Looking to get started with oil painting? Check out this beginner oil painting tutorial featuring a tree silhouette against a colorful painted sky. Practice an alla prima or ‘wet-on-wet’ painting technique using thickly applied paint from a painting knife. Get comfortable with how oil paints move and blend on the canvas to prepare you for future oil paint work.There is no one right way to do this painting and no drawing to worry about. Have fun!
Oil paint set
Painting knife, pointed tip, like a trowel
Oil paint pen, black
Paper towels or paint rag
Purchase a canvas board that will fit your shadow box frame. If you’re lucky, the size of your box may match exactly one of the standard canvas dimensions like 5 x 7 in., 7 x 9 in., or 8 x 10 in. However, you may be like me and need to cut your canvas board to fit. The opening in my shadow box is 6 x 8 in. I trimmed 1 in. off the length and width of a 7 x 9 in. board using a utility knife. The canvas board cuts easily with the knife. Cut from the front so the sharp cut edges are on this side of the board where it matters.
Apply gesso to the board using a large brush. Allow the gesso to dry completely.
Squeeze your paint colors onto your palette. I’m using ultramarine blue, scarlet, lemon yellow, titanium white and fluoro pink (not pictured).
Apply paint to the prepared canvas using a painting knife. Spread paint thickly across the canvas with the knife as if you were spreading butter on a piece of bread. Apply paint next to – but not touching – another color and wipe your knife well using a paper towel when switching paint colors. This is sometimes referred to as blocking in color. You can use a reference photo to help you determine the location of color blocks or you can work intuitively using a pattern of your own design. Continue applying paint until the only white space remaining on your canvas are the narrow spaces you’ve left between individual colors.
Drag your painting knife across two different colors, blending the paint. Continue to use a spreading motion, changing directions randomly as you work.
Use white paint as a buffer between 2 colors as needed. Colors close to one another on the color wheel play well together; mixing these colors usually creates an attractive new blend. However, mixing colors opposite one another on the color wheel yields duller neutral colors like brown. These opposite colors include purple and yellow, red and green, and blue and orange. Use the white paint to ease the transition between these opposite colors.
Allow the oil paint to dry. This may take up to 2-3 weeks depending on your location and the thickness of your paint.
Select a silhouette from a source of public domain images or create one from your own original photo. I found my reference photo on Pixabay.com. Creators of all the images on Pixabay have relinquished copyrights to the images and offer them to others to use freely.
Size your silhouette reference photo to fit the opening on your shadow box. Reverse the image (flip image horizontally) and print the image on paper. Reversing the image is necessary because you will be painting the image from the back side of the glass.
Remove the backing from the shadow box. Wipe down the reverse side (inside) of the shadow box glass with rubbing alcohol.
Lay the shadow box over your reference image with the reverse side of the glass facing up.
Using a black, oil-based paint marker, paint the image on the reverse side of the glass. Trace the tree trunks and branches and outline the shapes of the ground. Use a tapping motion with the marker to create a general outline of the leaves on the tree.
After the basic tree shape is complete, lay the shadow box on a sheet of plain white paper and fill in the shapes in the image. Maintain some of the lacy tree edges while creating substantial dark areas to contrast with the vividly-colored, painted background. When you’re finished, set the shadow box glass aside to dry.
After the paints have dried, use white glue to adhere the oil painting to the back of the shadow box. Reassemble the shadow box. Enjoy your new artwork!