My beginnings with oil paint, or Why i chose to ruin a perfectly decent painting

The so-called “decent” painting, which I aptly chose to keep working on. :eyeroll:

As you may have noticed, I recently got back into painting and drawing, after many years a hiatus. But alongside the old paintbrushes I picked back up came the brand new attempt at using oil paints. In my 37 (minus one or two) years of creating art, I feel as though I’ve tried every medium there was under the late 90s and early 2000s sun. I’d spun clay on the wheel, built models, drawn portraits, sculpted with paper, painted with paper, sewn a skirt, painted faces, drawn still-lifes, did color studies in watercolor, built clay slab models, done beadwork, fired raqu, and made batique. I truly mean I tried everything, and yet somehow, I had never once experimented with oil paints, perhaps the oldest art medium in the books. 

So I started out completely from scratch with oils. I went to Jerry’s, asked for someone who could help me with oil paints, and took the lady’s recommendation on a starter set of primary colors in the tube, and a bottle of turbinoid. I couldn’t at the time tell you what turbinoid was used for, so I went home and tried painting with turbinoid-diluted oil paints, and a very strong palette of dense grey hues.

A week later, my dear friend the artist, Elizabeth Palmisano (, agreed to give me some tips over video chat. She taught me that turbinoid is a solvent, which is primarily used to clean your brushes and palettes. It can be used to thin paint, but that could lead to layers drying too fast and cracking (or something like that). She told me what I also needed to try were “mediums,” additives mixed in with oil paints that alter their drying time and texture. The two she recommended were Linseed Oil, and Liquin, her theory being that most painters gravitate to one or the other. 

Since that conversation about a week ago now, I’ve been playing my heart out with Liquin, and Walnut oil (which supposedly has a similar feel to linseed oil). I’ve learned that Liquin adds a smoothness that gives the paint structure, while keeping it mostly opaque. Walnut oil thins the paint so that it can be really easily and seamlessly blended almost to look as if it is printed on the canvas. The feel and look of each can strongly lead to a preference, which does not exclude someone such as myself. 

But while I’m inclined to say I really prefer the Liquin medium, the full truth is that I love love love playing with both of them on the same canvas. There’s something really interesting about how they layer (and at times, won’t layer) depending on their drying times and the thickness of application. I’m very curious about it because I haven’t yet figured out the perfect combination. What’s cool about that is that it’s leading me to try all sorts of things in regard to mixing ratios, paint application (ex: brushing the paint on, versus pushing the bristles and thereby pigment into the canvas), drying times, etc. I still don’t know what else there is to learn, but I assure myself it’s plenty! 

So, why am I telling you all of this? Well there are a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m finding the process of learning a new medium to be very fun and interesting. It’s presenting some healthy challenges that I haven’t particularly wanted to face in my artwork before, such as just getting over the hump of how to mix the colors to match what I picture in my mind. Lastly, my true ulterior motivation behind all of this is to tell the story of why I chose to ruin my first perfectly decent oil painting instead of leaving it be just fine as it was. 

Let me tell you how and why it happened. 

I had spent a few days doodling, and trying to brainstorm for my next painting. One night, while I was kind of just staring at my sketchpad, I remembered I’d taken a few photographs of some leaves under the moonlight, while walking one of the dogs. I pulled up the photos, and decided to draw an abstract rendition of the leaves, backlit by the moon. I then created a few more Sharpie renditions over the course of the week, at the same time that I was beginning to experiment with the Liquin. 
I found the texture of it to be really nice. It immediately softens the oil paint, and gives it a lightweight but dense, creaminess, while still for the most part maintaining near complete opacity. The cool thing about that is that, unlike watercolor and acrylic paint, that allows you to actually layer light colors on top of dark colors. That in itself is incredible! 

Well, come the weekend, I went to Art House and bought some Walnut oil, and got to town on learning that as well. So by mid week, I had a canvas full of leaves painted with the Liquin, surrounded by a bright but diffused, somewhat glossy background that was painted using the Walnut oil. 

And, I absolutely loved it. I feel so totally proud of myself for learning how to use oil paints, and creating something actually decent, in one week! Not to mention that I’ve been feeling pretty down about life, lately (fuck covid), so I kind of needed a win. Yet, when I looked at said painting, there was a part of me that just felt bored. I felt like I had taken a giant rubber stamp, put it on canvas, and called it a day. 

