Ana experimenting with oil paint colors.
Teaching Ana to Paint
By Annette Bartlett-Golden
I was about seventeen when I took my first oil painting class and I fell in love with painting in oils. So teaching teenagers to oil paint is especially dear to my heart. For a month I have had the pleasure of teaching Ana, my fourteen-year-old cousin from Panama, the basics of painting with oils.
I started with an introduction to the care and use of materials. Then Ana experimented using ultramarine blue and paint thinner to make a variety of brushstrokes. She discovered that a little paint here creates a pale line, there a lot more paint on the brush makes a dark solid stroke.
First experiments with ultramarine blue oil paint by Ana.
To introduce Ana to tonal values (a range of darks and lights), I had her make a monochromatic painting. I set up a cube under lights and Ana made a painting of it using only black and white paint and three shades in between, which she learned to mix. Ana gained an understanding of the importance of values and how they can define form and the appearance of space.
Of course a great part of the joy of oil painting is the range of possible colors. For the next exercise, I played music for Ana and asked her to paint her emotional response to the music by using her choice of paint colors. Before starting the exercise, she added her own twist by placing strips of blue painters’ tape on the canvas. After she had finished, Ana removed the tape with excitement, revealing a new composition. This process let her experiment freely with colors from the paint tubes and notice how they mixed on her canvas.
On the left is Ana's music painting with the blue tape and the finished result is on the right.
I set up a simple still life with an orange sitting on a blue cloth lit by a small spotlight. I had Ana begin by drawing the composition using burnt umber mixed with a paint thinner and then painting in the dark and lighter areas. This is called the underpainting. Over that Ana painted the blues of the cloth and the colors of the orange. Although the painting is unfinished, Ana achieved the purpose of the exercise which was to paint a scene from life with a good composition using tonal values and a few basic colors. I think it came out well.
Ana's unfinished still life of an orange and a blue cloth. You can see parts of the underpainting peeking out at the edges.
After that it was Ana’s turn to choose the subject for the next painting. She decided on trees so we put on our jackets and walked up the street to take reference photos for her tree painting. Back in the studio we made drawing and painting sketches from one of the reference photos. Experimenting and refining the composition for a painting is one of the purposes of preliminary sketches. Through this process, Ana realized that the scene she had selected was too complicated for her. I selected a simpler version for her that featured just a few tree branches rather than the canopies of several trees. Over two more classes Ana worked on her tree painting. I reminded her to observe the areas of dark and light carefully and to step back from the painting often to gain perspective.
Ana working on her tree painting over several classes.
Ana's finished tree painting!
We still have a couple more weeks for painting classes. I’m excited about our next projects and to see what else Ana can accomplish!
Annette Bartlett-Golden paints a wide range of subjects from landscapes to animals and makes abstract works with paper. Using vibrant colors, she imparts a sense of immediacy, vivacity and optimism to her paintings and paper collages.