The following tutorial, by Justin ‘Coro’ Kaufman, will teach you how to create a realistic oil painting of nature. With step-by-step tips to improve your technique, starting with panel preparation and working your way through to the final touches, you’ll create a stunning tree painting.

If you need a new kit, head over to our best oil paints and oil painting supplies guides, which organize the equipment to get you started. Everything is ready ? Here is Kaufman’s expert tutorial.

How to Create a Realistic Nature Oil Painting

Although I’m an illustrator and artist by trade, based out of Seattle, I’ve worked primarily as a concept artist. I own and help run Solid black, a studio specializing in concept art and illustration primarily for games and film. We’ve been working on all kinds of things you may have heard of, and some you probably haven’t heard of.

I paint digitally for most of my commercial endeavors. However, I fell in love with the way of oil painting when I was a student in art school, and have since continued to pursue it between jobs. I dig the tactile nature and versatility of oils – I don’t think there’s a medium I enjoy working in more.

I chose one of my favorite trees to paint: a large maple tree that takes up most of our backyard clearing. My goal is not so much to reproduce exactly what I see, but rather to interpret it using a variety of brush strokes, marks and scratches. I want it to look realistic enough from a distance, and also interesting to look at up close.

01. Panel preparation

Brush preparing the panel

A flat surface is the basis of any good painting

I start with a 24 x 36 inch piece of birch plywood with a nice grain and minimal wear, which I collect from my local hardware store (if you prefer to use canvas, check out this best oil painting canvas guide). oil). I then brush on between four and six coats of gesso with a soft, wide brush, working vigorously and without using water so that it sets quickly. I take my time on this step and make sure the paint is even and the surface is properly sealed with a fresh coat.

02. Substrate preparation

Electric sander with sandpaper

An electric sander removes traces of gravel

I use an electric sander to sand down the irregularities between coats until I get a smooth, eggshell-like finish. I use 100 grit between most coats and finish it with a finer grit. I don’t want it to be polished “shiny”, but I also don’t want to have to work with glaring surface irregularities.

03. Sketch from reference photo

Photo of a tree

Laying a grid over a photographic reference keeps sketches in proportion

Once the gesso is dry, I lightly outline my tree using a 4H lead pencil. I lay a grid on top of my reference in Photoshop, then draw a matching grid of six-inch squares on my panel to make sure the design is centered and sized correctly. I work from a photograph I took in the garden. I take care that the big branches are blocked as precisely as possible, but I don’t work on the small branches. I’m just going to paint them directly, using the larger branches as placement guides.

04. Placement for underlay

Range of brushes in hand

Bristle brushes produce a range of interesting textures

I use olive green and refined linseed oil. Olive green is great for underlaying because it’s transparent, allowing for a wider and more predictable range of values ​​against the white background. Plus, it’s a warm, neutral color that isn’t too overwhelming. I mainly use bristle brushes for this stage of the painting. They allow me to apply lots of paint, scrape texture, and easily manipulate edges and volumes. I also use a variety of mop brushes for stippling the texture and small liner brushes for the branches. I use the back of the brush to scrape up the highlights and also have a few small rubber tipped tools and a synthetic wash brush to help create the paint manipulation.

05. And breathe…

Bottled flaxseed oil

Linseed oil is a safe way to keep paint from drying out.

I only use refined linseed oil as a medium. It takes a few weeks to dry out enough to work again, but I find it helpful to be stuck in this stage for a while so I can get back to it and fix things that are bothering me. I also like it because it’s non-toxic and doesn’t produce fumes, so it’s safe to breathe in and doesn’t stink the room.

06. Paint my undercoat

Undercoat of a tree

A light undercoat establishes the shape of the image

I start from the trunk and I progress. I try not to work things too much at this point because a lot of things will end up being painted. I aim to establish the shadow shapes and begin to outline the surfaces. Using a mop brush, I begin blocking the leaf canopy. It’s important not to overload the brush because we don’t want to go too dark on these leaves.

07. More control

A tree in more detail

Linear brushes are used to fix small details

I take out the liner brushes going up to paint these little branches. I rotate the panel and use a mahl stick which gives me better control over the width of the branches. A good rule of thumb is that they always get thinner and the offshoots are always thinner than their parent branches.

08. Painting glazing

A range of enamels

Glazes can help keep oil paintings flowing

Once it’s dry to the touch, I start to glaze the transparent color. I mix a solution consisting of 50% galkyd, 40% turpenoid and 10% refined linseed oil. I then arrange my transparent paints. I use Payne Gray, Alizarin Crimson, Indian Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green, and Clear Red Oxide Lake. I mix combinations of these colors with my medium and apply it accordingly. Need more supplies? See this best art supplies roundup.

09. It’s color time

A brush dipped in green paint making brush marks

Different layers of paint are built up over the days

I start laying in the leaves by sponging a mixture of Phthalo Green, Indian Yellow and Clear Red Oxide Lacquer using mop brushes. I use ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson on the trunk of the tree and add more indian yellow in the mossy areas. I apply it quite lightly and wait at least 24 hours before applying another layer. After three to four coats, the colors are set. Glazing gives a depth to colors that is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve when working opaquely. I also really like the textures that accumulate.

10. Opaque application

A picture of a green tree

Opaque paint helps erase past mistakes

When I’m done with the glazing, I start painting opaque on top. I prepare a full palette of paint and start working on the paint, looking to correct drawing errors, accentuate highlights and shadows, and refine shapes and edges. I look for opportunities to vary temperatures and punch accents.

11. Vary my notes

A photo of branches

Different arches divide the painting and make it more interesting

I start detailing the leaves and small branches, and I also revisit and detail the larger ones. This step can be a few passes, where I work both wet-on-wet and dry brushing. It’s a “what works best” scenario. I also try to break up the surface and avoid too many similar marks.

12. Final details and correction of errors

A tree painting made up of dots

Small pointillist dots complete the image

I come back with pure opaque colors and dot them using little rounds and liners in a pointillism style. This allows me to modulate large fields of color with subtlety and control. The hardest part is over, and now I’m just tweaking, fixing minor mistakes and accentuating areas. This is also where you can expand the surface of the painting and make it look cool up close.

13. Expand your knowledge

A painting of a large tree

The painting process will deepen your artistic understanding of nature

And that’s all! Hang it on your wall and impress your friends and family. Your paintings will also make great gifts. But ultimately, you reap the rewards of having a deeper knowledge of the age-old tradition of oil painting, the comfort of completing a process and doing something physical, and a better understanding of beauty. complex and deep of Mother Nature.

This article was originally published in ImagineFX Magazine. Subscribe here.

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