New Territory

sea anemone oil painting
New Territory, oil on canvas

Just before my last semester in college one of my art teachers finally got me to start using oil paint instead of acrylic paint. I was scared because I hadn’t been formally trained in oil paints and there seemed to be a lot of rules for using them. Something about turpentine and mediums and oils. Plus the drying times are so different.

My first oil painting was rather dark and I had trouble making it brighter, largely because oil paint takes infinitely longer to dry than acrylic paint does and I wasn’t very patient.

I didn’t want to make the same mistake with my second one.

I decided to take a very different approach with my second oil painting. Super thick sections of paint contrasted with very thin sections.

While researching potential subject matter I came across some pictures of tide pools and sea anemones. They amazed me with how squishy looking they were and the different colors they could be. After looking into them a bit, I determined they would be the perfect subject for my second oil painting ever.

I actually did a base painting in acrylic paint to develop the background and offer more to show through the thin sections of oil paint I was planning on. It had to look like water, and water always looked like there was more to it. More depth and more layers.

I did multiple layers of thin oil paint to continue creating this depth. Then I got to the sea anemones. They required pokey parts and thick lines. At the time, my sole supply of oil paint was a set of 30 or so tiny tubes of pre-mixed shades of greens and blues and reds. I used these pretty much without mixing any of my own colors.

I didn’t know what I was doing in terms of the paint itself, but I still knew how to paint. There had to be a balance between the colors and a contrast or highlight added later to bring more intrigue.

The blue on each anemone is the spiky parts, the green in the middle are their gelatinous centers, and the brown sections are their structures. I laid the paint on extremely thickly to show the dimension of the anemones, but I couldn’t leave the thick parts shoved into one section of the canvas.

To remedy this I layered thicker sections to lead the eye through the whole painting, balancing it by sight and thickness.

These days my paintings take on a complete life of their own. I start with colors I want to use and from there each brush stroke informs the next one. New Territory was my first well-thought-out oil painting. I planned the thicknesses and the organization of the painting. And if I can say so myself, I did a pretty good job. I haven’t really analyzed this painting before, and I’m actually impressed with how well I balanced the lines and focal points of the painting. For my first truly planned oil painting I’d say I did pretty well.


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