First painting. Go on, destroy me

Hey everyone, I've been lurking for a few weeks now and would love feedback on my first painting.

I'm following Mark's directions. I built a shadow box, got everything on the supply list. Did the steps. The whole thing.

Please tell me what you think of this painting. 

My concerns are:
  • Paint coverage. I used student grade paint, only later realizing there might be a significant difference in artist oils and student grade. I'm so inexperienced that I didn't realize they aren't the same thing until after I started. I think this led to me really having to load up the brush in a strange way. If I didn't really use a ton of paint, none of it would come off on the canvas. 
  • Color checking. I would check colors when trying to match something, and mix what appeared to be a very good match. Then I would mix another color for another part of the painting, and I would realize that it happened to match the other spot too, even though I had mixed a new and different color. 
  • Values. I swear they matched when I mixed them. I know they're not WILDLY off, but somehow they do seem odd. The front of the tabletop, for example, looks very strange. Yet the color looked like a match on the color checker.
  • How do you mix colors that are multiple colors? In some parts of the apple, there would be yellow, green, and red all in one spot. How do you paint this?
  • Drawing. I think it actually turned out okay, but the drawing was very difficult and had many redrawn lines. The proportional divider seemed to lie sometimes. I suspect this was caused by me not having my arm truly straight or my. shoulders squared with the shadow box when I thought I did. If you compare the reference photo to the painting, many points are not a match.
  • Speed. I would really really like to paint flowers, but I'm worried they would wilt quickly. I found myself moving quickly, trying to fill in the shape and move on. Still, this painting took me several days, and the apples began to look waxy and ugly as I painted. Does speed come with time? Is there a way to slow down meaningfully? My potential solve for a truly short-lived subject like this is to set up the still life in the shadow box and take a picture of it, then go from the picture. But that feels less fun to me.
  • Ugly, chunky lines. The mug bears the brunt of this failure for me.


  • Atalanta

    Welcome to the Forum.

    You are being too hard on yourself. 

    As a first with new everything it turned out quite welll.

    You are right about student grade paint. It is different to artist grade.
    Often student grade colours are not pure pigments, instead they are made with mixtures if pigments to produce a ‘hue’. This leads to inconsistent results when mixing values and unpredictable temperatures and chroma. Student grade paint has a lot of fillers and stabilisers, a lot of paint is required to move a mixture in a desired direction. This accounts for your first four dot points.

    Drawing will improve with practice. Get some newsprint and charcoal, sign up for a life drawing class.
    Ellipses and curves need some work. Bodies have lots of these. Measurement gets easier quickly.

    Don’t forget to tone the canvas to stop all the white outlines and pinholes showing.

    For still life use non perishable items. Gourds, nuts, dried or artificial flowers, glass, metal etc.
    Take photos from eye position of setup to use for later reference.

    The ‘ugly, chunky’ lines are an acceptable impressionist style and would be awesome with accurate values.

  • First painting? You've got many of the big challenges managed really well.
    I love your freedom with paint and the abstraction you create with your brushstrokes. It's painterly. Especially in the lower half - the fruit, the table, the mug. When I half close my eyes your values and colours are very good.
    For your dark background the photo with the light above is catching the brushstrokes so it's hard to read it properly with the photo. I personally keep my darks thin and avoid visible brushmarks because I know they will catch light and I want dark areas to recede. At the same time I see you using Mark's advice to create abstractions with your brushwork. I punch out the lighter areas with thicker paint.
    • How do you mix colors that are multiple colors? In some parts of the apple, there would be yellow, green, and red all in one spot. How do you paint this?
    • Ugly, chunky lines. The mug bears the brunt of this failure for me.
    I like what you did with the colours on the fruit. There are many approaches to do this. Most objects can be created to appear three dimensional with just a few correct values. These are the big statements that create form. I start there, not with tiny nuances of colour. Simple statements with the right values => form. Once the form has appeared, later I'll come back and adjust little things. Mark doesn't tend to blend and I see you've followed his good advice. I do sometimes blend, but not too early. I think you've done them well.
    Ugly chunky lines - I just come back later and adjust. Wipe back or paint over. Oil paint allows you to come back when it's wet or dry and adjust.
  • Hey there Atalanta, welcome and congratulations on completing your first painting!

