Category Archives: Painting Tips

Wildlife And Portrait Color Mixing Formulas

Hi Darrell,

When I saw your announcement of Santa and the Santa Dog/Cat I immediately ordered. But I have a big, big question. What are the formulas you use for mixing up all of the colors in Santa’s portrait and do you use the same colors for the Dog/Cat? I just need to know what colors to go out and purchase. Brenda Lee, Peoria, IL

Hi Brenda and thanks for the question.

First, there are seven basic colors I use in painting Santa, or any other wildlife or human portrait. With these colors, its a matter of mixing one particular color and using it to make the rest.

Darrell’s Portrait Color Mixing Guide

Burnt Umber
Paynes Gray
Rose Color: 1 part Burnt Sienna, 6 parts Orange
Dark Flesh Color: 1 Part Rose Color, 2 parts Raw Sienna
Light Flesh Color: 1 Part Dark Flesh Color, 2 parts Titanium White
Skin Highlight: 1 part Titanium White, Touch of Light Flesh Color
Shadow Color: 4 parts Deep Flesh Color, 1 part Violet Color

For painting wildlife fur I also add

1. Raw Umber

2. Raw Sienna

I’m Looking For The Santa Claus Patterns…..Where Are They

Got a nice email from Scott Newcomb of Bismark today. He’d received his order for The Three Faces of Santa, had watched the DVDs and wanted to start painting…

“Darrell, I’m looking for the Santa Cat/Dog patterns, but can’t seem to find them. I went to the Patterns Menu at the top of your home page (third from the right), clicked on that, scrolled down to the Oil Painting Projects link and clicked on that, but no Santa drawings ….. What did I miss? Where are they?”

Scott, thanks for the email. Great question. You did right by going to the Patterns menu at the top of my home page ( and clicking on the word, Patterns. However scroll down the list of links until you come to Santa Claus. Click on that and you’ll find all of the patterns there.

What Is The Best Way Of Putting A Portrait Drawing On Canvas?

I received the following questions and although I’ve not produced a series of Portrait videos, I’d like to share this question with everyone and my answer.

Hi Darrell, I have purchased both you landscapes and floral videos and I love them both. I recently bought a video on techniques for painting portraits. The bad new is that no one, but no one is as clear and precise as you are, Darrell. The video starts out with the canvas already washed. My problem is this. Do I draw the image on before I wash the canvas, or after? Or do you go around the drawing, like you do in your floral video\’s? She talks about the entire canvas being covered, and yet the face is definately lighter than the wash she used on the background. (She was using burnt sienna). Then she said you can use any color, blue or green. I am almost sure you would\’t want that on the face area. Can you give me your impression of this? I know you are a busy man, but I value your opinion. Do you do portraits? ….Keep up the great work. Sheryl M.

Hi Sheryl, Thanks for the encouraging words. There are a lot of films out on the market to educate us in portraits. But as you’ve pointed out, they assume us students know something and they just kind of start there.

Here’s how I would transfer an image onto canvas…..

I first obtain a drawing. Most of us have a digital camera in which we can take a photo of our subject. Then I blow it up to life size using a photo editor on my computer. Once that’s done, I print it out.

Then using tracing paper, I will outline the person’s head. I’ll mark the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, chin, neck and generally 2-3″ of the top torso, maybe more. Any distinguishing marks or facial contours, scars, etc… I’ll put on the tracing paper. Once the tracing is completed, I’ll study my tracing against the photo and make any corrections I think are necessary.

For the canvas I will use a portrait smooth canvas. I’ll make sure it has a misty grey coating of gesso on it. This is critical. After the Gesso dries, I’ll use black graphite paper or transfer paper and trace the drawing onto the canvas. Then I will make another mixture of grey gesso that is about 1 or 2 shades darker than the misty grey canvas color. The objective is to get a light line color I can use as I form the initial facial features.

