Catchword Summary of the 10 Oil / Acrylic Steps

1. Plan
2. Tone Board
3. Draw (Pencil)
4.Med Tones
5. Darks (Focus & Block)


6. Oil Medium On
7. Oil Medium Off
8. Lights
9. Colour In
10. Final Darks & Highlights


Here is a composite exercise showing the progress of a landscape in its 10 stages:

Landscape sequence showing the steps!

In the above exercise I completed the landscape progressively, from step 1 on the left, to the finished step 10 on the right.    It might give a basic impression of how a painting is a series of layers of strengthening colour.    The acrylic is excellent in the early building stages, and then the 'first team' oils come in to finish off. The end result will invariably be a combination of both mediums that the viewer sees.    In some of my landscapes up to 70% of the finished painting is acrylic, and the balance oils.    In some of my Knysna forest paintings as much as 90% can be acrylic, with only the very darks and highlights in oils, and then on the other hand paintings that have lots of soft areas in them often have 90% oils showing.    It doesn't matter what the mix is - as long as you are using each medium for what it is good at!    When you finally varnish the painting nobody can tell the difference between the mediums anyway

The first sample 'Step' Exercise

You can follow the steps and paint the following cottage (which I also do as my first basic demo on the watercolour C D ), or you can find your own image of a building / cottage and do that.
Acrylic Steps 1 - 5

It is easier to paint a subject with strong outlines, than to paint, for instance, a sea-scene or a forest scene, where the various colours, shades, tones and energies merge nebulously into one another.    A simple cottage scene is a fair task to begin with, as the format is relatively formal and uncluttered. In my student years towards the end of the 60's I often painted in Ida's Valley, Stellenbosch, and this is a cottage there that I photographed recently.    I think it is the (much-altered) same dwelling that I painted on a few occasions in my student days.

Cottage in Ida's Valley, Stellenbosch.

I will use my imagination and do a relatively free interpretation of the subject, drawing on my experiences from painting in many villages throughout the country, and hopefully I will capture the timelessness of life in rural settlements.    I will paint the picture on a 42 X 60 cm piece of untempered Supawood, which I have prepared with a coat of gesso preparation mixture. (See section 2 for other board preparation possibilities)


The board toned with acrylics

The subject is in sunlight, and therefore I will tone the board with my acrylics from my stay-wet palette (see section 2 on how to make one for yourself) using a range of colours from cools at the top, to warms at the bottom. See a suggested sequence in the detailed instructions of this step above.


The drawing on the toned board.

Make sure that your drawing is not just an excuse to 'get through the step' .    Drawing is an extension of your plan and it is very important to get it right at this stage.     We will handle some of the complexities and challenges of composition etc in section 7, but in the meantime we might mention that your drawing, and the eventual painting, should have a 'gestalt' - a concept found in all visual disciplines, broadly summed-up to infer that the whole must be greater than the sum of the parts...

Your drawing must be 'complete', not just a flippant indication of intent.    I am not saying that it need necessarily be over-detailed or exact, but rather that it should be a thought-out guide to the plan of the task, and that the whole area should be part of this plan.    Beginners on my courses often hope that the little 'Outeniqua gnome' will come running out of the mountains to fix their unplanned foregrounds and skies as the painting progresses!    The gnome never comes, and it is in this step that you must handle a drawing plan for the whole image!    Drawing is fun, and you must get used to taking time, relaxing and getting it right at this stage.


The coloured-in drawing

This step gives okes the most trouble, and in the early days I even sometimes thought of leaving it out when working with beginners.    But I persisted, and most folk derive great benefit from it.    The problem here is often the enthusiasm of the artists.    They frequently want to go further than they should in this step, and they venture into the territory that the oils are meant to handle...... Remember that this step has to do with medium acrylic tones, not the very brights or the very darks. The painting should not look 'finished' after this step - it must still look like it is in a building stage, with harmonious medium tones giving it strength.


The added darks

We now can handle our final acrylic step by focussing our drawing with dark paint, and by blocking in the dark areas where necessary.    We now have our dark parameter in the painting.    It is a sunny day, so the darks (and the brights in step 8 below ) will be intense.    On a misty day, the colour parameters would be more diffused.    This is the end of the acrylic steps.

Oils Steps 6 - 10
( We use oils because oils look better, oils handle better and oils don't discolour when drying )

Brushing the medium on

Using a big brush, cover the entire board surface with a film of your painting medium ('Janny's potion' - a 50/50 mixture of refined (or raw) linseed oil and English distilled turpentine (also known as turpentine oil).

Wiping the medium off

Wipe the medium off quite thoroughly, leaving only a thin layer of glistening oil, to give your paint applications purchase on the surface.


The painting with brights in.

Here we have put in the very bright colour extremes - white walls, clouds, path etc..    You will now have the outer colour parameters for your picture, ie the .darks from step 5, and the brights from here.


The Painting coloured-in between the parameters.

Here I have coloured-in the painting working between the two parameters set in steps 5 and 8.    I have obviously left an abundance of acrylic from steps 2, 4 and 5 showing where it can work for me - eg. In the foliage, the roof, the foreground etc.


The finished painting with final darks and highlights.

The final fine-tuning to give the painting its finishing touches. Notice how I have filled-in the right-hand top section with a receding mountain.  The composition was defective as it stood in the previous steps, with too much focus on the top right corner.

   In my very early painting days my Dad, much to my youthful and impetuous chagrin, would on occasion ask if he could put '15 finishing touches', to the supposedly finished painting I had on the easel.    Once my defences were down I always reluctantly relented and consented to this intrusion into my realm of psyche and soma, and it was always magic to see how his 15 dots could transform my painting.    What he actually did was to place 15 dots of the brightest bright (usually cadmium lemon and white) alongside 15 dark areas, and this strong chiaroscuro (the reaction of dark to light) transformed the painting and took it to another level! ...... like Mozart, at the tender age of 13, when asked how he managed to be such a prolific composer..... his answer? - "oh, I just put the little notes that like each other next to each other...!"

That takes us to the end of our first basic step by step example. Click on the button below to go to the main selection of 28 step-by-step examples.

Copyright 2003 Dale Elliott.