After publishing my 20-minute daily painting challenge a few weeks back, I was asked how I was able to paint for just 5 or 10 minutes at a time. After all, just cleaning up oil paint, brushes, and supplies usually takes longer than that—if you only spend a short time painting to begin with, it doesn’t seem worth it!
And that’s exactly right. When I started my daily painting challenge, I knew that if I wanted to get more painting done, I’d need to streamline two rather time-consuming parts of my process: getting ready to paint and cleaning up afterward.
Beyond that, I also wanted to be more efficient in the middle of every painting session. So today I’m going to describe exactly what I did to change my painting habits and free myself from the “normal” time constraints of oil painting!
1. Start with pre-mixed frozen paint
The best thing I’ve ever done when it comes to getting ready to paint is learning how best to store paint between sessions.
When I began storing paint in the freezer to keep it fresh, I also reduced the amount of time it took to set up for painting. All I have to do is remove my previous session’s painting palette out of the freezer about half an hour before I want to paint. By the time I’m ready, the paint is pliable and ready, too. Absolutely no time is required to set up a fresh palette unless I need a different color.
2. Limit color-mixing while painting
I use a variation on the Classical method of painting known as the Flemish or Seven-Step Painting Method. My oil paintings are developed through seven phases beginning with a detailed line drawing and working through an imprimatura, a couple of under painting layers, and color glazing.
Until the color glazing phase, the palette I use is reasonably restricted. The umber under painting, for example, is usually one color only—or at most, a mix of two.
So when I’m working on any of these phases, I don’t need to mix paints on a palette. I work straight from the tube. If blending is necessary, I do it on the surface of the painting.
That may seem like a small thing, but working straight from the tube whenever possible eliminates the time I otherwise spend setting up a palette and mixing paint. (I do like playing with color, but it’s not my primary goal, so I don’t miss this step as much as you might think.)
As I mentioned briefly above, when I need to mix colors of paint, I use foam plates that can then be stored in a freezer between sessions. That means I don’t need to spend time mixing paint a second time unless I run out.
3. Use rags instead of brushes if possible
For painting large areas or thin layers of oil paint, I use clean rags. You would be surprised at how well a rag spreads paint over a canvas. It’s very quick and easy to create a transparent layer with even the most opaque color by using a rag.
Just fold a clean cloth into a manageable “wad,” pick up some oil paint off a palette or from a tube, and rub it onto the painting. Continue to work the paint around until it’s the desired consistency on the painting surface and you’re done.
Notice that there are no brushes to clean afterward. Just hang up the rag to dry. And the biggest time-saving element is that the paint doesn’t dry as fast either. That may seem counter-intuitive, but it saves me time because it allows me to work into day-old or older paint that’s still as fresh as the day I put it on the canvas.
And, if I notice a mistake the next day, I can wipe off the paint with little or no staining and continue painting without the delay of complicated fixes or repainting.
4. Switch to walnut oil-based paint for easy clean-up
For most of my painting life, cleaning has been the biggest waste of painting time. I have a lot of brushes that I’ve had for years and which I want to continue using for years, so I was careful to clean them at the end of every painting day. Depending on the number of brushes I used, that could easily take up to an hour, and it always required a lot of effort.
The solution to this problem fell in my lap when I switched to a walnut oil-based paint. When you paint with walnut oil, your brushes can be cleaned just by wiping them with a clean cloth.
That’s right! If I’m planning to paint again that day or even the next day, I wipe my brushes and that’s it. If the brushes are particularly dirty, all I have to do is dip them into clean walnut oil and wipe them again, then repeat that process as needed.
Since walnut oil is also a conditioner, I can dip the cleaned brushes in clean walnut oil, wipe off the excess, and they’re good. If I’m painting every day, I’d clean them this way until the end of the week. At the end of the week, I clean them thoroughly with soap and water. That’s all they need.
An added bonus is that you don’t need solvents or thinners to clean your brushes. I found that my brushes stay in better condition now than they’ve ever been.
5. Store your unused paint for next time
If I’m going to be painting the next day, I slip my foam plate and unused paint (AKA, my painting palette) into a resealable bag and it’s good.
Of course, if it will be a while before the next painting session or if I won’t need that particular color for a while, it goes into the freezer. No muss, no fuss!
If you take just one tip away from this article, make it this last one. Freezing your oil paint will save you hours. . . and trust me, no palette clean-up time and no set-up time makes for a very relaxing start and finish to every painting session!
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