Sustained Painting in Oils

By Doug Purdon, SCA

The painting 'Breaking Surf – Brenton Point' (demonstrated below) was selected for the 27th Annual – MODERN MARINE MASTERS EXHIBITION at the Maritime Gallery, Mystic CT. More than 80 of the world's most prominent maritime artists are represented in this invitational show of work inspired by maritime subjects from yesterday and today. The exhibition runs from April 29 – June 18, 2006 at the Maritime Gallery, Mystic Seaport CT.

This demonstration will show you how I work on a sustained painting. If you wish to see how I work alla prima, you can visit the 'Tips & Techniques' section of my website:

The Block In

Ocean Point RI – Study of surf, Oct. 15, 2004

Inspiration for my studio paintings comes from plein air studies, drawings and photographs, which have been done on sight. Depending on the complexity of the subject, I sometimes do a small oil study first. This painting will be a study for a larger work.

Completed Blocking-in

I first block in the painting loosely with Alkyd paint. Alkyd is fast drying oil paint that will be dry enough for me to paint over in 18 – 24 hours. I use it in the early stages of a painting to speed things up. NEVER use alkyd on top of traditional oils as serious technical problems can occur. Don't get caught up in details when blocking a painting in; only be concerned with the large shapes and overall composition. There is plenty of time to add details later. When the Alkyd block-in is dry I give the canvas a thin stain of Raw Sienna Alkyd to tone the canvas.

The Under-Painting

Halfway through the under-painting

Once the stain is dry I start working on the under-painting. During this stage paint is applied thinly, but I don't use a lot of medium or thinner at this point. I prefer to take advantage of the ability of oils to be brushed out. This keeps this paint layer 'lean'. I will be using more medium in the following layers. If oil paint is over thinned it is difficult to work with and the colours lose their brilliance.

The under-painting completed

The sky and background water will be close to completion when I finish this stage, but I keep the middle and foreground areas darker. In some areas I am setting up colours that will be enhanced by glazing later. Zinc white is used for mixing colours in the foreground as it is more translucent and has less strength than Titanium and will not overpower subtle colours.

Completing the Painting

The painting partially finished

I add detail and adjust the colours and values that were established during the under painting. To achieve the effect of light on the spray, the whites in the rest of the painting are kept darker and cooler. Titanium White is a cold white so I warm it up with a small amount of Cadmium Yellow and Orange. When paint is dry glazes of Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Sap Green and Perylene Black are applied to adjust colour and value. I start to refine the patterns of foam in the foreground and add highlights to the rocks.

Morning Surf – Brenton Point RI Oil on canvas 12' x 16'

As the painting progresses more layers of transparent, translucent and opaque colours are added to the rocks, water and foam.

When the painting is finished it is signed and put away for a week or so. Then I take a final look to see if there are any adjustments needed and make any changes if required.

One of the reasons I chose to do a study for the larger painting was that I wanted to experiment with some of the new pigments that have recently become available. Most of these new pigments are very transparent and are excellent for glazing. Ten colours were used in the initial stages of the painting. Two of these colours however, Cadmium Yellow and Orange were only used to warm the whites. In the early stages of a painting I try to limit the number of colours used so as to avoid muddy mixtures.


Winsor Blue, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue


Winsor Blue (Green Shade)Ultramarine BlueBurnt Umber
Yellow OchreCadmium YellowCadmium Orange
Prussian BlueIndigoZinc White
Titanium White  
As the painting drew near completion I started to glaze to alter colour and value. Glazing selected areas allows you to achieve the illusion of light coming from within the painting.


Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Turquoise


Perylene BlackPerylene CrimsonIndian Yellow
Permanent Sap GreenPermanent Alizarin CrimsonWinsor Violet

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