Painting of a Street Scene – in stages

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Here is a painting I did for a show I am having. I took photos of the work in different stages so you can see how the painting process works. One of the biggest mistakes I see aspiring painters make is thinking that you just draw it and then try to carefully fill it in. Almost in the way you would if you were coloring in a coloring book picture.

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Before and After Oil Painting Pictures

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Before and after pics are one of the best ways to show that something works, correct? Well let me show you an example for my own paintings.



The picture on the left is how I would paint when I had no plan, and just used trial and error. I did not know the oil painting process. I would begin always wondering if I was doing “it” correctly. Then I had no idea what to do next. The whole painting was made in a state of doubt and I would basically hope for the best.

Unfortunately the before pic represents a pattern not many students escape from.

I’m not sure where the idea came from, but this idea that a student is supposed to trudge along in frustration and trial and error is…frankly, ridiculous.

Do you think Rembrandt learned this way? Seriously?

Now, I will never tell anyone I will turn you into the next Rembrandt…or Rubens, or Monet, Sargent, Gainsborough, or any other master you care to mention

The picture on the right is how I paint, after I have learned the oil painting process. When I had a set procedure to follow. The same procedure that is available for you here.

Below you’ll see screenshots from just some of the many instructional videos inside my 7 Video Series of oil painting instruction.

They are from the online version of the program where you just choose the video you want to watch and click.

And although I never try to bullshit you and say something like “buy my course and become the next Rembrandt” I will say I try to provide easy to follow and understand instructions so you can begin improving and seeing results immediately, not years or even months from now. That would lead to frustration and you not sticking with it. The faster you see results, the faster you know that you really can paint the way you always wanted to.

Click here to start learning today with oil painting formula either the DVD version or Online version

Unless your satisfied with making paintings like in the “before” pic at the top.


Ethan Semmel

3 mistakes beginning painters make

3 Mistakes Oil Painting Students make

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Here is a quick list of 3 of the top mistakes I’ve seen over and over again from students wanting to learn to oil paint.

1 – Not using enough paint.

A painting is made with paint. You scoop paint off your palette and place it on the canvas. That little sentence is a fundamental principle that escapes most people learning to paint. Go back and re-read that a couple of times to really understand it’s importance.

Half the battle is in that very tip.

You have to constantly go back to your palette and get more paint to put on your canvas. Many students are scared to use a lot of paint.

Have you ever looked at a Van Gogh up close? Or A Rembrandt? Especially his later paintings. The paint stands up off the canvas and is applied incredibly thick. Also, time has a way of leveling off a painting and kind of smoothing it out. So Rembrandt’s 350-400 year old paintings were even thicker when he completed them.

Now, you don’t have to paint as thickly as they did, that’s not what I’m getting at. But, it helps to look at their paintings to change your mindset about the necessity to use more paint.

An exercise I tell students to do to change their pre-conceived ideas about how much paint to use is to paint an object as Van Gogh would so they get used to using more paint. Also, I tell them to make a painting by focusing on making no more than 3 strokes with your brush without going back to your palette to get more paint.

Yes, some of the old masters did use thin paint in certain areas of their paintings, such as Rubens, but they used thin paint with mediums that still gave it “body”. This way their thin paint wouldn’t either “drown” or look weak – a sure sign of a beginner or amateur.

2 – Having No Procedure

Paintings used to be created according to a procedure. All painters learned the procedure and then made their own adjustments to suit their own styles. Too many times nowadays, the students has no goal, no plan in mind when they begin a new painting.

They set a canvas up on the easel and “hope for the best”

Think about this. The great painters of the past who were fulfilling commissions for royalty and churches were businessmen who had a product to deliver. Commissions kept coming in and they needed a procedure so their assistants could help them in the production of a painting.

It was more like a house builder of today. Or a contractor.

When a new housing development goes up, every house is built according to the same procedure. Many people work on the house at once and they all know the procedure or are told what step in the procedure comes next. The layout and look of each house may be different. One house may have bricks on the outside, another may have stone on the outside, but both houses are still built by following the same procedure. When it comes time to construct the outside, the stone or brick is then put on. Every house has the frame of it’s walls up before the frame of the roof is put on.

Every single one.

If a student would develop the mindset of a house builder they would have a lot less frustration when it comes to making their oil painting.

