Showing posts from 2019

Answers to your questions about my upcoming oil painting course

Some of you have asked me to clarify details about this course and I'm hoping this answers any questions that you have.

When and where is the course held and how much is it?

The course runs every Thursday for 12 weeks at Swinton's Art Supply studios in Calgary.
Dates: January 9 - March 26
Hours: 9am - 12pm
Price: $432 + gst

Do I need to have experience in painting to join?

No. This is a comprehensive course that is suitable for beginners and painters in other mediums who want to learn oils from the ground up. You also don't have to have taken Foundations 1. I'll review and reinforce concepts from F1 and will make sure that no painter is left behind.

I've painted in oils in the past. Will this course be too basic for me?

Experienced oil painters have taken this course and they tell me they've learned an enormous amount about paint, colour, composition and brushwork.

The course will fill in any gaps in your basic technical knowledge while also addressing higher conc…

New 12 week painting class in Calgary

Foundations of Oil Painting 2
Thursdays Jan. 9 - March 26, 2020 9am - 12pm Swinton's Art Supply Studios  Calgary, AB
I'm offering a 12 week oil painting course at Swinton's studios in Calgary beginning in January and I hope you'll sign up!

In it, you'll learn the ins and outs of oil painting from mixing colours using a versatile 8-colour palette to constructing a painting from beginning to end. 

My goal is to teach you how to tackle a subject with a logical approach, bold and varied brushwork and edges, and accurate colour. As well,  you'll learn how to use the paint to create rich and interesting surfaces.

I'm a paint nerd so my instruction will cover both the technical and aesthetic aspects of oil painting.  We'll work with either a low or no solvent method and I'll emphasize safe painting and studio practises throughout.

The majority of the course will be taught from life using still life objects, but I'll use still life to teach concepts that y…

The problem with water soluble oils

I teach a lot of painters each year and, increasingly, I see them bring water mixable oils to my classes.  Their rationale is understandable: they want to avoid exposure to dangerous chemicals and think that the AP non toxic classification on the label means that these paints are globally harmless.

It doesn't.

"A product can be certified nontoxic only if it contains no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans, or to cause acute or chronic health problems". The focus of that designation is us.

AP non toxic doesn't consider the plants, animals, and microorganisms that will be exposed to our pigment if we put it down the sink or in landfill where it will eventually break down and enter the watershed
Checking out the online MSDS sheets posted by every paint manufacturer will tell you a different story.  Under environmental or aquatic toxicity, you'll find phrases like: "no data available" or "unclear".

Water mixabl…

How not to frame a painting

I haven't been sleeping well lately.  Maybe it's the realization that summer is ending or maybe it's the phases of the planets - whatever the cause, sleep deprivation rules and has me prone to making mistakes.  And I made a doozy on this painting. 

Framing in-progress works is a great way to tell if they're finished or to highlight problem areas, so I put this piece in a frame when it felt potentially done.  It wouldn't stay put, however: it kept falling out which didn't allow me to judge the effect of the framing.  I decided to shoot some framing darts in to hold the painting in place for a good examination.  Picking up the "framing tool" from my work table,  I pressed it onto the back of the panel, and confidently squeezed.  It was actually the staple gun.  Same colour, heft and means of deployment - a squeeze - but different outcomes.

The staple blew a piece of the birch panel up, making the work instantly unsaleable.

The interesting moment came, h…

commissioned work

I recently finished this very enjoyable commission for a client in eastern Canada. 

Commissions can be daunting because I know that the client has an idea of what they want the finished piece to look like.  In their minds are all the paintings they've ever admired and those that they've disliked on sight.  They have favourite colours which can vary from loathed colours by a tiny, but significant difference in hue or value, and they know exactly how realistic or stylized they like a work to be.   But they can seldom articulate these subtle biases.  Like most of us, they know what they like but couldn't specify why. 

So when this client asked me to create a work based on Klimt's "Flower Garden" but incorporating colours and blooms from my past work, I was nervous.  There were a lot of variables of colour and composition to get just right.