I’ll paint over the portrait tracing on the canvas with this 1 shade darker gesso using a #2 script liner until all of the graphite marks have been covered. Once the Gesso is thoroughly dry, I will coat the canvas with a thin coat of medium. Depending upon the type of background I want, I may wash the canvas with a coat of very thin paint. Or I’ll leave it alone until I’ve completed the portrait to a point I need to paint the background. Never keep the background until last. You want to be painting it along with the portrait as its an integral complement to the portrait.

For under-washing the portrait, it again depends upon who you’re painting and what you’re trying to do with the portrait. I’ll often paint the face with a thin coat of sap green, or a very thin coat of yellow ochre. I don’t recall using burnt sienna, unless the skin of the subject is quite dark or extremely tanned in color. But no matter your wash, its what you put on top that will really define your portrait.

Remember, painting a portrait is almost like drawing. You paint by drawing. It’s very different from landscapes or florals.


Hope this helps.


Weeping Willow Tree Tutorial!

Jayne from South Dakota has asked how to paint a weeping willow tree.

First, a primer….. With the Basic Techniques Series of Oil Painting I’m trying to teach youthe fundamentals of shape, color, highlighting, etc… Once you have the fundamentals under control so that you can use your brushes and mix color and how to put together paintings, we get into the real fun of oil painting. Concentrating on what we see and painting from either what we see or our imagination.

Let’s first look at a Weeping Willow Tree and see what’s there ….
Weeping Willow
What do you see? Without reading any further, quickly pull out a piece of paper and jot down ten things you see about this tree.

Here’s my observations

1. The tree is nearly as wide as it is high.
2. There are five main clumps of branches. I shall call them main branches.
3. There are two main branches at the top, two at the side and one facing forward.
4. Each Main Branch has multiple auxiliary branches.
5. All leaves and all branches hang down like moss giving a weird look like clumps of grapes.
6. The branches do not go all the way to the ground. So painting this would mean leaving a foot or so of spacing between the end of the lowest branches to the ground.
7. The tree trunk is barely visible
8. The interior of the branches are major dark.
9. Highlights are on all of the main branches and some of the auxiliary branches.
10. The Tree trunk color will be Van Dyke Brown slightly highlighted. I could make better use of reflective highlight in painting this tree.
11. The branches are a light yellow green (Sap Green).
12. Two highlights are needed.
14. Yellow/Green highlight for over the dark
15. Mint green as the topical (Sunlight) highlights over the Yellow/Green highlight.
16. No wood from either main or auxiliary branches appear to be visible.

Just by making these observations you’ve answered about every question except for what brush…..

1. I’d probably choose a palette knife for making the tree trunk.
2. Following the shape loosely, I’d probably use a 1″ brush for the underpainting of the dark color.
3. I’d highlight both colors (mint or Yellow/Green with an Alexander Mop or a filbert brush that is approx. 1″ wide.

Just apply the highlights lightly for both colors using your bigge filtert.


1. Lourdes Nichols said: Thank you Darell you are not only teaching me to paint, you are also teaching me to SEE. I found this instruction excellent as I have lots of enthusiasm but little natural ability.
2. Kathy Rice said: Darrell, thank you so much for your wonderful teaching. You have a great gift from God and I thank you for sharing it.

3. lynn10 said: Teaching me how to SEE was great. When I squinted my eyes, I could see the shape even better. Thanks.
Silky said: Thank you Darrell I found this very helpful.
estellejbrown said: Darrell, thank you for the wonderful insights and instructions as they relate to oil painting!!!

I Am Losing My Lines What Can I Possibly Do?

Darrell, I have used carbon paper to transfer an enlarged outline to a dry canvas, but when I put on the medium white, I sometimes loose the lines. I need to put darker lines or be very careful when putting on the medium white. Any suggestions on how to keep from losing your lines? Paul.

Paul, If you’re losing your lines, here’s a great suggestion I discovered when learning to paint portraits and it has served me well in complicated landscapes, portraits and tall ships.

