Paint Application

Detail, Gamblin Bottles, Oil on linen, Private Collection

Detail, Gamblin Bottles, Oil on linen, Private Collection


You seem to like thick applications of paint. Do you build up the surface quickly or start with thin layers of color and then gradually build up the surface? Do you keep the dark passage thin and the lighter passages thick? I have heard a lot of people do that, but why? Matthew


I'm confused about why the paint surface can get so "blotchy" as paint dries - is it the characteristic of the particular pigment or the medium or the support or some of all? And what do you do about it - much conflicting advice on oiling out and vanishing. Thanks! Diane


I recently purchased your video "Bold Brushstrokes . . ." and got quite a lot out of it. So, thank you for sharing your methods! I could hear myself in your statement on paint consistency and wish I could attend one of your workshops for help with that alone. Sadly, that's going to have to wait. I've been painting for about 12 years now, but paint consistency remains a persistent problem for me. For that reason, I have taken to painting primarily with a palette knife lately due to an all-consuming frustration. Try as I may, I've not been able to achieve BUTTER in the brush application of my paint mixes to the surface. Is there some secret magic formula to it? I've tried following your example in the video, but for some reason, the paint is still too often either too sticky or runny. I also use an art app to create digital paintings and I believe this has contributed to my overall frustration, because I have gotten to the point where I can absolutely fly as a digital painter, which makes me feel sometimes like a slug as an actual painter. Please help, before I lose what little hair I have left!! Thanks so very much, and I look forward to trying whatever you might suggest.  Liana


Why all the long brushes? Most of my instructors have used either short flats and brights or only filberts for all of their work. Jerry


Lori's Response:


Because all of these questions have to do with paint application techniques, I'm going to try to combine some answers here.

First, Matthew, while I have many different ways of working, there seems to be a need for artists to hear a process that works every time. Know that NOTHING works every time, and I do not always work in the same manner. Here's an idea of one process I use that seems the easiest method in which others can connect.

First I stain the canvas with an underlying color I identify in the scene. That is why I do not pre-stain my canvases. I want the freedom of choosing the particular stain to fit the colors before me in nature. I plan to leave some of this stain showing through in the final work. So, for instance, if I am painting a field of violet flowers, some of those flower masses may just be the initial stain I used. Sometimes, however, it may be that the general color and value of the shadow mass works best for the stain. It's a personal choice, but because I like some thinner paint passages, using the shadow color is a natural consideration.

The why part of that question deals with the way the paint reflects from the surface back into our eyes. More silent passages (i.e., less brushwork and opacity) disappear into thin air, while other passages grab attention and inform. If I want you looking at the beautiful light hitting the front of a tree, I don't need you too distracted by fancy brushwork in the tree's shadow. Obviously, this is just one example and not always the case.

Is anything ever always? I don't think so.

Next, if the design is predominately light, I use the stain as the light and add the dark masses, keeping them thin.  If the design is predominately dark, I use a paper towel with Gamsol to wipe out the lights.


I can put them in dark and thin and leave them alone, getting thicker with the paint as I move toward the mid values and finally the lights. Thick paint just feels good to me. But juicy technique does not stand by itself. I do not want my technique to upstage the bigger principles of a great painting.

Here's the kicker, Diane, if I have varied paint thickness, the canvas or linen or whatever surface I am working on has received a different amount paint, sealing the surface in a different way. To some extent, it is uneven. An exaggerated example would be to imagine you poured water on a cloth sofa vs a leather one. The cloth sofa absorbs the water, while the water runs on the leather surface and absorbs much more slowly. Now, what if you could reverse your thinking. We have the same surface, but we have essentially painted two different "solutions" onto it. The same thing happens. Much the way it is essential to put thicker paint on top of paint that is already there. It will "sit" better than if the paint is the same consistency as what you have already applied. (By the way, this unevenness can also appear if you have scraped down and reapplied to the same area many times over.) 

Here is an absolutely tried and true answer for you on what to do. Once your painting is finished and dry, apply a mixture of 1 part Galkyd and 1 part Gamsol. Here is a video with help on how to do that. (By the way, oiling out can also be done should you want to work back into a painting that is dry).

Allow the painting to dry at least 48 hours or until it is no longer sticky to the touch. Finish by applying GamVar as your final varnish. You will also find a video on varnishing and other tips and techniques on Gamblin's website.

Liana, regarding your question. Paint consistency is really difficult to explain, for obvious reasons. When I am teaching, I often have the class come up and actually feel the paint I have mixed on the palette. Consistency is different depending on the type of hair and shape of the brush the thickness of the paint underneath, and the surface on which you are painting.  It takes experimenting and practice is about all I can say without being able to show you. Give yourself permission to play and that will help. 

Liana, you'll find it helpful to refer to earlier posts on Mark Making and Brushwork and when dealing with paint consistency issues too!

For more ways to think about laying down paint, see my related book, Demonstrations in Modern Impressionism.

If you have a question you would like Lori to consider, email it to