This is in no way to say there aren’t good qualities to the painting. And please don’t mistake this for self-deprecation seeking compliments. Rather, I’m just stating that I feel as though it needed something

There was a parallel dilemma at play, as well. I started reading The Artist’s Way, about 2 weeks ago, and doing my “morning pages,” which are simply daily journal entries. The idea behind these is to sort of declutter your brain so as to remove creative blocks. Well, it seems to be working, because I have wanted to paint every minute of every day that I can get my hands off the work keyboard, or am not handling my dogs’ needs. 

Part of the motivation here feels like I’m making up for lost time. I admittedly feel in some ways that I’m finding myself later in life than I’d prefer. I also recognize how ridiculous that statement is, because it implies some sort of expectation on our life cadence, which simply sets us up for disappointment. Rather, I’m where I am now, because everything I needed to do up until now is exactly why I’m here. Anyway, I digress. So I’m painting all the damn time, and I want to get good at it. I don’t mean like, my mom and grandmother swear I could make a living off of it good (but thanks, fam!), but more like there is no arguing that that girl Hannah is a damn good painter. Is it completely narcissistic to want to be that good at something? 

Regardless, with that desire comes some introspection and analysis that you’ll come to expect from me. I looked at the simple, potentially complete painting, with pride and ease held in one hand, while urge and boredom danced in my other. I knew what I needed to do, but I just couldn’t let myself say goodbye to a work that many people would say is just beautiful as is. 

And that thought was exactly the problem. I knew that if I was thinking anything about what other people thought about my work, then I needed to challenge myself hardcore. Ya’ll, I literally lost sleep, during a pandemic, over this painting. I panicked. I texted the same Elizabeth who gave me tips, as if I were amid some life crisis and really needed to talk it out with someone. One of Elizabeth’s magic gifts is waiting just long enough to text me back for me to always be able to answer my own questions. (Love you, boo.)

Yet I still absolutely doubted my own instinct. So what did I do? I asked the entire fucking internet, of course. And I saw posts wrought with what other people thought: “I like it!”, “Perfect as is!”, “Don’t change a thing.” There was a smattering of input, which was also well received. 

But funny to me, the “leave it be” messages are the messages that inspired me the most to want to fuck shit up. This painting was cute, but it wasn’t me. It didn’t capture any part of my soul, but it really needed to. I know that sounds a bit egotistical, or perhaps just a bit lofty. But if I can’t use the act of creating art to express myself fully, then what can I use?

Thing is, though, I was a bit high on social media attention, and started messing with the painting a bit too late in the day. I’m talking after a full day of my real job, and several hours painting other pieces. My brain was fried, and I probably needed to go to bed. 

So what does every good, or maybe new? – artist do when they know it’s time to end the day? Keep going, of course! 

Which, my friends, is exactly how bleeding blue vagina paintings get made. 

That’s right, you read that correctly. My tired and stubborn self proceeded to paint red paint dripping out of already color-distorted leaves, nature’s cartoon  vaginas. 

Having no idea what I’d done, and still riding the high, I kept painting, and kept painting. Until suddenly, I paused. For the first time in about twenty minutes, the time since I’d started amending the perfectly fine painting, I lifted my head further than 6 inches from the canvas, for the first time being able to see the forest from a distance. And I busted out laughing. 

How could I not have seen this coming? I know better than to continue past exhaustion. I went to freaking architecture school, and I don’t have to work for 24 hours straight anymore. I have no deadlines, and really no excuse when it comes to having creative discipline. Except that I was so excited to see what I could do with this painting! Could I make it super edgy? Could I bring out a side of myself that I don’t normally get to express? 

Well, if the universe has anything to share with the world about me, she’s certainly done it through this painting. Interpret away, as you so wish! Just know that this is actually the amended version, which has less of a… bloody look to it. 

This was about 30 minutes after I realized what I’d done. At this point, I realized how tired I was, and set the brushes down.

I hate it! But I still can’t help but laugh. I’m a queer, cis, white woman, who admittedly cares too much what people think. So of COURSE I accidentally painted bleeding vaginas! 

But, this is what artists go through. We have to push ourselves to try new things, and sometimes that means intentionally destroying a perfectly good piece. Whether it’s a painting, a comedy set, even a garden, it’s not without telling ourselves to stretch that we grow and progress in our craft.

When it comes to my painting, I absolutely had to challenge myself to see what I could do with it. Fortunately for me, oil paint is oddly forgiving and flexible. Not I only that, but I guarantee you there’s no greater painting challenge than trying to go back in to fix a mistake. 

Wish me luck!

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