How to create a realistic oil painting ?

It would be an understatement to say medium oil painting is a boon to the artists. Oil painting has various advantages over the other mediums techniques, output and durability wise. I am so glad I have been introduced to this medium much earlier during my practice otherwise it would have been difficult for me to achieve realism.

How important it is to learn the basics in order to achieve realism in oil painting ?

Presence and absence of light – black and white
People take art too very lightly. Especially when it comes to realism, just because it is easy for them to connect with realism, they think it is easy to create it on a paper or canvas. Most of them do not seem to understand the prerequisite knowledge and practice that it takes before one could try color.
It is extremely highly important to undertand values before you understand color, which means it is very important to understand presence and absence of light demarcation, before you understand color. The demarcation between presence and absence of light can only be learnt in monochrome, black and white medium like pencil or charcoal. It is very essential to understand the range of higher and lower values and only then will be able to see the middle-tones or midtones (the values that distribute themselves between higher and lower values).
Only after you understand monochrome values, color values will start making sense to you. You will be able to find a direct connect between the values that you see in a monochrome work and the values that you see in a color work.
Practice from life
Realistic artwork
It is extremely vital to practice from life, because it will help you understand skin tone in a better manner. It will give you several ideas on the mixing of colors in order to achieve a specific value or a  range of values. Also when you do a color portrait study from life, what happens is that the area of presence and absence of light and the values that are between these two zones will be clearly visible. You will know where the reflection happens on the subject. Let us be more specific, let us say we are practicing thigh from life, you will know the area of reflection and the range of reflection distribution on the thigh part.
When you do a portrait study from life, what happens is that, you will be able to guess the mixture of colors in order to achieve a particular tone and your values will get better as you keep practicing from life.

Process of my realistic oil painting

Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 1
Realistic artwork
This is a painting I did using the color scheme technique. Color scheme technique is something that I learnt from one of my seniors so you may not be able to find this term online. By color scheme technique I mean that I lay a rough foundation of the whole painting and then I decide my presenc e and absence of light zones. Being the first day at work, I have done a rough color scheme of the work which already gives an idea of the shadow and non-shadow areas.
Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 2
Realistic artwork
This is the rule I follow. I usually finish the background first and this will guide me on how to set the color on my main subject. If it is an afternoon light, let me focus on the background having the light and shadow of an afternoon light and then I would go to the main subject. As you can see, I have made more progress on the right hand side background of the work.
Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 3
Realistic artwork
Here in this image, this being the third day, you can see some progress on the left hand side background including the shadow of my subject (the girl on the platform). Though the shadow of the girl also belongs to the main subject, it can be seggregated and worked on.
Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 4
Realistic artwork
Day 4 is where I have brought the whole of the main subject (expect the rose pant) to the midtone level. You can see a clear demarcation on the presence and absence of light. This was done in 2020, so back then I usually bring the whole painting down to the midtone level. As a final step, I would go for the application of light/reflection on all the subjects. That will give the painting a beautiful effect.
Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 5
Realistic artwork
Day 5 is where I have just touched her pant part, maybe I was very lazy that day that I only touched the pant area. I have brought the pant area down to the midtone level, which means you can see plain prsence and absence of light zones without the details of reflection or shadow on the pant area.
Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 6
Realistic artwork
This is the final but one step. This is where I have intensified all the shadow areas, both the created shadow (cast shadow created due to the presence of subjects) and the absence of light zones (core shadow).
Realistic oil painting process  –  Day 7
Realistic artwork
This is where I create reflection/highlight on all the subjects and my main subject. I love this technique called scumbling. Scumbling is a techqnique that can be used wherever there is a possibility of reflection. I use it on both the living and non-living objects. This helps to make the reflection standout thereby giving a very realistic effect on the subject.
Realistic oil painting process  –  Varnishing a painting
This is the step where you will find the painting to come to life. After the painting is over, I allow for the painting to dry. What happens during the process of drying is that, you can find a lot of values, particularly the dark values losing its effect. It could be due to the heat here or perhaps the absorption of values by the canvas. Once after you apply varnish on the painting, you can see all the values coming to its fullest effect thereby giving the painting a new soul.

The effect of varnishing a painting

With all honesty, this is not the technique I use now. This painting was done in 2020, and I am using a different technique right now, which I will be updating soon. I was so crazy about the scumbling technique then that I would try to implement it wherever I could. Of course the result used to be extra-ordinary, but I have found a better study techqniue now which is fetching me better results and more sensible realism.
There is one thing that you should understand. I have been practising oil painting/art for tweleve years now, the colors and values that I see because of my experience and practice is something that you can not see or understand as a beginner. I see a lot of flaws in the paintings I did about 2 years back, because I see a lot more values and my wholistic approach to the painting now makes me view more tones and colors. That is why I have changed my process of painting. But everything has to start with the basics. Without knowing the basics of art, you may never be able to find the key ingredient for a magical painting.
I will be writing an article soon on the techniques scumbling and glazing and how I have modified them in my favor.

Ramya Sadasivam has been practicing art since 2006. She so loves to portray Indian culture, customs, day to day chores of the hard working laborers, happy village life and life of women.

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