O I L D R Y B R U S H:
*Please note this page will be under construction as I continue to add information and video's that take you through this technique step by step. Be sure to pop in from time to time to stay updated.
As the name suggests, this is where you use oils "dry"- as in without any medium. Since you need to use medium with typical oil application, this method allows you to use oil paint in a very thin layer by itself- sans medium. You can still work in "layers" slowly building up values and texture (flat texture- not actual dimensional texture). Very similar to how you would layer values and texture in drawing. Unlike traditional paint methods, and similar to drawing, you can erase the oil paint- now this is only if it hasn't dried yet, and obviously the more paint on the surface the less the paint lifts up. Erasing the oil paint is easier to do when on linen or canvas as opposed to paper which is less durable and prone to pilling/tearing/wear down. To save yourself the headache of removing "eraser poop" from your wet oils, use a kneaded eraser when possible for this.
This technique is usually done using just black, where you achieve a range of values for a monotone work by using less oils on the brush to barely coat the surface to create a range of mid to light values, and more paint for darker to black.
Now that's not to say you cannot use this technique with colour- as a matter of fact it can be used in colour, even as an effect on dried layers of traditional oil application, just the results when its colour dry brush on its own, are less than desirable compared to traditional oil painting techniques.
This technique must be done very thinly. There will be no texture. The end result looks something akin to a charcoal drawing.
You can choose to do this technique on oil paper, canvas, linen, or any hard panel thats been primed (as oil paint- even in thin layers, will eat away at your substrate. It will be much more difficult to do the slicker the surface is- therefore not recommended on aluminum or other slick board paint surfaces.)
The great thing about oil dry brush is since it is so flat and thin that the tooth of the substrate you're painting on is still visible, acrylic paint can grip to it. So you can experiment with untraditional stylistic approaches as I've often done for my first solo show 'Dimensional Analogue'
The pros to this method include: not having to adhere to THE 3 RULES of oil painting, it is faster, and since it is flat and flexible, it can be rolled easy for transport and unlike drawings- once it is dried, it will not smudge. Cons include, not being able to build depth with glaze layers, not being able to add texture, and may not be recognized as an oil painting and mistaken for a drawing. This method can be used as an underpainting option if done in umber (or another desired underpainting colour, though a black underpainting would appear muddy it could still be used for greyscale tradition applications if you wanted
Though many aspects of oil dry brush make it suitable for beginners, it sill remains a very difficult and unforgiving technique since there isn't much margin for error.
You'll want a range of brush sizes, but a few things that seem to be consistent as far as what brushes are best suited, are rounder brushes, and are brushes whos bristles are stiffer (hog hair, or old gummed up brushes you thought were garbage b/c they cant be used for traditional painting is perfect!).
You don't want soft flexy brushes for this. If you find yourself gently brushing the paint on, you may have trouble getting it smooth and free of random dark spots. The less paint you have on the brush the more you have to scrub it into the canvas, and therefor getting smoother results as it forces you to build up to the desired value.
You can use a brush that has no paint on it to help smooth out results, or even a paper towel or cloth and rub it out.
you will be working a lot with circular movements to yield consistent results.
You'll want to use the largest brush for the job (my main brush is an old piece of shit house painting brush that was all splayed out and no good for anything else.) When you use the largest brush possible for the section your working on, you get smoother results.
- Before you start painting one crucial step to get right is your map out/ sketch/under drawing. Since dry brush is transparent every where that isn't solid black, this means if you choose to sketch your piece out with an implement that doesn't wipe away , you will see the sketch lines through the paint. So use this understanding to your advantage.
I like to use a black prismacolor pencil where I do not want my lines to wipe off, where the blackest tones will be (parts of the eye, lining hands where the darkest shadows fall... any where there is a HARSH edge or detail that needs to be spot on that I don't want to risk free-handing, or get lost.)
I use a vine charcoal to sketch everything light that I WANT to wipe away easily as I'm panting so I don't see sketch lines through the paint. (think outlining faces and figure where the edge is naturally blurred and softer)
Lastly I use a charcoal pencil for things in between- if something isn't solid black but a detail I need to stay put, or a crisp edge. This with some scrubbing power and lifting with a kneaded eraser can come out- just make sure you don't let it sit for days once you've added the layer of paint over it. Dry brush dries quick so if you see pencil marks through your paint, fix it while the paint is still wet (you can actually erase it the first 8 hours.. after that it gets more difficult).
When dry-brushing with oils you want to use the largest brush for the job that you possibly can to get the smoothest results. (I'll explain why in a video), so since you'll be using larger brushes you'll notice you dont get tight crisp work right away. workign in layers you crispen it up as you go. So if you're using vine charcoal to sketch your piece, one pass with a large brush will lift up the sketched out line, but it will be a blurry edge. So this may get tricky for people who aren't yet confident in free-handing a little, or trusting their eye. The more you do it the more you'll know which brush to use at what angle to get the line you need right away so once your sketch disappears you're fine.
(example- the jaw on a portrait... if slightly off can throw the whole piece out of whack, but its a soft edge- even when there's harsh lighting so you do NOT want to sketch that out with a regular charcoal pencil or prisma. You WILL want to use something that dusts off right away in one swoop like a vine charcoal stick.
