OCAD Studio: Basic Brushwork


Each number is different brush.

a) This brushstroke is made with paint straight from the tube.

b) This brushstroke is made with paint thinned with medium so it’s less viscous.


  1. Small Pointed Round Brush (Soft Haired)
    1. The thick paint deposits at the beginning of the brushstroke and then drags across the grain of the paper. The soft brush hairs aren’t able to push the paint along.
    2. These brushstrokes were made with progressively thinner paint. You can see that as more medium is mixed in, the brushstroke becomes more sustained and smooth (it doesn’t drag).


  1. Medium Pointed Round Brush (Soft Haired)
    1. Once again, the paint deposits and then drags across the grain of the paper. This time it carries a bit further as the brush is bigger and has more hairs to hold the paint.
    2. Once medium is mixed in, the brushstrokes become much more fluid and look calligraphic. Notice that the beginning of the stroke is round, like the shape of the brush. As the brush is lifted the stroke becomes narrow, making for tapered strokes (see top right corner of the box).


  1. Large Round Brush (Soft Haired)
    1. This brush still drags the thick paint, but because it’s even bigger and the hairs are dense, it carries the paint further.
    2. The thinned paint applies well and makes for a rich stroke. You can see that the brushstroke tapers well.


  1. Long Haired Flat Brush (Soft Haired)
    1. This long haired brush is quite small, so like the small round, it can’t drag the dry paint far and deposits it straight away (before dragging across the surface).
    2. A bit of medium makes the stroke much more consistent. Notice that because the brush is square at the top, it makes a square shape at the beginning of the brushstroke (unlike the rounds, with make a round shape). If used on its side, this type of brush can make a fine line (better than a small round). See the video for more info.


  1. Short Haired Flat Brush (Soft Haired)
    1. This brush still drags the thick paint, but because it’s even bigger and the hairs are dense, it carries the paint further.
    2. Once medium is mixed in, the brushstrokes become much more fluid. It is still possible to get a good fine line with this brush even though it’s wide. If you play around with twisting and rolling the brush, you can make a lot of complex shapes with a single brushstroke.


  1. Wide Flat Bristle
    1. This bristle has much thicker hairs so it can apply much more thick paint in a single stroke. This is because it is stronger and able to push the paint across the surface, like a trowel. It is very useful for applying impastos, blocking in paint initially, and adding texture.
    2. Interestingly, the bristle is worse at applying the thinned paint, this is because it doesn’t hold as much liquid (compared to the softer brush) and doesn’t channel the thin paint to the tip of the brush.

OCAD Studio: Master Copy in Oils Part 2

Researching and Analysing


After selecting the artwork you want to copy, the next step is analysing the painting and researching the artist who made it.


  • Begin by zooming into the reference image and looking at the details:
    • What is the brushwork like? Smooth or textured?
    • If there is a ground colour (a colour painted onto the canvas before starting), what colour is it?
    • If a ground colour had been used, it should show through slightly in certain parts of the painting. It might be trickier to spot the ground colour if the painting is very rendered.
    • What pigments do you think were used to make the painting? See if you can spot particular colours; burnt umber, prussian blue etc.


  • It may help to research the artist a bit, you could find information about how they worked and what they were most concerned about when painting. This background information will help you get into the mindset of chosen artist and if you’re lucky, you might find some technical tips to help you.


  • You can also look through other paintings by the same artist to see what is consistent about their approach, the surface they paint on and the colours they use.


Preparing to Paint


  • Now that you’ve got an idea for how the painting was made, you can get your surface ready to paint on.


    • Look at the reference image up close to find out what surface was used (canvas or panel etc.) and what size it was.
    • If it was painted on canvas, take another look at the reference image to decide if the canvas looks rough or smooth. If the texture of the canvas is very visible you will need a rough canvas, whereas if the painting surface is very smooth you will need a fine canvas
    • If the painting has a ground colour (most pre Modernist paintings will definitely have a ground colour) decide what pigment to use and thinly paint this colour over the surface (diluting your paint with mineral spirits).
    • Now let the ground colour dry before the next stage.


Task 6: Portrait Photography

Using the natural light which shines in through a window is a great way to get soft light onto an indoor subject which costs nothing and is often overlooked.


Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life.  You are most surely going to recognise his famous ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ below… among many skills, and amazing use of his media, you can see that a lot of success in his work is also down to the positioning of the light. See many more of his works to see how natural light casts great shadows and provides focal points to his art.



Pay close attention to the quality of the light as well as how you are positioning your subject in relation to the window light. For this task, you want to create great shadows! This will give you a great image to test out your tonal shading skills when drawing the image.

Having a face in profile, or straight on, can test knowledge of proportion and observation- so trial several positions to get the angle and shadow that makes it interesting for you to observe.

You can take your photography one step further…

Quote from Wikipedia:

portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.

The last sentence here might catch your attention… how can you achieve personality and mood of the person you are going to draw? Well the photo is a good start as you can trial expressions and trial different backgrounds and environments. You could really intensify the shadows and make some extreme contrasts to give you a certain mood or atmosphere to the image.

In trialing your compositions, lighting and expressions, you can get very creative and have an image that, when drawn, tests not only your drawing skills and observation, but also adds meaning and purpose to the art.

Great examples of this can be seen with many artists, all of whom want to share a story or interpretation of their personalities when doing a self portrait.

One of the favourites is clearly Frida Kahlo:

She was a Mexican artist who painted many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. Inspired by the country’s popular culture, she employed a naïve, folk art style to explore questions of identity, post-colonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society.

Her paintings often had strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism with fantasy.



Do think about what you want to get out of your drawing as you are exploring the photography… a test of observation and tonal shading? Or, as well as this, purpose and meaning to showcase the person you are drawing?

Photography will help with the ideas!


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