Self image: basic materials and techniques (3)

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the smell of the grease paint

Oil paints in tubes or tins
Canvas, board, paper, card or wood
Range of brushes
Linseed oil, Turps or other painting medium in 'dipper' or receptacle
Palette knife for mixing paint
Jars for mixing paint
Drawing board or easel
Masking tape (if attaching paper to board)
Rags and white spirit for cleaning brushes
Pencil for underdrawing
Varnish (optional)

Oil paints are made of dry pigment blended with an oil-based binder such as linseed oil. They come in ready mixed tubes, jars or tins or it is possible to make your own paints by mixing together the raw pigment and oil ingredients, available from most art shops. Most brands have two ranges, Student colours, and the more expensive Artists range which are of a superior quality.

Frances Borden by Frances Borden - © the artist / BP 2000

Frances Borden
by Frances Borden
© the artist / BP 2000

This painting has a haunting fragility despite the coarse texture of the paint. This is achieved through the concentrated focus on the sitter's eyes and downturned mouth which have been exaggerated slightly for impact. Her head is supported by a slender neck which is elongated, pushing it beyond the top of the painting. The dark enlarged eyes seem to gaze past the viewer into the middle distance hinting at an air of sadness or wistfulness. The choice of colours, although realistic, is controlled and sombre and the cold blue background enforces the overall feeling of isolation.

James Hague by James Hague - © the artist / BP 1996

James Hague
by James Hague
© the artist / BP 1996

This intense painting is a good example of glazing technique as the oil paint has been considerably diluted with a medium and laid in almost transparent coats of flat colour. Even though the painting is made of a number of combined layers, the paint is so thin that the weave of the canvas is still clearly visible. Great care has been taken to soften any visible brushmarks so as not to interfere with the smooth surface of the painting. The features have been stylized and presented in a series of angular shapes and lines rather than soft curves. The combination of smooth finish and semi-cubist style make this modern portrait reminiscent of Deco paintings of the 1930s.

These examples show the variety of effects achievable with oil paint.

Leon Kossoff
by Leon Kossoff
NPG 5772

Arthur Hayward
by Arthur Hayward
NPG 5825

Sir Nathaniel Bacon
by Sir Nathaniel Bacon
circa 1625
NPG 2142

Lucian Freud
by Lucian Freud
NPG 5205

Allen Jones
by Allen Jones
NPG 5911

Patrick Heron
by Patrick Heron
NPG 6540

Pen and Ink

Alfred Aaron Wolmark
by Alfred Aaron Wolmark
NPG 4884

Ithell Colquhoun
by (Margaret) Ithell Colquhoun
NPG 6485

Sir Alfred James Munnings
by Sir Alfred James Munnings
circa 1950
NPG 4136

Phil May
by Philip William ('Phil') May
NPG 3038


Traditionally printing is a collaborative process: often a master printer will assist an artist with plate making and pulling prints.


Bernard Howell Leach
by Bernard Howell Leach
NPG 6017

Wenceslaus Hollar
by Wenceslaus Hollar
NPG D3268


Sir Anthony Van Dyck
by and published by Jan van der Bruggen, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck
NPG D4552

Philip Mercier
by John Faber Jr, after Philip Mercier
NPG D5677


Wood Engraving


Gertrude Hermes
by Gertrude Hermes
NPG 6002

Silk Screen/Collotype

Richard Hamilton
by Richard Hamilton
NPG 5278

See also: Mirror Mirror


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