3 – Using the wrong materials

A simple example is canvas. There are many students who have never prepared their own canvas. They just buy a pre-stretched canvas from the store, rip open the packaging and start painting. Then they wonder why their work doesn’t look like the paintings of the painters in the museums whom they admire so much.

Next time you’re in the museum, go close up to a painting you admire and take a look at the canvas. Then go back home and take a close look at the canvas at one of your own finished paintings. Notice the difference? I’ll bet yours looks more like it is a painting in a sponge. And take notice that I used the word “in” instead of “on”. This goes back to point #1 in this list.

I just used canvas as an example for the more general problem of using the wrong materials, but this goes for brushes, mediums, and colors as well.

There are more mistakes of course but these 3 are among the most common.

If you want to stop making these mistakes…

A great place to start is to learn about your supplies. Oil paintings are made with a bunch of supplies that you need to learn how to use. Such as the paints themselves, brushes, canvas, mediums, etc.  It’s all quite confusing and it can be overwhelming. I have an instruction manual devoted to making that confusion of oil painting supplies, easy to understand. A reference manual you can refer to over and over again.

You can check out my instruction manual on oil painting supplies here.

Oil painting process – how was that painting made?

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Many people look at complete paintings and want to know…”How was that done?” What was the oil painting process? What did the painting look like when it was being made?”

I will provide an answer, at least a general answer, to that question here.

Let’s take a John Singer Sargent painting  as an example.

Please remember, this reconstruction is not done so you can re-create only this painting, which unfortunately is something that is done too much these days. This re-creation is made to help you understand the process of oil painting, period.

oil painting processNot the oil painting process to paint a fir tree or a snow capped mountain, but traditional painting, whatever the subject matter.

The exact same process would be used if Sargent were painting an apple or flowers.

—– sidebar —–

I have seen many “reconstructions” that are made so you can follow along and just paint that 1 picture. That sounds like a project my 5 year old brings home from art class in school. If you want to do that, I suggest getting a “paint by numbers set.”


Let me just say one thing first. Nobody ever can be 100% sure about how a painting was completed. I’m sure you understand that. But, through study and experience you can get really a good idea about how a painting was made just from looking at it and recalling your experience with paint.

The blank canvas would have been primed with white oil paint. This was done to convey a light feeling through the layers of paint that would follow.

It is a good idea to start with a very light priming if you are doing an impressionistic outdoor scene. This helps to add light to the painting  The bright white ground will shine through the layers of paint that are put over it. Painting on a bright white ground also helps the painting age well.

So, in 100 years, your painting won’t turn as dark and sink into the canvas. So it helps preserve your painting long after you are gone (if you care about that sort of thing.)

The initial drawing was made on the canvas with either charcoal or directly with some dark lines of paint.

The drawing stage was more for placement than making a finished drawing. He would keep everything loose in case he wanted to make any changes. Perhaps the areas which would eventually be black or dark would be indicated as well. But at this stage, placement was first and foremost in his mind. Not color, not the girl’s face, not the exact shape of anything…but placement on the canvas.

He was not thinking about drawing in the sense of a finished work of art that you just fill in, in one layer. Simply establishing a nice composition on the canvas was the important thing.

You can see this beginning looks almost like the drawing of a child.

That is fine, he was just building his foundation for what is to come next.

In using the word foundation, it probably will help you to think of a house and it’s foundation. When a house is being built, the foundation looks nothing like a completed house. The frame of the house goes on this foundation and it looks like a skeleton. The same happens with oil

When Sargent was satisfied with the composition it would be time to mass in (or lay-in) the painting.

The colors were mixed to the general overall tone of the masses such as the brown of the girl’s hair and the red of her sash and chain.

A general massing of color takes place in this stage. Details are not thought about yet. They will come later in the painting process.

Just like in building a house…you must put up a wall before you can put in a window. You have to put up the frame before you can put on the siding or bricks.

A general flesh color was established, and perhaps two flesh colors for the main areas of light and shadow. These were laid in on the girl’s face. As you can see, not much attention to detail at all in this stage.

As Sargent said, features like the eyes and mouth should be “drawn in” at the end. Edges are kept soft on purpose — they are a detail as well.

The process of massing in the main areas of color is now revised.

Now, this is only a beginning, as there is only so much I can fit here.

My 7 Parts Video Series covers the entire process in great detail by pulling back the curtain for you as far as techniques, processes, and all those secrets you want to know.

It’s the newest way of teaching old solid oil painting principles

— Ethan Semmel

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