Ah, the beginning of a new year. I hope you’ve had a chance to set a resolution, perhaps one that’s related to your art. If one of your goals is to sell more art this year, then a great place to start is with Lori McNee’s Fine Art Tips Business Bundle. With 26 step-by-step demonstrations in acrylic, pastel and oil painting and professional advice from 24 acclaimed artists, you’ll have enough information to keep you motivated all year long!
Today’s featured artist is Brent Cotton, who Lori describes as “a man who is inspired and haunted by water.” I was captivated by his painting Drifting in Time and I think you will be, too. His oil painting lesson is included here, where you’ll also find one of Brent’s art business tips, additional info on portraying intense light, and more. ~Cherie
Oil Painting Demonstration: Sparkling Light on Water
by Brent Cotton
This misty and moody early morning scene of a drift boat and fly fisherman is the type of subject that really gets me excited. My reference for this painting was just a poor-quality cell phone photo my wife took of me, my dad and my brother in my drift boat on the Bitterroot River in western Montana, my home river. I liked the overall composition but wanted to change the color and lighting to make it more dramatic. I also changed the pose of the figure out front and gave the impression of a line of trees in the background that the light was shining through.
The simplicity of the boat and water without much in the way of background or detail inspired me.
1. Start the Drawing and Mid-Values. With a no. 14 filbert bristle brush, begin scumbling in a background color with opaque oil paint (Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light and a little Viridian) thinned a bit with alkyd medium. Apply it thinly over all the linen, aiming for a middle value that will work well with the lights and darks that will come later. Let this underlying color dry for a couple of days before painting the boat and figures over the top.
Once dry, draw in the main subject with a soft synthetic no. 4 filbert and paint that has been thinned with alkyd medium to improve the flow and gloss. The dry background makes it easy to wipe off any mistakes in the drawing.
2. Fill in the Drawing. Now, begin to fill in the drawing outline, working from darker to lighter where the boat will be backlit. The boat and figures are made up of Transparent Oxide Brown, Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre and a small amount of Cobalt Blue. For this step use nos. 2, 4 and 6 synthetic filberts to fill in the outline, but be careful not to obliterate the drawing.
3. Add the Light. Next, move to the streak of light that appears to be com- ing through the trees and reflecting onto the water. Establish the darkest darks and lightest lights early on so you can judge all the other values based on those two extremes. Use Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, and Titanium White applied with a palette knife. Lay the paint on thickly, impasto in spots, and in other areas just drag the knife with very little paint. Let the knife hit the tops of the weave, which gives it a sparkly or grainy effect. For this step and all others that require a palette knife, I used a Holbein hand-forged steel palette knife and my trusty finger or thumb “brush” to soften.
4. Blend the Light. Blend and soften the edges where the boat meets the water and is strongly backlit. I wear gloves when I paint because I’m always using my thumb or fingers to blend and push the paint around.
Use a palette knife and continue to refine the drawing with color that is a very close match to the background color. Lay this on thinly with the knife and drag across the background, painting the negative shapes around the boat and figures and creating a variety of edges where they meet. Continue to soften and blend with your trusty finger and thumb brush.
5. Intensify the Highlights. Refine the drawing on the boat and figures and increase the contrast by putting in intense highlights. In this step, edges and values are important to get the feeling of backlighting. Work from the end of the boat, up to the standing figure. Refine his form and put a fly rod in his outstretched arm. If you look closely, you can see the fly line that is being cast by the fisherman. For this, drag the palette knife very carefully in one pass and vary it along the way to simulate being hit by the light. Put the oar in the same way.
6. Indicate Motion and Reflected Light. As you can see, I also brought more light down into the water to give the impression of movement and liquidity. Put a few ripple marks in the water to indicate motion and reflected light. Create the ripples with the palette knife, both in a drag- ging fashion and applying more impasto in spots.
Last, glaze some darker color into the corners of the painting with paint thinned with alkyd medium. This has increased the “pop” of the finished piece.
Materials Used in This Oil Painting Demonstration
Support: 18″ × 24″ alkyd primed linen mounted to .5 inch Gator board
Oil Paints: Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Titanium White, Transparent Oxide Brown, Viridian, Yellow Ochre
Brushes: Nos. 2, 4, 6, 14 filberts
Other Supplies: Alkyd medium, citrus thinner, latex gloves, palette knives, paper towels, solvent
Brent’s fine art tips for creating the illusion of intense light:
- The edges have to be soft and lost in spots getting progressively harder as they move away from the light. This will give the illusion of intense light.
- The linen has a fair amount of tooth and the knife really picks up the texture when paint is dragged across it lightly. This does a great job of simulating light sparkling on water.
Brent’s Art Business Tip:
A professional artist is a person who derives his living solely from art, but also someone who takes his talent and skill seriously and works hard at developing his own style and voice. A professional artist consistently produces quality works and moves the viewer in some way. An art degree doesn’t make a professional. I know plenty of artists who are doing very well and have no degrees whatsoever. They’ve just put in the time and made it happen through sheer will and determination.
Artist Profile on Brent Cotton
By Lori McNee
“No man enters the same river twice, for the river has changed and so has the man.”—Heraclitus
Brent Cotton is a man who is inspired and haunted by water. He grew up on his family’s cattle ranch in Idaho, where his love of the rivers and the outdoors led him to pursue art. After years of refining his artistic direction by working with world-renowned mentors such as Howard Terpning, Brent’s paintings have evolved into elegant, poetic landscapes. “God’s glory” and the fleeting effects of light on the landscape inspire Brent. His works bring a sense of nostalgia and peace to the viewer.
The first time I saw a Brent painting was while attending the Arts for the Parks national exhibition in 2003. It’s rare that a single painting stays etched in my mind, but Evensong did just that. I still remember the silhouette of the lone canoe gliding along sepia-toned, placid waters, leaving only a sliver of shimmering golden reflections in its wake—truly breathtaking.