Susan Lyon
Oil Painting Demonstration

Here's a still-life demonstration by Susan Lyon. The size is 30" by 32" on a smooth, portrait-textured linen that's been double, oil primed. Susan usually sets up her still-life first, decides what her composition will be, and then stretches a tape measure across the front of the actual set-up to determine the size of her canvas. That's a quick way to make sure you'll get the height to width proportion correct, as well as getting the subject around life size. Susan's main inspiration for setting up this still-life was the duck, so that served as the starting point for the painting. You can still see the initial wash-in on the canvas, which is achieved by thinning down the paint with mineral spirits and brushing it on with a bristle brush.

To get the proportions right, Susan used the duck's head as the unit of measurement. Once she'd figured out it's exact size and placement on the canvas, she'll just measure subsequent objects off it to arrive at the desired composition.

Working Carefully from one object to the next.

Here's a close-up of one area so you can see the initial wash-in of the larger shapes of the various objects.

And then the details on top. Notice how Susan leaves a lot of that initial wash show through even to the end.

It's amazing how little you need! Even with only a few brush strokes in the girl's face and hands we get a sense of the expression.


Here the painting is close to finished. Just a few stripes on the tiger and the words of the book.

Notice the values in the book illustrations. Never let a two dimensional object like a picture go as full value as the actual scene around it or it won't look flat. Notice also how light Susan has painted the writing in the book. Even though the characters might be printed with black ink, their value is visually modified by all the white surrounding them (just as the branches of a dark tree become visually lighter against a bright sky -- the thinner the branch, the more they'll be affected and the lighter they'll get). The only way to see this is to squint down at your subject and let your eye move around the scene, comparing your selected area to the darkest darks and lightest lights in the view. If you were to look only at the letters by themselves in isolation, you might very well paint them with black and miss their relation to the values in the scene as a whole. Squinting and comparing to your darkest dark and lightest light should be done for every value in your painting the moment you first consider it!

Here's the final painting below.

"Book Club" oil - 30" by 32"

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All material on this website, Copyright 2007 Scott Burdick and Susan Lyon