Introduction to Arches Huile Oil Paper
I love painting in oil and typically my favorite support is hardboard. It is not flexible, is not easily punctured and is archival and durable. Arches is a world famous manufacturer of artist’s watercolor paper and they have created an archival paper that is made for artist’s oil paint. I love that it is so easy to trim to any size: no stretcher bars needed. This new product gives artists another wonderful option to select from when creating oil paintings. Read on for my review of this paper, how it handles and follow along on a step by step demonstration I created of painting a landscape on Arches Oil Paper.
Recently I had my home analyzed by the Feng Shui expert Stephana Johnson of www.yogilachi.com.
She is a personal trainer, coach and counselor in health and wellness, injury prevention, business and life optimization. She also specializes in trauma recovery.
I can’t believe the difference in how our home feels after just a few tweaks! It’s like a breath of fresh air and a release of tension that we didn’t even recognize until we changed a few things.
One of her recommendations was to place a painting or photo of a receding vista on a specific wall of our home.
I live on the Columbia Gorge in Washington State, USA and receding vistas are all around me. I thought it would be fun to use this opportunity to create a demonstration tutorial on using Arches Huile paper to paint an oil landscape.
Reference photo and composition
For my reference photo, artist Cathleen Rehfeld Meyers of Hood River, Oregon kindly gave me permission to use her excellent photo as my reference. I do love Hood River, which is about 40 minutes from my home. I’ve never seen this vantage point before. I’m familiar with this particular bend in the road and those particular orchards but not the height of the viewer. Perhaps it is from a drone. (We got a drone for Christmas, and I’m excited to take it out for photo reference shooting! Talk about fun!! That will be another article!)
Here is her website where you can see some of her beautiful work in oil. https://www.dailypaintworks.com/Artists/Cathleen_Rehfeld-206
And here is her art blog http://crehfeld.blogspot.com/
The problem and challenge
Because I need a distant eye pathway to be very deep, I’m going to alter the composition to maximize the farthest turn in the river in the distance and make it more prominent. That should give me the maximum depth of field that I’m looking for with the Feng Shui requirement.
I know I’ll be working on size 20 x 16 because I have a white frame all set aside for this artwork. So I have to monkey with the composition quite a bit to get it just right for those proportions. The first step should always be thumbnails. This will help you fix composition errors before you start painting.
I use a phone app called Aspect Ratio Calculator to find the correct size for my thumbnails. I insert 20 x 16 into the upper boxes of the app and insert 2 into the lower height box. Then punch calculate and it gives me the correct proportion of 2 inches x 2.5 inches for the thumbnails. I’m good to go if I draw thumbnails in those dimensions because now I know my thumbnails will be in proportion to my predetermined painting surface size.
The reason I use the Aspect Ratio Calculator every time (even if I haven’t preselected the finished frame) is because as I’m sketching my thumbnails, if I have not set my dimensions beforehand, I inevitably end up with a composition thumbnail that is hands-down better than all the others, and of COURSE, it is not the correct dimensions of the frame and OF COURSE, it turns out to be an odd canvas and frame size which results in much higher costs of materials and framing. No bueno! I have vowed to ‘keep it simple, stupid’ and stick to common canvas and frame sizes just to go easier on my wallet if at all possible.
There is a LOT going on in the reference photo. The main focus could easily be the snowy mountainsides, or the cloud formations, or the distance water or the peninsula in bright sunlight or the fun textures of the orchard fields. For sure I have to pick ONE. ( It will be fun to recreate this reference photo five times and pick a different thing to have as the main focus each time. It will look dramatically different each time. Ah Hah! A new article idea! ) Ultimately, I need to remember my original purpose, which is to have a painting with a receding vista and depth of field. So, that has to figure into this in some major way.
Here’s a photo of my sketch thumbnail blanks all ready for experimenting. I also know that I will lose about ¼ inch on all four sides because the painting will be buried in the wood of the frame. I’d better keep that in mind as I sketch.
Here are the composition thumbnails I worked up to solve the composition requirements mentioned above with the restrictions of the dimensions of the paper and frame:
I always do Notan studies to get the values correct before I begin painting. Notan is a Japanese term that refers to reducing a composition to either black or white. Illustrators use this tool to check for value masses and drama. One of the great lessons I’ve learned from master painter’s workshops is to clump all similar values into one common mass and try to limit those big masses to no more than four values. Three is better. If your composition reads well, then you know you’ll have a visually exciting painting that ‘works’.
