Painting in Oils

Painting in Oils

by Ryno Swart


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This book was not so much written as constructed, somewhat like a painting. It is a collection of teaching notes from nearly thirty years, each note created in the crucible of an art class.

A comment from one of his readers:

Ryno Swart has written a book as magical as the most successful painting . . . it says what needs to be said-no more, no less. It gets to the heart of the matter and is peppered with pithy and relevant notes such as
"Half the skill of painting is leaving it alone."
"You can't make a painting work; you can only allow it to work."
"A painting must be conducted like a military campaign; planned and organised and strategised."

This is a book that should not lie on a coffee table or grace a bookshelf. This is a book that should be propped up in your studio or wherever you work and should soon become spotted and splashed with paint.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466988200
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 08/12/2013
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.21(d)

Read an Excerpt

Painting in Oils

By Ryno Swart

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Ryno Swart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4669-8820-0


This note is a summary of some of the techniques covered in my classes. From the start, it is clear that art is as much about who we are as about what we do.

Good art is the celebration of a good mind, and great art is the celebration of a great mind.

Oil painting.

1. Composition. At least 6 sbw, careful studies, closure.

2. Palette Preparation. always set out all your colours.

3. Colour beginning. Big crush, Torps, rich generous wish.

4. Imprimatura. Wipe away lights, scumble in dark colour.

5. Composition block-in. Closure shapes onto canvas line.

6. Tonal mass-in. Scumble for accurate darks

7. Direct painting. Look, mix, paint.

8. Impasto. Whites, palette or brush. Generous.

9. Glaze. Oil medium + transparent colour generous wash.

10. Tonal restatement. Scumbly darks Truecolour.

11. Drawing for proportion. Triangulate.

12. Direct painting.

13. Impasto.

14. Edges. Hard + soft; lost + found.

A well prepared palette is as important to an artist as a well-tuned violin is to a musician. You need to be able to find any note without searching.

Colour mixing is an art in itself. There is an ideal place on your palette for each tint, even the most subtle.

Preparation for oil painting.

Palette. Wooden.

Always set out all your colours.

Use small amount of colour, keep replenishing.

Thumbhole is bevelled for righthanders.

Compatible neightbours ensure clean mixtures.

Painting medium.

¾ geniune turpentine.

¼ linseed oil






Palette Knife.

Where you work can be as important as how you work. The vital thing is that the light should be balanced and constant and that your workspace should be an inviting place, because this is where you will spend a major part of your life.

Setting up.

Accustom yourself to working standing up. This way you can use the necessary body english and also step away form your work. Half the skill of painting is leaving it alone.

It does not really matter how cluttered your work area is; as long as you have room to step back, you will feel comfortably free.

Composition is the big mystery in art.

Composition by closure is a method for artists who work by observation. It works by placing a silhouette of your motif within your picture frame.

The frame doesn't change, nor does the motif, but the space between the motif and the frame (the closure shape) can be manipulated and explored.

Composing by closure.

In a painting, the shapes between objects are as real as the objects themselves.

The nature of these shapes are highly expressive, in a suggestive way.

By using closure for composition, we can be highly original without "changing" what we see.

Subdividing the picture area.

The mathematical way: Bach. The free way: Beethoven.

Turner turned a problem into an asset when professional colourmen started to produce stretched canvas in bulk and replaced the tinted grounds preferred by most artists with plain white.

Turner's background in watercolour led him to create a loose, suggestive, watercolour-like initial wash (colour beginning) in oil paint.

Colour beginning. (Imprimatura)

White is the artists' most precious colour and it should not just appear where you didn't get around to painting.

This is why when artists prepared their own canvasses, they used coloured grounds.

Commercial canvas is white, to allow us to tint it to our own preference.

Turner made this tinting part of the painting process: Big bruch, Thin, transparent, rich colour, turps only as medium.

Broad wash-from top down, either as a single tint; or as lively colour variation.


A beautifully soft rendering of the tonal masses of your composition can be achieved by wiping away the semi-dry pigment. (Moisten with turps, if you like).

We do not actually see faces or trees or apples. We can see only areas of colour, darker and lighter and of specific shape. Our minds interpret these patterns of light and dark as a face or a tree or an apple. Once we can map out these shapes of light and dark, the image emerges and the painting flows smoothly.

Study after nature.

There are times when working directly form nature, when no technique or skill seems to be of any use. All we can do, is humbly to copy the grace and simplicity of what we see.

1. Establish placement.

2. Find major proportion. Triangle. (1. Lump of clay 2. Sculpting 3. Refining)

3. Lightly track along-(negative shape) the lines of your subject

4. gently map out light/shade

5. Lay in tonal texture. Patience.

Art cannot help us master nature.

Nature, only, can help us master art.

Sometimes artists prefer to start with an intentionally vague atmospheric indication of the tonal masses of their subjects, allowing for easy and natural changes to be made.

At other times we may prefer to draw careful outlines of form, or of the lightshapes. This is much more accurate but it does not encourage the same looseness and shifting masses.

In 'Mavericks' I used both methods.


Broadly establishing the tonal and atmospheric nature of your picture, is known as massing-in.

Initial colour wash.




Dry, dragged paint.

Scumble: The loose, dynamic scrubbing on of thick, dry, transparent pigment to establish, as broadly as possible, the dark areas of the composition. Work for true colour. Use transparency and wiping away for light areas. Use no white at this stage.

Tonal work







As an alternative to, or addition to the more atmospheric mass-in; you can use the more accurate method of blocking-in.

A fine filbert or round bristle brush. Paint mixed to an inky consistency. Line drawing.

Incredible accuracy of proportion can be achieved by careful observation of the angles between paints.

Use your brush both as a sighter, and as a ruler; even while retaining its role as a drawing instrument.

Excerpted from Painting in Oils by Ryno Swart. Copyright © 2013 Ryno Swart. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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