    Oil painting materials are fascinating to study, we all end up being amateur chemists as well as artists in this medium, haha, and I’ve never met a painter who wasn’t delighted to be asked about materials so you’ve come to the right place! :) Anyhow, yeah I would definitely agree with Dencal and recommend picking up some artist quality paints. They have a lot more pigment in them and will give you better coverage.

    I also wonder if you have used any medium in this picture/what medium you used? Usually people will mix mediums like Linseed oil [or other oils like safflower or walnut but the most of the information I have found recommends linseed over other types of oil], GamSol [an odorless solvent made by the Gamblin paint company, or other odorless “mineral spirits” as theyre called. Make sure you have proper ventilation in your painting space if you use mineral spirits] 

    Here’s one of Mark’s videos explaining some drawing techniques better than i would

    When it comes to speed, I would say that it's important to learn how to complete the process slowly before you try to speed it up. To use a sports analogy, really rapid alla prima painting is like a "reverse 4 1⁄2 somersault in pike position and armstand reverse 4 somersault in pike position" which is the hardest olympic dive according to google, but the people doing those insane dives aren't beginner divers. You will get faster with practice and depending on the style you choose to pursue though!

    Also as a practical idea to make drawing easier, I'd recommend drawing your subject on paper before putting it on canvas. This allows you to erase things more easily and once you are satisfied with the paper drawing you can copy it onto the canvas [you can draw identical grids over both pictures and copy it as a series of tiles. I sometimes also use a piece of tracing paper taped over my first messy sketch to trace out a cleaner drawing from the sketch underneath.]

    It may be less fun to paint from a photograph, but if you're going for something as short lived as flowers it will make it a lot easier to do while you are learning the first ins and outs of the medium. I see it as eliminating challenges from this task you're attempting that is super hard in the first place. like you COULD paint:

    -outside with distracting sounds, wind, rain, the sun beating down on you

    -with a subject that is disintegrating before your very eyes

    -alla prima with no preparatory drawing

    -at the speed of light while riding a unicycle

    and there definitely ARE artists who do this [maybe not the unicycle part but you know what i mean haha] but it's kind of an insane artistic triple flip to deal with all of those different conditions at once, and you can bet those artists who do that learned to do it the slow way first. [When I first started studying this method i took out as many difficulties as i could and only painted white objects for the first little while, starting with a smooth orb shaped teapot, which was the easiest thing i could find that i thought i could pull off.]

    And last of all, I think your mug actually has a lot of visual interest, I like all of the subtle grey and light brown colours in there. :) Keep on truckin partner! Looking forward to your next painting!

  • I forgot to ask as well, what style of flower painting do you want to do? :)
  • Welcome to the forum, @Atalanta.

    You did a fine job, especially given that it's your first painting.  I like the chunkiness of it with the impasto brushwork. And I think you did a good job on the table top. 

    With the DMP method it's important to take your time at all stages - drawing, block-in, details.  The drawing is very important because if that's not right nothing else will be right.  I would have spent a bit more time getting your ellipses right on the bowl and cup. Or maybe you did draw them right but had problems applying the paint on the ellipses. Paint handling skills will improve with time.

    I know student grade paints are cheaper, but they don't mix reliably and you have to use a lot more paint to get good coverage. So, they're a false economy. If you want to do it the DMP way then you'll need some professional grade oil paints in the colours Mark recommends or use Geneva paints if they are available where you are. Because of the high pigment load in professional grade paints you get much better coverage with less paint. 

    Colour checking can be very time consuming for beginners. But the more you do it the better, and quicker, you get at it. The most important thing in realism is to get the values right.

    With fine detail, (the orange striations in the red apple that you mentioned for example) you don't  need to paint every tiny streak of colour.  You can use abstraction to suggest such detail or leave it out entirely. As @Abstraction mentioned above, getting the overall form and the values right is much more important  for realism than trying to capture all the tiny details. Simplify. As you have to some extent already in the apples.

    I look forward to seeing more of your work. 

