Tutorial 1-5 - Painting!

Go on then


  • we have a filtered reference photo
  • we have a sketch of it on our prepared canvas
  • we have chosen some colours from our reference
  • we know how to mix them
  • we can see those colours should go overlaid on the sketch

Now just put the right colours in the right places.

Considerations for the order of attack

Colour mixing speed

At first it may take a long time to mix colours. Depending on our choice of materials it may not be possible to mix everything we need and then just paint. The first mixes will start to dry out before we're ready (I'm looking at you acrylics).

Opacity and coverage

If we cannot properly cover our canvas in a single pass we are forced to do multiple layers.

At its simplest this means repeatedly painting over the same colours until it's completely covered.


Consider using multiple layers each with a different role.

Layers to consider


Consider using gesso to smooth and protect the surface and to provide some grip for the paints.

Tone, imprimatura

An initial colour stain over the whole surface. This can make colour judgement easier than working on a white canvas.


A minimalist sketch to position the elements should be sufficient.


A good way of simplifying the normal painting process is to focus on only one dimension of colour in the underpainting. Choose either hue first or value first:

Hue first (with a nod to saturation)

Jeff's block-in

Sometimes called the colour block-in.

Paint in the approximate colours of each element. This makes subsequent layers easier without having to worry so much about opacity.

If we trace the page alignment markers it is easy to retrace any lost sketch lines once this is dry.

Value first

The tonal underpainting is often a grisaille (grey), verdaccio or verdaille (green/grey), brunaille or bistre (brown) or dead (blue/grey) layer. This gives the artist the chance to refine the drawing without worrying about hue and saturation. It gives a chance to compare the values across the whole picture, which is much more difficult in full colour.

Either way, don't paint over any alignment markers.

Live Colour layer
Adding colour to a monochrome underpainting

If the underpainting is good then it may be possible to use transparent washes and glazes to it without doing much more modelling.

I haven't had much success with glazes and washes over a value modelling layer and I end up painting opaquely over the top.

Refining a colour block-in

This is largely more of the same. Choose a colour, mix it up and paint it in. Simples.


Final adjustments to the colours using transparent paints.


The final opaque additions to the brightest highlights and deepest shadows.


It's best to leave oil paints for a few months to cure before varnishing but it's not always possible. Apply two layers brushed in different directions.

Drying time considerations for layering

When painting in layers I struggle to put new paint on unless the old layer is thoroughly dry.

Each layer should leave room for the next.

Before each new layer the canvas (ideally dried during 7 weeks) is carefully wiped with a half of an onion (in order to prepare the dried surface to absorb better) and then with linseed oil Alexei L. Antonov
Textured paint

We may want to paint with a thick impasto texture.

It is difficult to work in an iterative way unless the early layers are thin and smooth. It's also very hard to glaze over textured paint to perform any final adjustments.

Colour texture
Rembrandt van Rijn - Self-Portrait - Google Art Project

Large flat areas of colour can sometimes come across as dull in a painting even when they are like that in reality. Consider adding some variety to such areas. Slight variation of hue and saturation can add interest. Varying the value may make a surface look uneven or textured. Don't vary the value so much that an area in shadow becomes lighter than an area in the light or vice versa.

Refine verses render

We have previously mentioned the different approaches of the refiners verses the renders. The first requires layers with their associated problems. The second requires multiple colours be available at the same time and has opacity and coverage problems.

Opaque pigments

From a post on wetcanvas

Here is a general list of opaque pigments that should work very well to help you easily paint opaquely:

Titanium White (PW6)
Flake/Cremitz/Lead White (PW1)
Titanium Buff or Unbleached Titanium (PW6:1)
Genuine Cadmium Reds (PR108, 108:1)
Genuine Cadmium Yellows (PY35, 37, 35:1, 37:1)
Nickel Yellow (PY53, PY157)
Bismuth Yellow (PY184)
Chromium Titanate Yellow or Naples Yellow Deep (Pbr24)
Cerulean Blue (PB35, PB36)
Venetian Red (PR101)
Mars Black (PBk11)
Carbon Black (Pbk6, 7)
Terra Rosa (PR101)
Indian Red (PR101)
Some brands of Burnt Sienna (PBr7), Raw Sienna (Pbr7, PY43), Yellow Ochre (PY42, or 43), and Burnt Umber (PBr7)
Mars Yellow (PY42)
Mars Red (PR101)
Mars Violet (PR101)
Chromium Oxide Green (PG18)
Some brands of Cobalt Green (PG19, PG26, PG50)
Ivory Black (PBk9)
Manganese Violet (PV16)
Cobalt Turquoise (PB36)
Cobalt Teal (PG50)

Other opaque paints are rumoured to include Payne’s grey, lemon yellow, scarlet lake, Indian red and Vandyke brown.

From another post on wetcanvas

Generally, if the paint comes out of the tube shiny, it's transparent. If it comes out of the tube dull, it's opaque.

Painting process considerations

Brush stroke visibility and economy

Less is more.

Many of the great painters I admire, masters like Sargent, Velazquez, Zorn and Rembrandt, created powerful, bold paintings, combining realism with looseness. They had excellent brush stroke economy. Deliberate and telling.

Make every stroke count. Mixing plenty of paint saves a huge amount of time.

Brush size
Use the biggest brush you can get away with for a particular passage. Or bigger.
Paint consistency

I like my paints to be as liquid as possible but still cling to a vertical palette and canvas. Adding medium usually makes paint more transparent but the first little bit can, counter intuitively, actually aid coverage. Sometimes I add a little dab more medium when taking paint from the palette to the canvas.


