Martin Kinnear on getting started and some big concepts. This time direct & indirect

Updated: Mar 4

If you're new to painting then let's talk about the basics and show you how its done on StudioTalk


I taught myself to paint because I wanted to create these skies

As you are reading this blog I assume that you have a keen interest in the art and craft of painting; and, and as an artist you should take a foundation program in learning the building blocks of the skill; after all that's what every great artist did for centuries - either as an apprentice or by imitation of Masters.


One of the first things I learned about painting is that it is an acquired skill, not a gift; there are few child prodigies in art. Painters who turn out respectable work at 18 or 20 invariably grow up amongst practitioners, absorbing the skill whilst working tirelessly on perfecting their own.

Many art courses emphasise the role of individual expression in fine art however while painting is certaibly a creative process, you must never lose sight of the fact that it is a process rather than just a spontaneously creative act; our foundation programs are devoted to showing that process - or sequence of planned actions – which we know work and use at the School.

The purpose of my method is to break down the complex act of painting into simpler stages, each with an intention, approach and outcome. While working in this manner will initially inhibit your spontaneity it will ultimately enable your creativity to flourish by removing many of the problems encountered by not controlling the painting. Skills facilitate creativity

This School will give you an overview of my method, many details of which are further explained through the varioous courses. Painting is a sprawling subject and my aim in laying out the program is to introduce you first to the broad concepts of painting on services such as StudioTalk, then it’s general principles in my Focus On program and finally specific details that have a more limited general relevance in my Masterclasses


On any structured interactive Zoom course you will find a structured set of exercises for you to work through, on your own, or as self moderated exercises should you wish to take advantage our StudioTalk community forum


General Approaches to Oil Painting


From the very first oil paintings, which were developed from the techniques of Tempera and Fresco painting, to the Impressionists and beyond there has never been a shortage of painters claiming they have a ‘definitive way to paint’.


New ways of painting are usually recorded in Art History as they often gave rise to a sudden ‘burst’ or period of creativity centred around the master who created the method; Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, Monet, all developed new ways not only of seeing but of how to depict how they saw things; and my courses reflect that


Each of these points in Art History gave rise to new techniques, movements, and those annoying technical terms; Sfumato, Chiaroscuro, Verdaccio, Grisaille, ‘rough’ painting, Fa Presto, Alla Prima, Romanticism, Impressionism, Surrealism and so forth. These specific terms are used and taught in context at the School because its important to be able to talk about your art and discuss what you want to achieve precisely.


However for the beginner it is important to see through the smoke and mirrors of this technical language and appreciate that there are really only two fundamental ways of working in oil; Direct and Indirect, by which I mean wet into wet or wet over dry.


Direct is wet into wet

Direct painting (wet on wet, alla prima, fa presto) is the most common modern approach and today, derives from Impressionist painting although it has a long and distinguished heritage. Direct painting is characterised by the need to mix and place colours accurately, without excessive blending or fiddling.


From a technical point of view direct painting is both difficult and limited in its potential to create complex optical effects; although it is unsurpassed for creating fresh, exciting and powerful passages of paint.


Direct Oils are punchy

Indirect is Wet over Dry

Indirect painting (staged, layered, wet on dry) is the traditional approach to oils and used in almost all Old Master works. Indirect painting is characterised by the use of successive layers of paint to build up passages of colour and form.


Indirect painting allows the creation of complex optical effects such as translucent colour, and ‘impossible’ colours (such as the highly complex colours in Turner’s works).

From a technical point of view indirect painting requires much more planning and attention to the characteristics of pigments than direct painting, to build up the desired effect in a technically sound manner.


Indirect Oils can be luminous - from a recent Masterclass

The Norfolk Painting School method is a based upon learning a mix of both techniques, employing indirect painting to create atmosphere, but reserving key passages of paint (usually important edges and focal points) for direct treatment, usually as a final over painting.

Combining – or rather moving between – direct and indirect painting should be your ultimate aim however it is absolutely possible to pick up the basics just by enjoying our weekly interactive demonstrations on StudioTalk. Once you've got a feel for it then our step by step painting classes with Paul Minter, and our style building Focus On classes with myself, are logical next steps.