Creative Process: Oil Sketches

“Expression implies emphasis and selection”

I am not sure where I first came across this quote, however I had it posted in my studio for several years to remind me daily of this idea. To me the idea that “expression implies emphasis and selection” is what the creative process is all about. 

In order to synthesize my experience into a work of art, I need to investigate it and then choose how I will express my interpretation of the scene. 

This is why oil sketches are so important to my creative process. Because oil sketches are little bets I can take to investigate the specifics of a given subject in pursuit of an artistic idea.

A few years ago, I began to regularly use oil sketches, however in the last year they have become a part of my active studio process. I use them principally in two ways: 1) to study color and 2) to study form. 

Oil Sketches to Study Color

One of my favorite ways to use oil sketches is to explore color. Often I set a timer for these explorations, because I want to just focus on capturing the correct colors I see. With the time constraint, I know I won’t have time to refine edges and paint to the level refinement and clarity I love.

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Here are some colors studies of Naomi and her friend Kaiya.  These were super short, like 15 to 20 minutes max for each head.

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Here is a quick 20 minute color study of Naomi on Mother's Day this year!  She posed for me and then I posed for her.  I hope this can become an annual tradition!

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Here are some colors studies completed in plein air when the sun was setting and I was racing against the turning of the earth, again these were 15-20 minutes each.

What is most important with these studies is that I record the color, I see without much interpretation. The experience then lends me knowledge for future times when I am working from a photo reference. Photos do not always capture accurate color and value, and they are not as sensitive to nuance as the human eye can see, so it is especially important to have lots of experience of working from life.

Oil Sketches to Study Form

The other way I utilize oil sketches is to explore the expression of form in painting.

You might ask, what is form in regards to the practice of painting? In a painting, form is the expression of the third dimension on a two-dimensional format. It is not only the outlines of objects, but also the sense of bulk, weight, and space within the picture plane.

I paint oil sketches just to explore form when I am curious about how I would convey the properties of shape, size, color, and texture within a compositional arrangement.

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With still-life sketches, I am often exploring texture and the interaction of negative space (present or absent) that unifies all the elements within the composition.

With the studies of form, I am interested in expressing all the big ideas that I am currently investigating. So accuracy in color, value, and edge quality are important and I take pains to express these qualities in a study because they deepen my experience with a given subject.

Oil sketches are invaluable to my creative process and with each sketch I grow in my abilities to express my personal sense of beauty in paint.

Later this year, for the first time ever, a collection my oil-sketches will be available for sell. If you are interested in receiving notice when these oil-sketches will be on sale, please sign up here.  (Select the box for “Studio news, sneak peeks, and special offers (~12 per year)”)  Only those on this list will receive an invitation to the sale.