Instant Oil Painting || Noel Gregory

It’s a title that’s going to make you take a step back. Instant oil painting? Is that possible? I mean, don’t oils take months to dry and a lifetime to learn and isn’t it supposed to be, well, difficult?

Those are the myths. There’s a mystique about oil painting which has largely grown up out of the fact that oils appear in big gilt frames in prestigious galleries and have old master names attached to them. These historic masterpieces also tend to be very sombre and worthy, often, it has to be said, because they’ve been around for a couple of hundred years and could really do with a good clean. How Clean Is Your Painting, hmmm? Now there’s a TV series no-one’s going to be making any time soon, I’ll be bound. Watercolours, by comparison, have an association with the amateur, with bright colours and with Victorian ladies who combined a little watercolour with a little embroidery and a few good works. So very civilised.

The truth, of course, is that watercolour fades more easily than oil, so you really only see the paintings that have been kept away from light and retained their freshness. Because you don’t varnish them, the same problems of age darkening don’t occur. With the exception of J M W Turner and the painters of the Norwich School, there are few famous names attached to the medium.

Any art teacher will tell you that, because watercolour is a transparent medium, you can’t paint over it easily and that it really has to be got right first time, which actually makes it much more difficult for the beginner than an opaque medium such as oils, acrylic or gouache. But you know that. For heaven’s sake, with modern low-odour thinners, they’re not even smelly!

So, what do we actually have here? Well, probably one of the best introductions to oil painting you could wish for. The “instant” bit is that Noel shows you how to complete a painting in less than a day. That’s not groundbreaking in itself, but it means you don’t have to spend ages fiddling with detail. I’ve seen books that do this and, frankly, it can be a bit of a gimmick, but that’s not the case here. This isn’t about any kind of sleight of hand or “get it down quickly and leave it alone”, but rather a straightforward manual that encourages you to concentrate on the subject, not the method of painting it.

After a short introduction to materials and basic techniques, the book itself consists mainly of a series of 9 demonstrations covering trees, landscapes, flowers, still lifes and figures in a straightforward style that doesn’t use any particularly tricky techniques and uses brushes rather than knives for paint application. Noel generally paints in impasto rather than going for the brushed-out approach and this maintains the freshness of his get-on-with-it approach.

Experienced oil painters aren’t going to gain a huge amount from this book and it isn’t aimed at them, but rather at anyone who fancies having a go and has perhaps already got started and doesn’t really know where to go next. The paintings are pleasant and the demonstrations sufficiently well illustrated to make the progression easy to follow and, overall, the book should make you feel good about oil painting and want to do more of it.

First published 2006

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