Elaine's Method For Painting Models In Oils

Although I have experimented with acrylic, airbrushed acrylic, and colored pencil, my main painting technique is using artists' oil paints. I find that I love the fine blending I can do with them that is especially important for expressive faces. I still use the other methods, and in fact, have been known to use several methods to produce a single horse to get the exact effect I'm looking for in a particular color. Certain paints and techniques favor certain colors: in my opinion, greys work best with acrylic paint, while chestnuts are easiest with oils. The pencils are great for roaning, fleabites, and individual white hairs, though it's also possible to do a whole horse with them.

First, I produce a shaded basecoat on the model with my airbrush (over gesso, krylon sandable primer, and/or Createx airbrush white) in a color similar to my planned final color. I don't worry about highlights and shadows, just the flank lightening and pangare effects, and any strong saddle shading. The basecoat ends up looking like a very nice OF paint job.

Since the basecoat is close to my color, I don't have to worry about the paint not covering completely. I mix my colors, adding Japan Drier. Then, when I paint, I thin some paint with paint thinner so that it is quite thin and washy. When the paints are this thin, I can use both blocking and brushover techniques quite successfully.

I paint the head first, so I can hold the whole body for control, using all the colors on my palette, and working perhaps with slightly thinner paint than normal. I dab in the colors all over the head, then go back with a soft, small "cat's tongue" type brush and gently blend them together. I find giving the paint a little time to dry makes the shading work better when working this thin. Also, this technique keeps me from overblending, especially on areas like the face where the contrast adds drama (I blend the edges together, but don't necessarily blend the center of the color area much if at all.)

Next I do the body, blocking (and some brushover, depending on how contrasty I want the horse to be) the shadow, flank, and pangare areas in. I do one side at a time. I blend the areas together, and then when I'm happy with the basic color, I add highlight and shadow accents, then go back and blend those. Again, letting the paint dry a bit before trying to blend is often helpful, and paint that is to be brushed over is used a little thinner than the first color on the body.

I hold the horse by a leg or two, and do the legs last. If I'm planning white stockings, no problem. If not, then after I've done the whole rest of the body, I work down as far as I can leaving just one or two legs with dry spots. I put the horse down wherever he's going to be to dry, and paint the legs. I either push him around with the help of the hooves and tailbone, or put him on a piece of foil or wax paper so I can rotate him about (the lazy susan idea sounds great, but I have nowhere to put one!).

I use brushes for all my blending (though have experimented successfully with fingers, per an article in a very old JAH!), and I find that I only like really soft brushes. My favorites are "royal sable" which are sort of a weird white-tipped sable hair, but are hard to find. I know that using soft brushes for blending wears them out quickly, but I've somehow never been able to get other brushes to do the right thing! (So I am always pouncing on paintbrush sales... )

Sometimes I find that the paint hasn't covered as well as I like, or that the model is still lacking something in the face, or I find a blending problem. With the very thin wash that I use, I find that I can go back over the model and do a section (like the head) again, without having to paint the entire horse, as long as I drybrush the edges in. This is very useful!

I have heavily used Carol Williams' Color Formulas And Techniques, and I strongly recommend it for any model horse artist, using any media. The formulas are a good start for trying out new colors, and she has excellent information about realistic color patterns. It made a huge difference in my painting style and technique, and is largely responsible for the successes I've had with my painting.

To see more examples of my models and painting style, see my Gallery.

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