Sqft Show 1/12 - Marshlight – Marianne Vander Dussen

Sqft Show 1/12 - Marshlight

I don't know what it is about marshes, but I absolutely love them. Maybe it's because they're always full of song. Perhaps it's the slight sense of the sinister that appeals to my fairytale-loving heart (lets face it, marshes can be kind of spooky). Whatever it is, this marsh has been a saving grace for me throughout the pandemic, somewhere that I can go to recharge my energy when I feel trapped and frustrated. 

The Backstory

This particular marsh sits on the edge of Depensiers Lake in North Bay, which is really more of a giant pond. Part of the snowmobile trail network, winter unlocks more of the marsh for exploration, because it functions more like a highway of recreational traffic. My husband and I love to take our twin boys on their sleds on a loop through the marsh and across the lake, through the forest tunnels and back home again. The trails are well maintained and easy to traverse. We can do the entire scenic loop in only twenty minutes, as the entrance to the trail system is right across the street from our backyard. 

In the evening when this particular photo was taken, the sky had the fieriest colours I'd ever seen, and the entire neighbourhood was bathed in burgundy. I knew that the culvert draining into the marsh would have a perfect unobstructed view, so I grabbed my camera and literally ran to catch the last of it.

It was hard to choose a favourite photo from that night, but I kept returning to one specific shot that I knew would have to be painted. When I decided to launch the Square Foot Show, I wanted to start off with something dramatic and compelling. The sunset at the marsh was a perfect fit.

The Painting

While my YouTube video covers the complete creation of the painting from start to finish, there are a few oil painting tips that I'd like to share for those who are interested in giving it a try (I will be releasing more in-depth oil tutorials down the road, my current videos are designed to function as a survey for now). 

The Limited Palette

If I had to only choose five colours, they would be the same five colours that I use in my acrylic painting palette: titanium white, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, alizarin crimson (but in oil I prefer quinacridone red), and cadmium yellow light. You can do SO MUCH with these colours. If you're looking to get started, you might be tempted to pick up one of those kits that has lots of little tiny tubes of colour in them. You can, but you'll likely use up the white really quickly and be stuck with little tubes of colours that you'll never use. Those five colours will form the backbone of most of your paintings. 

Switching Brushes instead of Colours

When I'm painting in acrylics, I'll often use the same brush, but will clean it between colours in a water jar. This does NOT work with oils if you want to keep your colours pure. Instead, if I need to switch to a different colour, I use an entirely different brush. This means that when I'm done for the day, I'll often have to clean 10+ brushes, depending on the work that I was doing.

With my sky, I had one brush for each of the five colours that I mixed in advance, and switched brushes as opposed to dipping the same brush in multiple colours. 

Making Trees Look Backlit

You can watch the YouTube video for a closeup of this technique, but this is the best way I've found to make trees look backlit. If I am painting a tree against an orange sky, I'll paint the outline of the tree in first using a darker orange, then will layer a dark colour on top of the orange, flicking the brush to blend them. By putting the darker tree over top of the orange outline, it makes the tree look like it's glowing. 

Using Oil Mediums

I don't tend to use a lot of mediums when I'm working in oils, usually just two. I use Winsor & Newton's Liquin in almost every painting I do. It comes in both regular and fine detail consistency, and I use both. Using a small amount of this will speed the dry time and allow the painting to dry overnight, as long as you are working in thin layers (as I tend to do). I'm not an impasto painter, so my pieces typically only need overnight to dry if I'm using Liquin.

The other medium I use is an oil, typically linseed or walnut. This has the opposite effect of liquin, in that it extends dry time. It also reduces brush strokes, and thins the paint. 

Sometimes when I'm using a tube of oil paint, all of the oil rises to the top of the tube, leaving the pigment behind. When I squeeze the tube, I'll only get drips of oil to start, and the pigment itself is too thick because the oil has separated itself. A little bit of oil (I use M. Graham or Winsor & Newton) and the consistency improves. I also use this on Burnt Umber paint when I want to keep the paint wet on my palette overnight, as I find that burnt umber dries the fastest out of all the colours. 

Sometimes, I'll add Liquin to an oil paint that has a bit of oil mixed in with it already. This is fine, as long as they are blended very well. This way, I can leave paint (such as burnt umber) out overnight with a bit of oil mixed in, but the following day use liquin and know that it will still dry in a reasonable timeframe. 

Interested but Intimidated by Oils?

Don't worry, I was too! 

Acrylic painting is an easy and accessible way to begin your craft, but oil offers fantastic possibilities and applications. Its long dry time offers you blendability, and the colours don't shift upon drying the way acrylics do. Cleaning oil brushes is a huge pain, and probably the most annoying part of working in oil paint, but after experimenting with multiple methods of cleaning my brushes, I now have a routine that takes less than ten minutes and keeps the brushes performing their best. 

When I first started painting in oils, I made the big mistake of trying to wash my brushes using tap water in the bathroom sink. I ruined canvases. I cried because I made mistakes and was unable to correct them, because I needed to wait until it fully dried. But I kept going, and eventually, it became my preferred medium. While I still do like to teach and work in acrylics, oils are where I currently work the most professionally. 

If this is something you're interested in trying, be prepared for the learning curve. But considering that I'm self-taught in most things (photography, painting, coding, film editing, etc.) I know from experience that the worst part is convincing yourself to start. Knowing you're bound to fail is scary and uncomfortable. But once you make peace with that, encountering the little failures become like visiting old friends. There may be a glass of wine or two involved, but when you greet them as something that helps you grow, you walk away stronger and more confident.  

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