Paint your canvas with a gray gesso. I take gray gesso out of the bottle and mix it with some white gesso. Just to make the gray a couple shades (Noticeable) lighter than “out-of-the-bottle.” After the lightened gray gesso has dried, I’ll transfer my drawing to the canvas by using graphite transfer paper. I’ve tried carbon paper, but it’s difficult to work and frequently counterproductive. I’ll then load a #2 liner brush loaded with the “out-of-the-bottle” gray and paint all lines with the darker gray. The lines will now be distinct and will show through either medium clear or medium white. (Caution, they will not show through a darker than grey medium i.e…. medium black) Apply medium and paint as you normally would. The dark lines will show through the medium, but be covered when you apply paint. Furthermore, if you ever decide to change your mind on the painting you can use a wipe-out tool or paint eraser to get back to the raw canvas and your lines will still be there. Darrell

Mastering Bushes

Question: Tackled another one of your lessons, this one on the bushes and grasses DVD. I really enjoy doing these and I found doing bushes a little tough.

I made mud on the right side doing the bushes and had to scrape off the paint and start over. I still wasn’t happy with what I did do. Maybe because I thought my foliage color wasn’t dark enough. Was tough seeing them on the grass. I will have to practice more on bushes and the technique of applying them to the canvas.

My brush doesn’t behave like yours does. I used the 2 inch brush but found it difficult to put it on the canvas and bend it until the boot bristles touched the canvas. Mine did not look like yours.

Do you think my water moves too much?

I’m never sure just how much paint to mix up and maybe that is most of my trouble. Not enough paint on the brush although doing the highlighting on them was a tad easier for me so not sure why I am having so much difficulty with the ugly mix on the canvas.

Maybe you have a couple of ideas what I may be doing wrong?


Darrell’s Answer:

Hi Ann.

Thanks for the question and thanks for the photo. That really helps in trying to understand what may be going on.

First, let me say we all make mud. I was just in Florida for a week teaching and right there in front of everyone, I did it.

I made mud.

I’ve made ten thousands of great bushes, but right in front of everyone I blew it.

Like you,

I scraped off the mud and just redid the bushes.

In looking at your photos, I do not think its the darkness of the under painting that is your problem. I do not see the nice lattice formations for bushes that I like to see. I believe you may not have thinned down your paints enough. We can have a lot of paint on our brushes, but if it is not ‘wetter’ (which is my way of saying thinner paint — remember thin paints sticks to thick paints) than what’s on the canvas, it will not ‘stick’. Remember, thin paints stick to thick paints.

Also, you may be more comfortable using the 1″ brush than the 2″ brush. It wasn’t until after I mastered the 1″ that I could develop good control with the 2″.

My Rocks Look More Like Mud Slides…..I’m Hopeless!

I recently received a comment from a student that I’d like to share about the difficulties he is undergoing in painting rocks with a knife.


Watching your rock video is tough.

I just see brown spots, then I use your knife technique and the highlight blends then I put the blue and brown “shadow lights” and it also just mixes or blends so I have decided to develop my own style if I may.

The rocks move from being brown rocks to brown shale or lignite. That’s OK, I am going try other colors to help me ascertain highlight from just plain rock and then the low light.

This is the toughest thing I have ever tried. For this to be so simple yet it is not. And of course, I waste an entire canvas to include liquid white, Prussian blue, titanium white etc. I think I have to have a real objective like a scene not just an inanimate object like a rock.

I suffer from pure pragmatism! This is as close to impressionistic as I can get and live with myself. I can see why Van Gogh cut off his ear. To see an image in your mind, then see how the paint and brushes go their own direction is quite frustrating.

It is just me, nothing you have done or said in your tape. I will get over it, I am just demanding perfection from myself based on your example and I can’t seem to copy that no matter what.I do think I do rocks better with a filbert than a knife. Richard.


The key Richard is never give up.

Let’s review basic rock highlighting with a knife.

