Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Oil Paintings

-By Justin Gerard

I have recently took on 2 private commissions for some larger format oil paintings and today I'd like to share my initial stages from them with you.

For those of you who have followed along these last few years, you will probably know that finding a good working method in oil (that doesn't turn me into a werewolf or raise the dead) has been somewhat challenging for me these past few years.  I wanted to find a way that would allow me to work with many thin layers, somewhat like watercolor; but that did not involve solvents or harm the archival quality of the painting. 

It has only been in the past year that things have finally begun to really make sense to me, and that I have finally become comfortable taking on larger oil paintings. 

The first of these is for Greg O'baugh, and the scene may he is commissioning, may look familiar to some folks...  

Yes, this is Smaug. Greg actually purchased the original watercolor of Old Smaug at Illuxcon a few years back.  Since then he has asked if I might be interested in repainting this one, and this time in oil, without the aid of any of my digital trickery.

Usually I would be very apprehensive about something like this. Wether traveling, painting or reading, I usually don't like to retread the same ground twice.  There is still so much to do and explore and learn that seeing a place twice seems like a wasted opportunity.  But this image is different. This one is a challenge, and one that I have always wanted to do as an oil painting.

For many years I have been secretly convinced that I can't do traditionally what I can do digitally.  And no matter how many of you have told me in exasperation to JUST DO IT, I have always had great reservations.  So now this is a chance to finally give this one the treatment it deserves.

I hope to share more of the work-in-progress shots as this develops and I look forward to hearing what you think when you compare the two separate approaches.

The second image is also Tolkien themed and is being commissioned by Dan Perkins.  It is of the Ents marching up to break the dam above Orthanc and will be 30" x 50" on panel. 

If the characters in this digital color comp look familiar, it is because they are mostly from my 2012 Sketchbook.  The 2012 sketchbook was done chiefly as studies for a series of larger oil paintings like this one that I hope to keep producing over the next few years. 

Part of the reason that these scenes are painted so much larger than my other work is because of the lack of solvents. The only medium I will be using with the oil paints, is walnut alkyd oil, (and that only sparingly.)

I hope you will follow along and when these are finished let me know what you think about the conversion from watercolor and digital to oil.

Next: The Color Phase and a no-solvent, fast-drying palette


  1. Hey Justin
    THese are looking fantastic. The under paintings are really coming together. Looking forward to reading about your solvent free technique. REALLY looking forward to it. Been trying to figure out thin washes in oil without solvent for a while but have not been able to yet. This is going to be a great series of posts!! Can't wait to see the finishes. That glow of Smaug will bee a challenge i am sure.

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  2. I'm looking forward to seeing these coming along, especially the Smaug painting - I can't get on with oil at all so it'll be interesting to see how you handle it, it's looking great so far! I have to admit the ent painting made me chuckle because at first I thought the rock closest to the tower was a UFO, it's probably just the way it shows up in the photos but for a moment I was trying to figure out why there was a UFO there - genre mash! :D

    1. That is a shield, not a rock ;-). Strap on top does kinda make it look like a ufo without color!

  3. Hi!
    This oil-washes-without-solvent thing has raised my curiosity to an apex. I'm impatient to read the follow up, as you're about to reconcile myself with oils, no less.

  4. Dear Justin,

    Really interesting post... May I ask what would be the issue with the solvents?

    Is that only the "convenience factor", smell, etc, or does it imply something more?

    As a digital illustrator wanting to do some traditional painting that interests me a lot.

    1. Hey Marc,
      It is mostly just reactions to the use of solvents (eyes itch, headaches, throat discomfort etc. Minor issues, but enough to make me want to seek alternative solutions).

    2. Hey Justin,

      Thanks a lot for your answer.

      I forgot to add that I'm big fan of your works.

  5. Very interested in your solvent free methods. I'm pregnant and avoiding solvents, and I mostly deal with this by having several paintings on the go at once, so that the increased drying time isn't quite so difficult.
    Cleaning the brushes with walnut oil works great for me.
    I do wonder however, how exactly walnut alkyd medium is a "non-toxic" dryer. I've seen some comments on wet canvas that people have trouble getting M. Graham to reply to how it's made and how it actually works.

    1. I spoke with Graham on the phone about it last year and he was super helpful. That is the main reason I switched over. He claimed it was salad grade and that you could literally eat it. Though they said it would have, " a mild laxative effect."
      I have had no adverse issues with it in the years that I have used it. (versus almost immediate effects with solvents and other drying agents that have petroleum distillates in them)

    2. Linseed oil, turpentine, damar varnish... those aren't petroleum, or they certainly shouldn't be! It's probably the turpentine though.

