Book Review: The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted by Kathleen Lochen Staiger

Finding quality books can sometimes be a problem; there are many books that cover the same basic information without anything unique. I’m on a search for the books that you keep for a lifetime. This is an in-depth book review of The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted by Kathleen Lochen Staiger.

Skip to the end for…

Finding quality books can sometimes be a problem; there are many books that cover the same basic information without anything unique. I’m on a search for the books that you keep for a lifetime. This is an in-depth book review of The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted by Kathleen Lochen Staiger.

Skip to the end for the TL;DR summary.

Introduction to the Course & Getting Your Supplies Together

This course has been designed to be taken from start to finish with each lesson building upon skills taught in the previous. The book is with oil painters in mind, however it is adaptable to other mediums. It has been designed for someone without any previous experience in art or painting.

This book doesn’t recommend a limited palette like many others – a total of 13 different colors – so starting costs may be a little high for the reluctant beginner. Also surprisingly flat brushes are recommended, when most people recommend purchasing filberts.

Topics of supports, mediums and cleaners and various other supplies are briefly covered to explain to an absolute beginner what they should be shopping for.

Lesson One: Capturing the Illusion of Three Dimensions

Before grabbing out paint, Steiger encourages the beginner artist to learn tonal values through several practical exercises. As many of my other posts lately have explored, values in art play a significant role. You will learn how to define the form of a cube, a square, a cylinder and a hollow cylinder.

Lesson Two: Making Your Brush Behave

This chapter has a number of exercises designed to help you learn a variety of necessary brush strokes. What I liked about this chapter was that it also considered alternative tools; such as palette knives and sponges.

Overview of Strokes Taught
Overview of Strokes Taught

Steiger has a wonderful talent of explaining concepts in a very clear and precise manner; she teaches the principles of colors such as split primaries (and how to get a neutral primary) in a way that even a beginner will understand.

Lesson Three: Getting The Colors You Want

This lesson will be extremely helpful for a beginner artist in any medium. When I started to learn oil painting I thought I could just lighten colors by adding white, but this creates a chalky appearance. The correct way to do lighten is to use various other hues that have a different value. Steiger teaches you how to mix colors in an exercise that creates a number of swatches that are perfect for later reference.

If you are serious about art, you will often need to work in values. The earlier exercise taught you to mix colors at their fullest intensity, however you will often want to use a duller color in your artwork. How do you dull a color? If you add white or black you change the value, which more often than not is not what you want to do; in many cases the value is more important than the hue.

Have ever struggled at creating realistic shadows? Building upon the last exercise, Steiger does an amazing job at explaining how to mix shadow colors for all the different hues. Gone are the quick, but unrealistic, mixing with greys or blacks. You will learn to make the most beautiful and dynamic shadows.

Lesson Four: Putting It All Together

Mixing swatches of color only takes you so far. In this chapter Staiger guides you step-by-step through the process of actually painting a series of basic subjects. Whilst they seem simple in nature – purposefully to not intimidate absolute beginners – they do use the knowledge taught in earlier chapters; form, shadows and color mixing.

These are lessons to really test your knowledge of the fundamentals of art and skill with oil painting.

Lesson Five: Creating a Still Life Painting

What makes an interesting still life painting; is it the use of values, shapes or composition? You want your hard work to be engaging when finished. Steiger encourages you to work from real-life. The theory of this lesson goes into a lot of detail about how to set up your still-life subjects and avoid issues such as points of tension and leading the eye out of the composition.

Lesson Six: Creating a Landscape Painting

This is another lesson packed with wonderful theory and practical exercises. Perspective play such a vital role for any sense of realism. Steiger explains how to draw in perspective, even when a beginner doesn’t have much knowledge or practice of working in perspective. Color mixing is again revisited, this time more specific to landscapes; mixing lots greens. Greens not just vary significantly when used in full chroma, but can again vary greatly when used in perspective.  Steiger also covers aspects such as skies, clouds, sunsets, rocks and sand, water and much more…

Landscape Exercise in Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted by Kathleen Steiger
Landscape Exercise in Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted by Kathleen Steiger

Lesson Seven: Creating a Portrait Painting

The last chapter is designed to help you learn to paint a portrait. It includes detailed instructions on to draw a likeness of a person by analysing facial features. There is another color mixing exercise, this time specific to mixing skin tones and shadows. Steiger has also included a traceable face drawing so you that you can quickly get started practicing your painting and not worry so much about your drawing skills.

Portrait Lesson Taught by Kathleen Steiger
Portrait Lesson Taught by Kathleen Steiger

Overall Impressions

The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted by Kathleen Staiger
The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted by Kathleen Staiger

The book Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted is absolutely amazing, and I am so glad I bought it. Kathleen Lochen Staiger has done a superb job of introducing important core concepts to beginner artists such as color theory. Even an artist who has some training will likely benefit from the clear manner in which she teaches.

I love how there is a plethora of practical exercises that allows you to immediately apply what you have learnt. It is these exercises that truely set this book apart from so many others; after-all most people learn through practice and not theory. These exercises are worth taking the time to do as the results can be used as excellent reference resources in the future; for example many artists will refer to their self-made color charts to make the same hues time and time again.

Kathleen Staiger has gone above and beyond in her book the Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted. She includes much more information than merely how to work with oils; many of the chapters is proceeded with fundamental skills that all artists – beginners or professionals – should know such as working with values, the essentials of perspective and the basics of composition.

I was extremely happy with this book and highly recommend it. The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted will introduce a beginner artist to a number of foundational topics that will need to know in a very clear and easy-going manner, and will help a more experience artist familiar with different mediums to take up oil painting.

Leave a Reply