So try, squinting at your subject and tighten down your vision until all details are lost. Examine the masses and vision them into black and white values. Can you improve on what you see in your reference photo or the landscape you see in person? Chances are, the answer will always be a resounding YES. Nature is beautiful, but composition for a painting almost always needs tweaking and adjusting. You’ll need to eliminate things like tangents, repeated objects, extraneous detail, etc. The composition is key and values are king.
If I take the photo I can manipulate it in photoshop to save time, but that really won’t help my artist’s eye develop. I know how to use technology to save time, however, relying on it can become a real crutch if I don’t paint every day, so I try to do everything old school if at all possible.
Here are some of my Notan studies. I used three grey alcohol based markers plus the white of the sketchbook paper for a total of four values. They are fast and not as messy as graphite or charcoal.
I started with the upper right box. The black was too dominant, so I know I don’t want the focal point to be the shadowed area. So the lower right was next and it was better, but the sky was too light. It would do in a pinch, but I want to feature the sunlight on the peninsula so lower left was the next try. It is better, but the sunlit area is TOO prominent, so I tried the upper left, with light sky and light peninsula, and very little darkest darks. This one draws the eye all around the painting, has interesting and varied shapes and gives good atmospheric perspective. This one is the keeper.
Oil Application on Arches Oil Paper
I created a neutral-toned canvas by rubbing in a grey oil paint thinned down to inky consistency. I wiped most of it off after a few minutes, leaving behind a neutral grey stain. Then I sketched in the composition using the same grey, but slightly thicker paint. I should mention that the Arches Huile paper had a fairly big buckle in it from improper storage on my part, and after the entire paper was painted in with the toned gray, it flatted out wonderfully (similar to stretching watercolor paper). That is a bonus I didn’t know about! Wahoo!
Here’s the first pass of color on the background. The paper handles with a slight drag on the brush, which I enjoy because it feels less like trying to paint with mayonnaise. I feel in control of the paint!
First layin of color using greatly thinned oil paint with Gamsol and Daniel Smith oil medium. The objective is to cover every square inch of paper with paint. That way I can set the values and color temperature of the entire painting from the very start. It will keep me on target when I start refining sections. Sometimes when we paint without a firm plan, the painting ‘evolves’ and morphs into something other than we intend. Which sometimes is exactly the excitement and energy we want. But, I’m trying to stick on target of my original vision, and setting the temperature and values right from the getgo is a big help.
I decided the clouds were too dark and menacing. As I am not going to paint the snow on the hillside, the clouds are going to be pushed back with a lesser importance. I’m excited to paint that portion of the photo someday, but not within the confines of my current size.
I’m happy with the progress so far. I deliberately pushed the cliff hills on the right into the Veridian green arena. I might alter this to blues as I go, but it’s too early to tell. I can start refining sections now that I have the correct values placed.
Now that the surface is covered in oil paint, the oil paper is reacting very much like hardboard. There is no flexible bend like there would be on canvas. I also don’t have to worry about my kiddos running around with a ruler and poking a hole in my painting from behind. (Yes, that has happened…..true confessions: maybe I did it, not the kiddos).
I changed the hue of the sky holes to brighten up the temperature and started to adjust the far right cliffs in color and hinting at a few details.
I’m excited to paint the peninsula in sunlight and the shadows on the bay, so I’ll focus on that next.
I added some details to the orchards and painted the trees on the peninsula and on the left side cliff. I ran out of daylight so I let it dry overnight. The Arches Huile paper absorbs the paint overnight very well and I can go back and glaze the next day. If it was heavily loaded with slower drying paint like Titanium white, for example, it would take longer before I could glaze.
Refining details on the tree cliffs on the left and adjusting values in the water and the shadows. I made a glaze of 1/3 OMS and 2/3 Daniel Smith Oil Painting Medium and used this to oil in the hills and water. Because I let the painting dry overnight, and it is dry to the touch, I need to oil in so that a glaze will adhere and float on the painting surface and it also serves to create a firmer bond with the new layer of paint.
Using this mix plus a tad more medium, I used a foam makeup sponge and glazed a bluer color over the far hills, over all the water and played with the sky holes and clouds a bit.
I mixed a greyed brown with my burgundy red and ultramarine blue and a neutral grey to get a dark greyed purple and then I glazed over all the shadowed areas to lower the overall values in the shadows. The paper provided just enough tooth to grab onto the glaze without a combed texture from the soft sable brush I was using. I could wipe the painting surface down with a soft cloth after a few moments to get the proper value and intensity.
Then I ramped up the highest values in the sunlit trees and using a small round brush created fir tree shapes.