Since this isn't like drawing where you can easily erase big screwups or like traditional oil paint where you can paint over it it's much easier to screw up a piece beyond salvaging. I learned the hard way why something easily wipeable- like vine charcoal, is crucial for sketching your piece out. Here you can see I sketched the neck line out too thin, I had to move the line back several inches, but I already laid down oil paint over my original sketch line, and if thats done in anything but vine charcoal, trying to erase the sketch line out will destroy all the shading you did and you'll never be able to get smooth results there again since you cant erase that much out... its a nightmare. But if its done in vine charcoal and wipes away with one pass of a brush, then you don't have to worry about seeing any sketch lines, and you can extend the neck no problem!
Ultimately I had to darken the sides of the neck more than I wanted
to fix the patchy shading after having to erase out the sketch line.
Which brings me to my next tip:
CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING
Since dry brush can be such a struggle to work with given it's lack of forgiveness with mistakes, it means unless you want to waste expensive linen, canvas, paper, and lose all the time invested into the piece, you're going to have to get creative with finding solutions to fix the problem. If the problem itself isn't fixable, be flexible with your finished result/game plan. Like the piece above, I never intended to have the neck so dark, which meant I needed to adjust the lighting throughout the whole piece to have darker edges, but it works. It really pushes the focus to the features and the dark surround frames the face. I can't tell you how many times I messed up but was too stubborn to throw the piece away, so instead I sat and stared at it to think of a way to "save" it, and instead found a solution that actually made for a better piece anyway. It's so easy to get frustrated if it doesn't go according to plan, and what will save your sanity is thinking of these moments as opportunities to expand your creative thinking and doorways to new potential.
There are so many ways you can save a piece from going to the art graveyard b/c you think you botched it. whether its adding a new element, adjusting the lighting, cutting it up or deconstructing it and reconstructing it in a creative way, or collaging- this is the beauty of these fuck-up moments- they open up opportunity with infinite possibility!
Now sometimes fixing a piece can take more time and sometimes more money to salvage than just starting over, but then you're depriving yourself of that opportunity to expand your creativity and process. So I strongly advise never throwing a piece away, but always pushing yourself to find a way to save it.
Practicing of course makes you a stronger painter, but never giving up on a piece can strengthen you as an artist.
If you never try to fix your mistakes, then every time you make one, your piece will be fated for the dumpster and you're only stunting your potential growth.
Just also know that sometimes a solution to saving a piece doesn't come right away. Sometimes it's as quick as in the moment realizing that a simple light adjustment can save it and even make the piece stronger for it, and other times it can take days or weeks of staring at a piece to come up with the perfect solution. But I promise theres a solution! In the last five years that Iv'e started taking on this fuck-up challenge, Ive not thrown away a single piece. I managed to save every one. And in that time I've grown so much more as an artist for it and my work and process has rapidly evolved for it. I've done entire series based on an idea I had to save a piece. It's also made me think more creatively outside of just my art as well.
One important tip I have for cultivating this new creative mindset is to keep the piece out, or take a photo of it and stare at it. It seems so silly but seriously- actively look at it and let your mind wander. and please know that while you're looking at it and ideas start to come in, it's totally normal to have hundreds of AWFUL ideas before that one good one strikes. The struggle for many artists is accepting the initial error and accepting the horrible ideas. The mistake doesn't make you a rubbish artist and the shitty ideas don't make you a rubbish artist- the only thing that will make you a poor artist is giving up and not pushing through. These moments and self doubt are a part of every artists practice. They are GOOD to be there b/c it's hat pushes us for better and strive for growth. So accept them as a natural and much needed part of the process, and move on. Use the doubt productively as fuel.
Also worth noting that if nothing is coming to you while you're staring at it, it may be super beneficial to print out a photo of it, or pull it up on a device and doodle over the image. Nothing may come at first, but just start sketching- mindlessly, and eventually it will become intentional. I like to pull up an image of the piece on my ipad and in the Procreate app I'll make different layers of ideas... they start off super shit, and with each layer the ideas get more refined until something I'm happy with appears.
This is also a great way to see if the idea you have to fix it will actually work out... Like the painting above- if I had any doubts I could have pulled it up in the app and painted some shadows in on it (or if its too early to tell, paint on the image you're using as reference and see if it works, then use your new ipad painted version as your new reference.)
Being visual artists the VISUAL is key. Forcing yourself to look at an image or forcing a pencil to paper to SEE ideas is much more helpful that staring elsewhere and daydreaming up a solution. This isn't just a personal opinion, this can be noted throughput history for so many successful artists. Don't just wait for inspiration to strike- you can be waiting a life time. Instead you must actively pursue inspiration.
Creative thinking and creative problem solving is a mindset that can be trained. Some folks- like in any area- are more natural at it, where others need to put in more work to get there. If you're not one of those to whom it comes naturally, don't sweat it- if you're willing to work a bit for it, once you begin to train your mind to think creatively by looking for openings and solutions and looking at things from new light and new perspectives, then it gets easier and easier until you find yourself doing it without even trying. It becomes second nature. But just like actually practicing putting paint to canvas to hone your painting skills, it takes the same effort to train a creative mind. THE MORE YOU PUT IN- THE MORE YOU GET OUT.