Luckily, this client has an amazing colour vocabulary and the ability to convey her mental image clearly in words.  She ref…

The problems with photo references in my latest Artsy article

I've always spent a lot of my time working from life, feeling that the work I produce from the real world resonates with me long after I've completed it.  Maybe it's because the paintings done from life are imbued with so many more memories and impressions than those that I've done from photos. 

I can recall the changing quality of the light on my subject, and how flickers of colour revealed and concealed themselves as time passed.  As well, I remember the mental gymnastics that it took to acknowledge what my eyes were seeing, but paint something else because it better recreated the sensation of the scene.  In the painting above - done at breakneck speed while the sun tracked across my studio through a skylight - I saw intense, highly saturated, hot orange along the top edge of the flower, but when I painted it that way, it didn't say "light" in the same way that a cooler, lighter colour statement did.  So objective reality had to be sacrificed to convey…

Limited palettes simplified

I've been writing a monthly article for Artsy Magazine's creativity strand.  Most are about painting and studio practises, and I admit they're always a huge struggle.  Writing for an editor is very different than writing a blog for myself.   I keep doing them, though, because it feels so good when I finish a piece.  It's the same feeling of accomplishment that I get when I solve a particularly tricky painting.

This month's piece which is about limited palettes and it has pictures to illustrate the concepts.  I hope you'll have a read.

To see the all of my articles, google Ingrid Christensen Artsy (which is very descriptive and apt), and you'll get links.

Happy painting!

Foundations of oil painting 12 week class

Dates: Thursdays, September 5 - November 21, 2019 Time: 9 am - 12 pm Location: Calgary, AB
Swinton's Art Supply **3 Spots left**
I'll be teaching a comprehensive 12 week class about oil painting methods and materials beginning on September 5.  There are still 3 spots available if you'd like to join me.

This class is designed for beginners and painters in other mediums who would like to ge a solid grounding in oil painting from a complete paint geek. 

We'll cover everything that you need to know to make paintings that will stand the test of time, and we'll work with painter safety as a priority.  Using oils doesn't need to be a toxic pursuit, and you'll learn how to paint with minimal or no solvents to keep yourself healthy and painting into ripe old age.

For the low down, please see my website.  You can use the contact form to register or to ask me questions.


I pulled out the cherry blossom robe again in honour of spring and because I find that painting the same thing over and over forces me to look for new ways to depict it.  This robe has inspired a lot of experimentation in palettes and paint applications.
The version at the bottom is how the painting looked after my first attempt.  It was straight forward alla prima painting and I thought the result was "ok" - which is damning with faint praise.  
The biggest issue was the sap green background.  That was an experiment in transparent darks that didn't end up suiting my aesthetic.  Sap is a transparent pigment and its rich colour and glassy transparency looked unpleasant, refusing to integrate with the opacity and impasto of the figure and robe.   The piece wasn't bad enough to scrape off, so I let it dry and thought about it for a couple of weeks. 
A clue for the next step came from the upper right corner of the painting in which I'd scumbled some cool, opaque gre…

Edges in photos and life

Last weekend I taught a "Painting from Photos" workshop to a keen bunch of painters.  One of the concepts we worked on was the power of edges, and how to break out of the camera's viewpoint when rendering them.

Photos give us the idea that an entire scene can be in crisp focus, no matter how broad, but that's only true if you're a camera.  Humans don't see like that.  What we see is soft edges with only a tiny fraction of sharpness - maybe 2% of our visual field.  Maybe 1%.  It's actually surprising to realize how indistinct our visual experience is.  Too often, though, we forget this when we paint, especially if we're painting from photos.  We end up creating painted photos instead of paintings that show our  view of the world.

The piece above shows how few hard edges you need to make a believable painting.  I've clustered the edges in the focal area near the eye and the upper part of the face while diminishing the edges of forms as they get fu…


I'm always looking for a new way to make marks and achieve effects in oil paint, and always coming up against its one firm rule: "fat over lean".  Following this rule will ensure that your paintings age as well as possible instead of cracking to pieces in a potentially short period of time; every oil painter's nightmare.

