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5 Tips From Mark Boedges Workshop

Friday July 21, 2023

Earlier this week I took a 3 day workshop with the painter Mark Boedges. It was an awesome experience and I feel like it really took my plein air to a new level. These are the biggest tips I can think of. If you get a chance to take a workshop with him it is 100% worth the money.

5 - Turpenoid and Turpentine are not the same thing

Mark’s plein air process relies heavily on layering. In a medium like gouache or acrylic, layering is pretty straightforward - but oil requires some forethought to avoid making a mess. Instead of toning the canvas with a single color wash, Mark uses his washes to block in the painting. These washes serve the painting and don’t necessarily need to be covered like a simple toned canvas would.

During the demo I watched Mark block in a painting with a turpentine wash. By the time he was finished blocking in, it was dry enough to go over again with another (thicker) wash. But when I tried the same technique I just kept smudging paint around. It turns out “turpenoid” is NOT turpentine - it’s mineral spirits. Up until Monday afternoon I hadn’t given much thought to what solvents I was using. Odorless Mineral Spirits (aka Turpenoid) stinks less than the paint thinner in my garage and it thins paint which I thought is all I needed. As it turns out though, OMS has some downsides.

For one, OMS doesn’t dissolve dammar or any other natural resins (mastic, sandarac, opal) which are common in medium/varnish. Secondly, and essential for plein air, OMS dries about three times slower than turpentine. It’s still possible to layer using OMS washes but you have to wait a few minutes for them to dry - not ideal. In my research I discovered that naphtha (another petroleum based solvent) actually dries faster than turpentine. In regular painting I can tell a huge difference between turp and OMS. I tried out naphtha today but I didn’t notice much of a difference between turp. I plan to do some experiments with all three solvents to see just how much they differ.

Updates on my solvent exploration

4 - BRUSHES MATTER

Seriously go buy Rosemary Co. Master’s Series right now they’re barely even more than Michaels garbage synthetics.

I’d been putting off buying nice brushes for a long time. I assumed that the quality of my paintings was mostly dependent on my skill so dropping $150 on my LARP career really hurt my inner scrooge. Since I’d invested so much in this workshop, though, I decided I needed to bite the bullet and get some real tools. And boy was I wrong about the importance of brushes.

It’s true a good brush won’t make you a better artist, but a crappy brush will make you worse. The type of layering that Mark gets in his paintings is impossible without a soft brush like the Rosemary Co. Master’s Series. I got an assortment of Ulitimate Bristles, Master’s Series, and Eclipes Extra Long Combers. The control you get with these brushes compared the cheapos feels like the difference between holding a pencil in your fingers versus gripping it in a fist. I feel like a total idiot for not buying them months ago, especially given they cost only 10-20% more than the cheap bruhses I was burning through before.

3 - The focal point is the most important part

This one is pretty obvious but it really changed the way I approached painting “en plein air”. The conventional wisdom in painting is to go from big to small and work all around the canvas. Mark follows Richard Schmid’s approach of rendering from the center of interest outward. He still works big to small in layers, but after the initial block in he works on one area until its close to finished.

I’m often painting before or after work and following the standard method its very rare for me to finish a plein air painting. In the last few months I’ve mostly switched from plein air to small studies of objects in my house because that’s all I have time to finish. Using Mark and Schmid’s approach I can actually take my painting back outside again and come away with a “finished” product even if its not the whole painting. It also helps to simplify your painting down to the one thing that actually matters. It’s very easy when painting outside to try to include too much in the composition. When you’ve got one thing to render all the way through that temptation is much less.

3.5 Clean your palette

Just a little addendum that I remembered. In the demos, Mark wiped off his entire palette multiple times. Every time he switched to a different object he would wipe it down and start over. I found not being afraid to scrap my paint has helped me stay organized a lot better. Especially with a small plein air palette, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with all the colors. A fresh mixing space is a great way to clear your head and refocus on what you’re painting.

2 - Paintings don’t need to be finished outside

When I was painting using the block in approach it was very difficult to continue work on my paintings indoors. If I didn’t finish the whole thing outside then it would just stay unfinished. But when you have the most important part finished outdoors, filling in the rest from photos is easy. Mark starts most of his paintings outdoors where he finishes the central point but the majority of the work is done in the studio. It takes a lot of pressure off to know that I can make something I’m proud of without it being 100% finished.

1 - Color temperature is essential to realistic lighting

I’ve known about color temperature for a long time but I never knew how important it was to realistic lighting. In every demo, Mark spent a significant amount of time talking about the temperature of the passages he was painting. In drawing, light and shadow are primarily communicated through value. The same is true in painting but the color temperature also has to be correct in order to read properly. A warm light should have a cool shadow. Conversely, cool light should have a warm shadow. It’s a simple concept but it can become very complex in outdoor scenes.

Just think of a sunny day - pretty simple right? The sun is a warm light, therefore it should have cool shadows. But the shadows are lit by the sky which is cool light. That means within the shadows the darks should be warmer because they recieve less cool light from the sky. Especially when local value comes into play, color temperature can make or break the read of your lighting. It’s a lot to think about but when it goes right the results are worth it.

My Paintings

You can (hopefully) see my progression in the paintings each day. The first day (top) I was still using OMS and having a really hard time controlling the paint. I started way too thick and didn't have room to layer.

The second day (left) I was still fighting the medium but I started to understand how I was going wrong.

The last day (right) I used turp and my wash went on a lot better. I still went thick too fast and it got a little messy towards the end but I felt much more in control of my layers. All of them need more work but I think this is the closest to being done. I’m excited to get out and paint more with the techniques I learned this week. Something clicked on the last day and I feel I have a much better grip on how to handle oil.


Tags: art , oil