It’s Time to Let Your Inner Artist Out

By Jane Ferguson

          Have you ever wanted to try oil painting, but for any number of reasons decided, “I just couldn’t or shouldn’t ….” Or, “I just wouldn’t want to be a beginner at this stage in my life.” Or perhaps you’re thinking, “I can’t even draw very well, so how on earth could I attempt oil painting?”

I once thought the same way. Then one day I found myself with a canvas in front of me and a paint brush in hand. At 53, I spent one afternoon painting with my sister and fell in love with oil painting. What surprised me most as I progressed through many classes was that while my painting skills did slowly improve, the real gift of painting was the way it changed the way I see everything and because of this, I can say that painting has forever changed and enriched my life.

The French impressionist painter Claude Monet said, “Paint what you see, not what you know.” We know an orange is an orange, but look again with “fresh eyes.” What colors do you see? Yellow? Orange? Crimson? Grey?

You may not want to spend years studying or in painting classes as I did, but I can promise you that if you try painting, it could enrich your life.You will begin seeing the world differently. You’ll look at the “green trees” and notice a myriad of colors: the yellow on the sunlit leaves and the deep blue and purple in the shadow, the red on the branches and you’ll be amazed at how little “green” there really is. You’ll start seeing color as you never did before and if you are like me, you’ll wonder how you could have missed it for so long. If you dare to paint, you too could be rewarded with the artist’s gift of “fresh eyes.” Because of my experience, I know just about anyone can learn to paint and I believe everyone should at least try it.

Artists are frequently asked, “How do you do that? What are the steps from beginning to the end in painting a subject?” Here is an easy painting lesson explaining how  some artists go about making a simple painting:

First, get over the drawing challenge. If you don’t think you draw well, it doesn’t have to be a problem. Most of you can draw a circle and a straight line. That’s all you need for your first exercise.

Now, take a deep breath, clear your mind of all negative thoughts that were probably  planted there years ago by poor teachers. Think positively. This is going to be fun and you will surprise yourself. I’m sure of that. It’s time to let your inner-artist out. Today we’re going to paint an orange.

          Second, gather your materials.  You’ll need a canvas, 8×8 or 8×10; a palette, or if you don’t want to buy one, use an old cookie sheet or get an easy-to-clean paper palette; two oil brushes, 1 medium size # 6 or #8, filbert or flat, and one small pointed detail No. 2 detail brush; oil paints including titanium white, Windsor or cobalt blue, cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, alizarin crimson; brush cleaner (I use odorless Turpenoid); an easel and a frame the size of your canvas, which you can get later when you see how wonderful your painting looks!

Third, set up. Place a blue cloth on a small table near a window with natural light shining in or use a spotlight. My light was shining from the left side of the orange. I chose to place the orange on a blue cloth because blue is the complementary color to orange.

Now, for the real deal. There are four steps:

Step 1-Draw the Orange on the Canvas. On your canvas, draw a straight line one-third of the way up the canvas. Now draw a circle about an inch over the line and a bit to the left of center. The circle is the orange and the straight line represents the back of the table.

Step 2-Paint in the Background. Mix white with your blue and make a nice light color of blue that you like. Now, fill your brush up and paint in the bottom cloth on which the orange is resting. To make the wall color simply mix a little orange paint into the light blue mix and some white. You’ll get a wonderful grey that will blend perfectly with your blue. Paint in the top part of the painting above the orange with your grey paint.

Step 3-Paint in the Orange. You’ll notice in natural light, the orange isn’t just orange. There are three basic colors on the orange. There is a light yellow where the sun hits the orange, the true orange color which is the middle band and a shadow color on the far side of the orange. Block in these colors on your orange leaving a bit of white between each color.

Now blend the colors’ edges together. Mix a little blue with your alizarin crimson to make a shadow color and paint in the shadow that the orange casts on the table. Add a small amount of shadow under the orange too. Check to make sure that where the orange rests on the table is a straight line. This will take away the “orange ball” look.

Step 4-Details

Take your small brush and mix a little yellow and blue together. You’ll get green. Now add the small naval stem area to the orange. Voila! You should be finished. Congratulations.


Jane is a professional artist living in Arnold and painting in the Chesapeake Bay area. She can be reached at



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