Hold the knife between your thumb and forefinger on the metal ferrel when painting the rocks. Make sure that you have a small roll of the highlight paint on your knife. Remember, your stroke is just like you were painting a huge mountain, except we’re painting a tiny rock. Now lightly, no pressure, with the knife just hovering above the right, lightly stroke the rock, making sure fingers are on the knife properly and not on the blade. No pressure and complete your stroke in the air. Do another stroke if the rock is larger than one stroke.

When you’re painting the shadow light, use the small edge of the knife and load up the same way and stroke, but this time in the opposite direction.

Now, I have a story for you.

I had the most awful time learning how to do highlights for trees. I mean, everyone would show me how to use the 2″ brush and the 1″ brush, the huge round brush, the half round brush, the fan brush and I couldn’t highlight to save my soul. Like you said below, it just kind of came out muddy.

One day Bob Ross introduces the black handled oval brush which is like a major big filbert brush.

I didn’t have anything to lose.

But wham, watching Bob and then working with my instructor Jessie Martin, I got it.

My brain finally understood how to highlight trees using that brush.

Well, let me tell you, over 2 years of frustration and it finally clicked. And even better the way I painted with the ‘big filbert’ helped me learn to highlight trees with any brush.

I got so good with the brush that when I went through BR certification, the other classmates simply stood behind me and just watched I’m so deaf I didn’t hear them back there. Only knew they were there when I backed up and stepped on somebody who got close behind me.

As I turned around, a student said, “Darrell, you make trees worth dying for.” Right then and there I knew this was the brush for highlighting. Dana Jester came by and said, he only wished CRIs could do this well.

Now the funny thing is, once I made the breakthrough, I was able to transfer that knowledge of how I was using the oval brush to any other brush. It doesn’t matter which brush I use now, I can highlight trees fairly well.

The moral of the story is keep trying, never give up and once you find what works, master it and then apply what you’ve learned with that particular brush or knife to all of the other implements and you’ll be just fine.


Painting A Thatched Roof

Question: How do you paint a thatched roof?

Darrell’s Answer: I generally put a thick layer of a dark to mid-light gray for where the roof is to lie. Make sure its a thick looking roof. Than using a liner brush I paint in the top layer of straw, as well as the visible ends and side edges of the roof. I also use the color of the paintings’ light for highlighting the roof.

Painting A Wet Tree Over A Wet Mountain?

Hi, Darrell, and thank you for your last reply. I continue watching your videos and have tried with very little success. I know practice makes perfect. One problem I am having is when I try and paint say a large tree over a distant mountain that when I start overlapping the mountain my tree turns into mud. Is my paint perhaps to thick or am I trying to paint over too thick of paint? Would adding thinner to my tree mix solve this problem?
Thanks, Larry K

There are two things you can do Larry. And I’ll publish this on my newsletter because I know that a lot of people will have the same problem.

What is happening is you have so much wet paint that layering the dark tree foliage mix over the mountains’ dark and highlights (shadow lights) the lighter color is mixing with the darker to yield an unpleasant color.

· First, Take your knife and scrape off the mountain part you know that the tree will cover. This will keep the tree foliage mix darker and richer.

· Second. Add a drop or two of thinner or clear oil painting medium into the dark tree foliage mix. Just a drop. If you do too much medium or thinner, your paint is too wet to help you. So only use a drop or two.

· Third. Paint your tree in.

Everything should work well. You may have to repeat #3 a couple of times, but you’ll see a decent tree very quickly.

Shadows and Highlights

I can’t get to my painting as I work night and sleep days. Instead I have begun to teach myself to paint with colored pencils as this I can do in my quiet times at work (the only time, right now, that I have to paint).

After reading the critique of the lady’s work on the two dogs, regarding the shading of the animals, I gathered a tremendous tidbit of information – use cooler colours in shadows!

I am still practicing using the colored pencils and realized this gem of information will do me in all my work, both pencils and acrylics. Thank you for the gems among the pebbles.

Thanks for mentioning this Ron. You’ve just demonstrated one of my basic principles I preach. When something doesn’t work, don’t give up. Keep experimenting until you find a solution. Master the solution and you’ll be amazed that the solution will be transferrable to all of your other works