At the opposite end of the brush stroke economy is overworking the paint. It's not so bad with acrylics and oils but pushing paint back and forth can cause it to ball up and look gritty and dirty. There is a tendency for adjacent areas to bleed into each other until all contrast is lost and the painting becomes murky and flat.

Make one or two paint strokes, stop, scoop up some fresh paint on your brush, and make another one or two strokes. Repeat. Do not make too many brush strokes before you stop to reload. David Limrite

Every stroke should serve a purpose. Every touch should make the painting better or it shouldn't be done.


Hard, soft and lost. Be conscious of your treatment edges. Variation of techniques can be used to lead the eye. Our eyes tend to be drawn towards hard edges so use them near the focal point.

Leading the eye

Choose a focal point where you want to lead the viewer's attention. Emphasise lines and paths that lead the eye there. Elsewhere be sparing with details, high contrasts, sharp edges, saturated colours and tight rendering.


There are many stages of the painting process when it's useful to compare our work in progress with our reference. From checking the placement of the lines of the initial sketch to the finding the colour differences during painting.

When we transferred the sketch or outlines to the canvas we should have also transferred the image alignment markers. These should be visible in our photos of our work in progress.

Loading a canvas image

A canvas image can be loaded via the menu:

or, once the layout is locked, by dragging an image and dropping it onto the work area.

The application can also monitor a directory for images using:

and direct an automatically loaded image to be a canvas image using:

Miscellaneous Monitor destination canvas ⌥⌘C
or C or using the checkbox in the toolbar at the bottom.

Aligning a canvas image

canvas image loaded

When a new canvas image is loaded the Canvas layer is shown centered and rescaled so we can see all of it and we can reposition the alignment pointers.

drag to position the pointers

Hold down the key and drag the pointers to the approximate positions of where their corresponding image alignment markers were traced.

{cursor key} to zoom to a pointer

With the the key still held down press a cursor key for the view to become centred on a pointer and zoomed in to the centre_on_pointer_scale so we can make finer adjustments.

drag to finely position a pointer

Continue to hold down the key and position the pointer on the marker.

Press different cursor keys to focus on each of the pointers to adjust them all.

A to align the canvas

When we are happy with the pointers we call the canvas alignment filter:

or just A

Once the canvas image has been aligned switch between the Canvas layer and the other layers to check the alignment is correct.

If the preference align_on_new_canvas has been set to true the next canvas image will automatically be aligned using the previous marker positions. The view layer, pan or scroll won't change.

Canvas inclusion in the paint layer

As previously discussed in the virtual palette, when the Paints layer is updated it is rendered the from colours of the the enabled palette entries that are nearest to the filtered subject. But once we have loaded an image of our work-in-progress we're really interested in working on those areas where the palette entries are a better match than what is already on the canvas.

We can allow the good bits of the Canvas layer to be included in the the Paints layer using the Canvas weighting slider control on the Palette 2 tool tab.

When it is set at zero the canvas is not included at all. Slide it up to one and the canvas is shown at those places where it is a better match than any enabled palette entry. If you have a good selection of entries this is still a big ask and it's probable that not much will be of the canvas shown. In order to show up the physical painting has to be better than the entries that were probably used to paint it!

When the slider is set above one the Canvas layer is being given some leeway, a palette entry has to be significantly better to be used instead of the canvas.

It can be hard to see where the canvas is used and where the palette entries are. Showing the seLections layer above the Paints layer and selecting all the palette entries so they are highlighted just leaves the canvas contribution showing. The reverse can be shown by highlighting the canvas contribution on the seLections layer with:

Layer comparison methods

Comparison by eye

Simply flip between the layers to see that everything is lined up.

Specifying comparison layers

We can specify two particular layers as the comparison layers with:

We can quickly toggle between the two comparison layers with the menu item:

Work area Comparisons Toggle comparison layers ⌘/ or more usually, the hotkey /

Comparison timer

We can also set the comparison layers to alternate on a timer with:

Work area Comparisons Alternate comparison layers ⌘ or more usually, the hotkey ;

The timing can be adjusted with:

Automated comparisons

The Comparison 4 tool tab allows us to select any two layers and perform comparisons between them. The slider controls the sensitivity of the comparison.

Comparison types

The comparison types can be selected from a drop-down control or from the menu

The choices are:

► Highlight out of threshold areas

Highlight those pixels where the colour difference is greater than threshold slider value.

Show unmatched colours

The pixels are the same as for the Highlight option above but are shown as the colour from comparison comparand 1


The colour shown indicates the colour distance between the subject image and a photo of the canvas.


The colour shown indicates the difference in the luma between the layers
where luma is the vertical coordinate for the current colour space.


The colour shown indicates the difference in the saturation between the layers
where saturation is the radial coordinate for the current colour space.


The colour shown indicates the difference in the hue between the layers
where hue is the angular coordinate for the current colour space.

Hue and saturation

The colour shown indicates the difference in the hue scaled by the saturation between the layers.


Difference: the same as the difference blending mode in GIMP.


The colour of the glaze that would get the canvas closer to the subject. Colour difference extended and exaggerated by a slider value. Pay particular attention to colours that aren't simply an exaggerated version of the subject.

Of course, just because the comparison layer is showing a difference doesn't mean you have t do anything about it. It's just information to be used or ignored as you see fit. It's just an artists's helper but you are the artist.

If you make any mistakes and muck something up just carry on. Always finish every painting. There is more to learn in the final stages and detailing and if you only get there once or twice for every half dozen starts then it will take you three times as long to hone your skills.

Mistakes are never as bad as you think. Acrylics and oils are both very forgiving. If it's still wet scrape it off if it's dry just paint over it.

Save the project

Save the project again. Habit.