Using “Spatter” with Oil Paint

Spattering is a term which means spraying small droplets of paint onto the canvas. Spatter techniques in oil paintings can be applied to create a sense of mist, fog, ocean spray, or random wildflowers. I first became familiar with the use of spatter years ago with watercolor paint and nowadays I at times experiment with its use with oil paints. Oils have a thicker consistency and do not spray as easily as paint mixed with water.

Hillside Wildflowers-texture close up
Hillside Wildflowers-texture close up

Around my Soquel Studio this spring, I found the forget-me-nots under the oaks and the wild calendula with daffodils interspersed. These inspired an 18×18 painting, Hillside Wildflowers, in which I used several spatter techniques to present the wide spread of wildflowers. I began the process by mixing up a slurry using a cad yellow gold for my field of calendulas. I used walnut alkyd mixed with gamsol 1:1, to thin the paint. Getting the viscosity (stiffness) of the slurry just right is important, but that “right” viscosity will vary for different techniques of applying the spatter, as well as for different effects such as droplet size and symmetry or asymmetry of the droplets. To get the effects I wanted, I experimented around by spattering onto an old canvas panel.

I masked off areas of my canvas that I wanted to keep the spray off of, using wax paper from the kitchen. Other papers would work as well as long as they absorb the oil paint and do not let it penetrate to the canvas.

A stiff bristle brush and an old tooth brush  each gave a random spray of paint onto the canvas. I could control it a bit by using a rag to lift off paint in areas where I didn’t intend it to land. Next I used a piece of fine metal screen, like used for window screens, mounted on a frame. I brushed paint onto the screen, positioned it over the location I wanted to spray, then flicked the screen, sending paint down onto the surface of the canvas. I used a natural sponge to create clusters of gold. If you find other tools work well for you to get this random pattern of spots, do share! Click the close-up image to watch my YouTube video demonstrating and discussing spatter techniques in the making of this painting. (Or visit my Videos Page.)

Hillside Wildflowers on my easel
Hillside Wildflowers on my easel

Here is the painting in progress with calendulas and some marking for where the daffodils will go. I next used spatter for the forget-me-nots that are under the oaks. I tied the foreground and background together with a mix of gold and light yellow. I have waited for each color to dry before applying the next. I built up the layers and evaluated each step, in order for the colors to not run together. Blue into gold will make a green, and I want to keep these colors distinct.

I find being quarantined creates time for experimentation.

The painting is now complete, and is available in my online store.

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