Mark Cross
Mark Cross - Contemporary Realist Artwork

Notes on Oil Technique


Enlarged Painting Detail
Enlarged Painting Detail


This is a basic outline of my oil painting technique. Depending on the nature of the landscape elements I am depicting, more complicated methodology may be use.

Except for photographic trekking expeditions, my paintings are 100% studio created and photograph derived. They are not strictly photorealism in the sense that they are not direct copies of photos as I manipulate the composition of the photo(s) often quite extensively in order to perfect the composition of the painting or to create an idea (usually when figures are added to the landscape). The process is also 100% dry on dry. Using the Windsor and Newton medium Liquin, the drying time is 12-48 hours depending on the pigment used and the climate where the painting is done.

 Different parts of the painting require different techniques although in general, once the rough under-painting has been blocked in, the whole painting is created with the layering of small brush strokes usually from a #2 round watercolour brush. This usually includes clouds but blue skies are generally over-layers of transparent zinc white thinned with Liquin and tinted with different blues from a green blue to a purple blue. This is carefully applied in gradients of tone with a large brush then blended subtly by a stippling or dabbing action with a 1 inch semi-flat house-paint brush. This is a very precise and subtle technique where each consequential layer, tends to cancel out the inaccuracies of the former layer resulting in a smooth tonal gradation of different shades of blue “speckles”, a very subtle texture which tends to give the sky a vibrant feel where a simple coat of blue tends to render the sky rather flat and dull.

 Different elements of the landscape require different types of brush strokes but generally I start off with an under painting using a medium to large hog-hair brush, roughly matching the tonal value or slightly darker than that of the envisaged final painting. This is usually mixed with Liquin so that the white ground shows through the semi transparent paint and a texture is created with the brush or other tools that roughly correspond to the form of the texture of that specific part of the painting when it is finished. Once dried the smaller watercolour brush is used to refine the already rough texture of the under painting by adding darker tones in small brushstrokes (shadows) while also starting to define the form of the particular element of the painting such as forming a rock or contours of the land. This stage of the painting is similar to watercolour painting where I go from light to dark. The very dark Indigo is often but not always the main ingredient here, in varying degrees of transparency thinning with liquin. This makes the overall painting darker than the final outcome so once dry, I build up the surface with layers of highlights in varying degrees of tone using the opaque, Titanium white, with less liquin and tinted accordingly. Once dry, to built on the texture, sometimes I will revert back again to the darker “shadow” tone, allow to dry and go back to the highlights again. The final procedure is to finish with a final highlight with the lightest tonal value required, sometimes with pure white or yellow out of the tube.

 Other techniques are also employed to render specific surfaces. EG to create grainy textures such as pebbles or sand I carefully flick paint on to the canvas, carefully hitting a larger brush with a piece of wood toward the canvas and taking into account perspective (big drops in the foreground and small in the back) I go from dark to light as above. This creates a random, natural look but the drops lack form so I modify many of them with brush stokes of shadow and highlight.

 Much here is similar to traditional landscape painting techniques however the major differences are the size of the brushes used and the fast and loose "scribling" technique which with small brushes, when over laid several times, gives the whole surface a overall grainy and vibrant look. The constant overlapping of transparent and opaque paint on a small scale adds to this. Close examination can reveal the white of the ground shining through the underpainting so nothing is ever completely covered up by opaque paint.

 This is a rough outline of how I create basic landscape elements. Rendering water tends to be more complex and although the above procedure is basically used, most often a more complex and subtle technique needs to be applied. Likewise man made objects, cloth and the human form require variations on the above techniques (See Below).



Enlarged Painting Detail
Enlarged Painting Detail