  6. Whoa dang. These look good so far!

    Reinterpreting an image from one media to another is something that's always been difficult for me, but I've unearthed some old sketches lately that I might try.

    Are you working larger so that the paint layers are spread more thinly and therefore dry more quickly? Like Matt mentioned in the first comment above, I haven't found anything that's COMPLETELY solvent-free that loosens oil paint up to a wash/watercolor consistency. YET.

    Also, super-jealous of your table set up.

    1. Hi Megan,
      That is pretty much correct. I am working thinner with the paint and there are definitely less areas where i try to apply washes as in watercolor. Instead I am just having to work in heavier glazes and scumbling for those types of effects.
      I would also love something that would allow for me to work in washes (like mineral spirits do) but this has eluded me as well. So for now, I am just working slower and larger.

  7. I have been painting without any solvents or mediums for a few months now, only linseed oil. I'm surprised how quick they dry if painted with a physical thinness. I'm sure the absorbency of the ground is a factor too.

    I just saw this link this morning about solvent free painting and thought you might like to read it. http://www.tadspurgeon.com/puttymedium.php?page=puttymedium

    I'm not sure I'll try it out myself, but I like the concept of buying supplies at a health food store.

  8. Really looking forward to seeing the progress on these!

  9. Hey Justin!
    Man, you are really knocking it out of the park with your oils lately, and seeing some of your originals at Spectrum just sealed the deal for me. Some day I want to return to oils, but for now I'm just trying to master the art of watercolor alchemy...
    Super excited about the Orthanc painting. It was one of my favorite concepts from your Ents sketchbook, and I'm glad to see it come to life.
    When you're doing the underpainting, how long do you usually spend on that stage, and what colors do you use to get that warm/cool sepia value relationship?

    1. Hey Will,
      The underpainting is probably about 30% of the overall painting maybe. If I were to try to break down the rest of it in percentages then it would probably be 30% color phase, 30% refinements and details, and 10% glazes and scumbling effects. But it changes from painting to painting and what I am actually painting.
      For colors, I use only 2 or 3. In this case, I have used Raw Seinna, Burnt Umber, and Titanium White.

  10. Beautiful and inspiring work, thanks for sharing!

    "No Excuses" is the best rule I follow, and it allows me to step out of the comfort zone to push for new ideas and techniques.

  11. Definitely interested in hearing about the solvent-free painting method!

    Really looking forward to phase 2!

  12. It looks like you begin with a transparent underpainting in raw sienna - and then add a more opaque umber /white monochrome underpainting afterwards? Any particular thoughts behind this process (apart from the fact that it looks pretty damn awesome with that vibrant yellowish layer peeping through the more heavy umber + white)?

    1. That is correct! Part of it is that it is nice to use the seinna as sort of a rough sketch phase. And the umber and white as more of a tight drawing phase. So it is partially just a nice way to push and pull the drawing as it develops. And then it also has that added benefit of giving some vibrance to the image that you spoke of.

  13. I know Gamblin just came out with a solvent-free gel. I have not used it yet, but it might be something worth looking into.

    Solvent Free Gel

    Beautiful work as always Justin!

    1. I just heard about this too. I am looking forward to hearing what people think about it. Initially I am suspicious because safflower is such a slow drying oil that it would seem that it might make an unstable paint film when mixed with the alkyd. But Gamblin seems super competent with that sort of thing, so I am sure they figured something out.
      If you do any experiments let me know what you think of it!

    2. fyi int the link jared posted I saw that their rep is giving away free samples solvent free to test. scott (at) gamblincolors.com - i figured it was worth testing out and others might as well.

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  16. This is amazing, what paint would you recommend?

  17. Trying to find a non-solvent based medium that I can use to do reductive painting, like a burnt umber pickout? Husband and I are trying to get pregnant but I'm also enrolled in Watts Atelier and want to be able to continue my lessons without using anything potentially harmful. I've considered just using gloves and an osha-approved respirator and paint on the balcony to keep the air fresh? But it seems like there should be a better way without weirding out the neighbors. XP

    Can Walnut Alkyd Oil or Solvent Free gel work as an alternative to Gamsol? I've been drawing all year and itching to start oil painting. Don't want to put off oil lessons for two years unless I absolutely have to.

    Also, side note: love Justin's painting! :D I've been worrying lately that the digital painting I've been doing won't translate to traditional, so this post is definitely a motivational boost to try making my next illustration an oil painting if I can. :D I'm a huge fan of Justin and Annie both, so looking at their work always inspires me though. XP

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