Essentially, "oilier over less oily", the fat over lean rule should be easy to apply, but it's actually very complex.  A brief look at oil painting forums devoted to this subject will tell you that there are a lot of interpretations happening in studios.

If you're building a painting wet-in-wet, it's straightforward: less paint and added oil in the lower layer and more paint and added oil in the upper layers.  Because oil paint is pigment bound in vegetable oil, applying a thicker layer of paint automatically means that it will be fatter (oilier) than a thin application.

I dilute my first layer with a 50/50 mix of oil and odour…

Some good books about oil painting

I've had many emails over the years asking me how I learned to paint and for resource suggestions, so I thought I'd list the books that were the most influential to me when I was learning.  I made that sound past tense, but I'm actually still learning and always will be. 

First, a confession: I look at the pictures in most art books, and only skim the texts, and I have yet to do an exercise from any how-to book that I own.  It's a personal failing.

Here are some books that I actually did read because they were so informative and relevant:

- Richard Schmid:"Alla Prima".  It's a sweeping, common sense, and generous survey of oil painting methods and materials.  It taught me how to choose my palette, start and build a painting, and troubleshoot the inevitable hiccups that every painting presents.

- Charles Reid: "Painting What You Want to See".  My aesthetic is more aligned with Reid's than Schmid's which makes this book especially useful …

Another palette experiment

I've been experimenting with lower chroma pigments lately because I like the subdued greys that they produce, and because I've become overly familiar with my usual palette.  Knowing exactly what my colours will do has diminished some of the magic of their application, so, in a wild and crazy move, I've been substituting earth pigments for one or all of the usual colours and seeing what happens.  Who says painters are boring?
(In case you're wondering, the usual 6 are: cad red light, alizarin permanent, ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, cad yellow, and cad yellow light + white)
This piece was done on a cool-toned support using a low chroma palette of Indian red, yellow ochre, and a blue-black made from ivory black mixed with ultramarine blue.  Toward the end, I added a smidge of cad red light to achieve those warm pieces in the clothing and to liven up the lip colour.  
I'm a fan of the limited palette, but if I need a certain effect, I won't hesitate to drop anot…

The Zorn palette

I got together with good friends last week for an afternoon of challenging painting.  We were all using a Zorn palette - a subtle, greyed palette made famous when the 19th century Swedish artist, Anders Zorn, used of it to convey the cool tones of his world.  
The palette uses cad red light or medium, yellow ochre, ivory black, and white.  It's great for conveying powerful reds and strong darks, but don't ask for a spring green or a blue, summer sky.  Ivory black acts like a blue in this scheme, but it's more like the illusion of blue, than the colour itself.  Add to this the fact that all of the pigments are opaque and prone to making mud, and you can see that it really was a challenge.
Our model had a deep tan and was under warm lights in a white-walled studio.  That meant that we had to mix an array of orange from light to dark and warm to cool to show the planes of her body, as well as figure out how to paint the effect of the cool wall colour reflecting off the areas…

3-Day Workshop in Kelowna, BC

Composition to CompletionJune 21 - 23, 2019 Ellis Art Studios Kelowna, BC

After years of teaching strictly from life, I've finally figured out how to teach from photo references! This is no small thing! (Hence the extravagant punctuation). 

Photos are tricky because they have enough detail to lull painters into thinking they can work from them.  Invariably, though, the artist will end up staring intently at the photo, trying to imagine what colours could exist in those uninformative shadows and bleached lights, and wondering where all the midtones have gone.  We long for an interesting composition, but struggle to shape one from the camera's limited and monocular view.  
Through long trial and error in my own work, I've come up with strategies to overcome these limitations. 
I'll be teaching a 3 day workshop at Ellis Art Studios that tackles the photo reference head on, covering everything from composition and colour to alla prima paint application.  It's a comprehe…