesthetics, but it has the advantages that (a) I can print a copy to work off of, and (b) there really aren’t that many elements to the composition. Clouds, mountains, a lake, and a fence. Simple, right? At least I hope so.

The painting took me four sessions of about two hours each to finally complete. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. Here, in brief, is how it all went down:

Day 1: Channeling my inner Bob Ross, I made sure to paint from top-to-bottom and back-to-front. My goal was to complete the painting in one grand impressionistic sitting. I painted the sky and clouds, and then put in the basic shapes of the mountains. I tried to make the lake darker than the sky, but it ended up being basically another large baby-blue blob. I blocked in the fence. At this point I tried to start going back and putting on some details. But the paint of the base layer is wet and too thick, and trying to add details just makes everything muddier. Rather than make a big mess, I decided to stop for the day and let everything dry a little. At first I was a bit bummed at the outcome, but Dore and I went to dinner, and when we got back I was a bit happier with the results.

Day 2: I dragged out all of my painting gear, plop down the canvas, and get to work. My goal is to fix a couple of the mistakes from the previous day. Step 1: The water has to go. I mixed up a much darker turquoise blue to lay down as a base color for the water. Things immediately looked better after I applied that across the entire lower half of the painting. Step 2: Fill in some details on the mountains. The base layer for the mountains was pretty decent, but there were a lot of little details I wanted to add. I spent most of my time dabbing paint here and there to add some sense of depth to the mountains. By the end of the evening I was pretty happy with them, and vowed not to touch them any more.

Day 3: Water texture time! Remember that nice turquoise blue I put down for the water? Time to mostly cover that up. I mixed up some light blue again, but instead of making a thick, solid block of color I did a ton of thin, horizontal strokes to give the effect of ripples on the water. With the darker blue underneath, the overall effect is pretty cool. (I have to say, I’m not totally displeased. It actually kinda looks like water. In a squint-your-eyes-and-pretend sort of way.) That finished, I redid the base color for the fence (a much darker gray this time) and added a few touches to the sky. My lesson for this painting is definitely to paint darker at the beginning; it’s really easy to lighten things up later.

Day 4: The fence is the only thing left to do. And of course it’s both the main focal point and the most complicated structure, so I have to get it right. I used a similar stroke technique as the water to create the fence grain texture, and I think it worked out reasonably well. There are probably better ways to do it, but for now this works, and it keeps the look consistent. By far the hardest part of painting the fence was getting the perspective and three-dimensional feel to work. I’m not super impressed with the result, but it mostly works. I do like some of the detail work in the fence. If you look really close you can see red rusted bolts holding it all together. Finally, I added a couple of little touches: some grass of the bank at the bottom, some twisted fencing wire, and a few extra reflections in the water. Lastly, I added my signature, which, had I thought about it more, I would have placed elsewhere. There’s no getting around it: it’s an eye sore. But what’s done is done. I’m not motivated enough to try to change it.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with the result:

Lake Fence

Lake Fence (c) 2010 Ryan Lavering

It’s not going to win any art awards, but it’s pretty, and I’m not embarrassed by it. In fact, I think once it’s dry I may bring it in to work and hang it by my desk. It’s certainly prettier than a blank gray cubical divider.

So what do you think? I’d love to hear comments, criticism, or anything else. Feel free to say what you really think; I’m trying to learn, and I could definitely use constructive feedback.

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  1. May 3rd, 2010 at 09:58 | #1

    Any in-progress shots? Maybe next time a time-lapse?

  2. Ryan
    May 3rd, 2010 at 10:19 | #2

    Hmm… that’s a good idea. I have some shots of the painting from after days 2 and 3, but I didn’t think to do any after the first session. It would be pretty neat to do a shot after each element goes down and put together a little one-second-per-frame time lapse video. Shouldn’t be too hard, and it would look pretty neat.

    I’m working on another painting now, but I think it’s only going to be a two-session job, and I’ve already gone too far to start a new time lapse. Next time, though.

  3. Mom
    May 6th, 2010 at 10:50 | #3

    I LOVE IT !! Can I say again how wonderfully made you are ?! You are brilliant, stupendous and terribly gifted in all your endeavors ! As far as a critique, the water and the fence are
    fantastic. The sky and the grass in the foreground are right on, too. I like the shadows of the mountains and the fence posts in the water. The mountains in the background are really eye catching in the shape and colour (catch that spelling?!) but I suspect the mountains in NZ are a little more spectacular than the other mountains in the picture. I would love to see the original photo to compare. Your name is OK but seems a little dark and possibly needs an “R” to distinquish it from something one of your brothers or cousins might paint in case you get famous ! But, overall I really like it and would proudly display it on any wall in our house. Good effort, Ryan. I think this is something you should continue to pursue. (Don’t give up your blog though!) Love as always, MOM

  4. Ryan
    May 6th, 2010 at 11:18 | #4

    @Mom: Oh right… I didn’t add the link to the original. Here it is:


    You can also see them (somewhat) side-by-side by clicking on the picture above — the original is linked from the Flickr comments.

  5. Ryan
    May 6th, 2010 at 11:18 | #5

    @Mom: Thank’s a ton for the comments, by the way! Love you!

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