I’m going to let it sit overnight again, as I’ve run out of time, however, this works out nicely as I can reassess tomorrow and begin refining the foreground. It’s going to remain in shadow, though, so I’ll have to be careful not to add much detail and keep the chroma greyed.
The last step is to adjust the details in the shadowed area of the peninsula. I want to keep all the values near each other because in real life details are lost in shadow and I don’t want the focal point to change from the sunlight area and distant vista. So, I’ll take it a step further and only suggest details in the foliage and in the road. Here’s where I especially don’t want to laboriously copy the photo. Photos inherently darken the shadow area ‘way too much. It would make for more drama if I took it that far, but in a painting, our eyes automatically sense that something is ‘off’ when we paint from a photo if we blacken everything in shadow down to an extreme. So, I stuck to the grey mauve palette and greyed down Veridian for the evergreen trees.
Here‘s the uncropped, unedited-for-color-accuracy final. I’ll post the color version I corrected in photoshop just below it and hope that your device reads it as I intended it. I’m not a pro photographer and I have less than ideal lighting in my ‘studio’ so this photo is not color accurate to the painting in person. Yes, I know you can purchase special daylight light bulbs and I have them. They render a photo soooo red on my phone! (the photos here are all taken on my phone). So, since I typically paint during daylight hours, my pictures are going to vary depending on what time of the day it is, as the light temperature and location changes as the sun passes over my home.
I’ll pop it into photoshop and adjust the colors to what it appears to be in real life, but here’s a shocker: even if I adjust it there, it may not show up accurately on your phone/monitor at your end. Each digital display unit has it’s own quirks and is not a uniform receptor for color accuracy from device to device to suit an artist’s eye for color variations. I’ve seen my work on other people’s phones and computer monitors and was shocked by how ‘off’ it was from the painting in person and what I posted on the internet. It makes me cringe. I HOPE your end sees the painting as I painted it, but it’s not likely. Professional digital people ( I am NOT) calibrate their monitors with special programs and instruments to a certain standard, but they have to assume that the receptor of their image does likewise.
I once visited my friend, a successful illustrator in her home studio. She had just gotten the contract to sell one of her pieces on a commercial product that was sold all over the world. I was AMAZED at her skill at represented on the product in my local store. When I saw the hand painted artwork in person, I was sort of stunned at how lackluster it was in real life, and less than perfectly created. She had imported it into photoshop and made a ton of adjustments to the image there, then sent that digital file to the client. Nowadays most illustrators do that at the very least. Many, many are strictly digital creators and don’t paint with real paints.
In my opinion, it is even more amazing when a skilled artist can paint or draw unassisted by digital tools. If the finished painting looks masterful, it is because the artist is a master with his/her media (which does not have a ‘go back’ button or instant merge and layering ability or cut and paste or, or, or).
Here’s another shocker: if I were to send this out for printing, I would have to pay to have the print shop print off a sample print, adjust the color on their end digitally or do it at home in my photoshop, then pay to repeat the printing sample. I’d have to do that as many times as it took for myself to be happy with the reproduction accuracy. Printers are another device just like phones and monitors that need tweaking for artist’s accuracy. So, here’s the image color corrected in photoshop below. I hope that your device reads it as I intend it. (But I’m not holding my breath!)
Final thoughts about painting on Arches Oil Paper
- I really enjoyed painting on the Arches Huile paper. It doesn’t have a linen grid texture that is such an issue with canvas. With canvas, you have to apply the paint fairly thickly to paint over the texture completely or do many layers of gesso and sanding as a prep stage a couple of days before you paint.
- The oil paper is taped to an easel support board which results in it feeling somewhat similar to hardboard, but with a small amount of drag. (Hardboard doesn’t have a lot of grab on its surface unless you add some texture with modeling paste.) This paper enables me to use very little paint on my brush if I choose to paint ‘drier’ in a scumbling approach. It would also work with an impasto technique very well.
- The paper absorbs the oil of the paint nicely so that paints dry nearly to the touch overnight. If you paint in thin layers, as I did here, this enables a glaze layer to be used the next day.
- If I painted larger than 16 x 20, I would recommend mounting your paper on an archival foam core or mat board or hardboard before you start painting because the paper will get heavier and have slight ripples from the weight of the paint at larger sizes.
- It will also be susceptible to creasing if not framed or mounted, so the finished painting needs protection once finished. Storing unframed paintings would be tricky: they’re too unstable for vertical storage unless mounted, and not stackable even when dry horizontally because oil paintings can stay tacky for a long time until they are completely and totally cured.
I hope you give Arches Oil Paper a try! I know I will keep several sheets on hand and make it a permanent option in my arsenal of painting supports.