    Happy painting.
  • Mr. A . . . your concerns are way ahead of your current "pay grade."  Most, if not all of them will dissolve as you go on.  I've been painting for about 30 years, and I still have some of your concerns.  Painting/art is not math.  I envy the math student . . . once he/she learns that 2 plus 2 is 4, they never have to worry about that again.  But painting is a process that goes on all the life long.  Just keep on painting.  Little by little your worries will disappear.
  • @Atalanta

    For a first painting that is very good. 

    You also can see what you did right and what you feel could be improved, which is miles ahead of many beginners who simply do not see some of the mistakes they are making and consequently take a very long time to improve.

    I totally sympathize with your struggles as a beginner! 
    Stay the course, you are well on your way! 

    Happy painting!!
  • I agree with all of the above. Keep going, you will improve rapidly!
  • I can't add anything that hasn't already been said above.  I do really like the impressionistic feel of the painting.  Big bold brush strokes look luscious and juicy.  Well done.
  • Mr. A . . . I do have one suggestion that I believe will help immediately.  Next painting (keep it simple), do a block in.  Use color/values in the middle of the value range of your subject,, and MOST IMPORTANT, keep your paint thin, washy, almost like watercolor (but a little thicker).  This will do a couple of things for you . . . within minutes, as your block in is complete, it will tell you if you're on the right track.  As you step back to view this block in, if it "reads" well, you're off to a good start.  Second, by keeping your paint thin in the block in, the excess turp or thinner (which ever you use) will evaporate quickly, leaving a "thinnish" first cover that will dry quickly, and you'll be able to apply thicker paint sooner.
    Third, I strongly recommend you have a look at this guy and his site.  Like Mark, he is a no-nonsense guy and is loaded with good ideas in a series of short youtube videos like Mark's.

  • @broker12
    I respectfully disagree with your comments about blocking in.

    As a beginner myself I find it frustrating when we'll meaning people say "That's great, now all you need to do is change your entire approach"

    DMP is not a blocking in process. DMP does not involve painting fat over lean.

    DMP is a process of carefully drawing the subject, carefully mixing the values and tones, carefully applying the paint slowly.

    You have given a very honest and accurate breakdown of your first experience. Similar to my own experience (I've done 1 DMP method painting over 10 days).

    I can really relate to your speed comment. I like your idea of setting up in a shadow cabinet then taking & working from a photo. This takes away the stress and allows you to concentrate on painting accurately. We are at the learning stage of painting. If photos give us the freedom to paint something we enjoy then YES!

    What bits do you like?
    What worked well for you?
    What did you enjoy most?
  • @Atalanta congratulations you’ve completed your first DMP painting!  All great journeys begin with the first step.  Your color and value checking will improve after you’ve done it for a while.  
    Your shadow values look pretty good for the shadows that fall on the table.  The shadow on the underside of the bowl looks blue whereas I would expect it to be a warm color.  The interior of the cup is too bright.  
    I recommend thinning your paint down.  I use straight up walnut oil, no turps.  For the raw umber paint I use walnut oil with 2% clove oil.  
    When I started doing DMP I watched mark’s instructions multiple times and I discovered things he would point out that I totally did not get until after doing a few paintings. 
    When it comes to color checking make sure the amount of light hitting your color checker is the same as that hitting your canvas.  
    When you check areas that have “multiple colors it values you will have to just mentally/ visually average them.  Otherwise when using the color checker the edge of the checker should “disappear “ into the object you are checking. At first don’t sweat matching the color exactly but get the value as good as you can.  
    Work from dark to light when putting paint down.
    Once your comfortable with matching values/ colors you can work on adjusting had and soft edges.
    keep painting.  You will be impressed at how quickly you progress.
  • Au contraire, heartofengland. Look at some of Mark's early tutorial videos, especially where he painted water.  He pretty much laid out a "tone," and followed up by modifying it with more paint.  Using the block-in method is not the be-all and end-all of painting, but neither is Mark's method. Mark's DMP, by his own words, is a method to get beginning painters started.  Later on, we can (and do) veer off on our own journey.  Block-ins, which have been around for centuries, are fast, easy and as successful as other methods of starting a painting.
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