Oil Painting Demonstration: Figures in a Sunny Café

Desmond O’Hagan is your guide in this oil painting demonstration as you learn to interpret the light in this sunny café scene! Desmond’s style is bold and direct, never overworking the details. “The constant challenge of painting…a slightly more complicated scene,” he says, “is the challenge to simplify, really keeping your shapes correct, slowly building up into a little more implied detail as opposed to rendering every little thing very exactly. So that challenge really keeps me going.”

Take a peek at Desmond’s working process with this special oil painting demonstration based on his new video on ArtistsNetwork.tv, Oil Painting: Light and Color!

Step One: Choose a Great Reference Photo

Oil Painting Demonstration with Desmond O'Hagan | ArtistsNetwork.com

One of the best ways to begin the painting process is to go out and observe. Play the tourist! Interesting light effects can be found just about anywhere. Just remember to always be careful when taking pictures of people. Keep in mind that you don’t have to paint the picture exactly as it looks. “What the photo really does is remind you why you wanted to paint this scene…but you really are also going from your memory of being in that place,” Desmond says. “What inspired you, what attracted you originally to this lighting effect. [So] what the photo does is help you interpret that light.”

Step Two: Start Blocking in the Darks

Oil Painting Demonstration with Desmond O'Hagan | ArtistsNetwork.com

Start by working in the darkest areas of the painting. Don’t worry about any details at this point. Right now, you’re just painting shapes. Even though these are the darkest areas, Desmond suggests avoiding black. Instead, he uses a mixture of Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Alizarin Crimson. Make sure to vary the direction of your brush strokes. “This is a lot like putting together a puzzle,” Desmond says. “I want to just be able to put in those chunks…and then in some areas even connect the darks. This is a road map for the rest of the painting.”

Step Three: Move Into Mid Tones

Oil Painting Demonstration with Desmond O'Hagan | ArtistsNetwork.com

Take one step up the value scale and start to work into the mid tones. At this point, any detail should just be implied. Don’t get bogged down. Keep it very loose, using bold and direct strokes. Don’t worry about your color being absolutely perfect – you can take some artistic license. “The oil will get thicker as I go more toward the lighter colors,” Desmond says. “[It’s] fairly thin in my darker colors. So I’m starting to add a little more paint as I’m working my way through this.”

Step Four: Lighter Mid Tones

Oil Painting Demonstration with Desmond O'Hagan | ArtistsNetwork.com

As you start to make your way into the lighter mid tones, this is the time to paint the tabletops, outside shrubbery, and skin tones. Continue to keep everything very loose, slowly refining as you go. Be careful not to jump to brighter colors just yet. Look for little spots where you can bring in some color. For skin tones, Desmond likes to use a base of Viridian, Cadmium Red, and a little bit of white and yellow. “A lot of people, when they talk about skin tones, they want to know what’s the exact formula to create skin,” he says. “It all really varies compared to what kind of light is on the subject. Experiment, but keep in mind that Viridian, that Cadmium Red, warm it, cool it, and you’ll find that you may come up with the right skin tone if you just experiment a little bit more with those colors.”

Step Five: Bring in the Lights

Oil Painting Demonstration with Desmond O'Hagan | ArtistsNetwork.com

As you move toward the light values, start to define the scene a little more. Make sure your palette is very clean as you start to use lighter tones to prevent creating mud. For the light moving through the trees, create interesting patterns with light values. Add highlights in pinks, yellows, and blues, and keep the strokes bold as you continue to make subtle adjustments. “To show a lot of the heat that’s coming through the window, I’m going to come in with some orange in some of these areas, and even on the back of this person’s shirt, just to give it a little more warmth,” Desmond says. If you need to reclaim some dark areas, this is the time to do that as well. “We can play a little bit with lost and found edges by going back in with a dark. Put a couple of darks into that background just to vary it a little bit, so it’s not just one tone coming through the window.”

Step Six: Final Details

Oil Painting Demonstration with Desmond O'Hagan | ArtistsNetwork.com

Finally, it’s time to put in some detail – just enough to bring the scene to life. Hint at the figure in the background with some light skin tones, paint in the computer screen, and suggest cups and utensils on the tables. See if there are any places you can touch up with a bit of colorful gray. “A lot of this is just implying detail without really painting every little tiny bit in,” Desmond says. “So we have some interesting little spots here and there…and this is what’s nice about once you get this far into a painting. You can stand back and make just subtle adjustments to it.”

Desmond’s number one tip? “Work dark to light. That way you’ll have a better handle on your values. Values are about, in my opinion, 75% of the painting. If your values are correct, you’re in a pretty good situation with your painting. So this is a good way to keep your values in check.”

You can see the full oil painting demonstration in action right now on ArtistsNetwork.tv, or give it a try as a DVD or download!

About Desmond O’Hagan

Desmond O’Hagan was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and was raised in the United States. He enjoys working in several media, but his primary focus is in oils and pastel. Desmond’s career has encompassed several one-man shows and group exhibitions in the United States, Japan, China, and France. A Master Pastelist with the Pastel Society of America, he has won several awards for his work, and his paintings are featured in numerous publications, including The Artist’s Magazine. His studio is in Denver, Colorado.

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