Deodanda Pretorius  ~  Studio Notes & Blog

This page reflects some of my thoughts and experiences on oil and pastel painting.   

What Do You Do With All That Leftover Paint?

Tip:  Mix everything together into one big puddle, OR mix the cool notes and warm notes into two separate puddles.  

The result is an amazing range of neutrals and grays that contains just about every colour on your palette.  And because they already contains white they can very easily be adjusted without going "cold".  It's a great way to create colour harmony in your palette.  

Pop them in the fridge/freezer and they will last 2-3wks  ~  the larger the puddle and colder the temp the longer it takes for the oil to cure (dry).  Just make a cut in the skin and dip your brush into the wet paint.  Pull the skin back again when you're done and they will stay workable for even longer.  You can also add a drop of paint medium to get the paint going again after it started to cure.  

A Quick Glimpse into My Painting Process of "The Red King"

Step 1 ~  Drawing using a grid to ensure accurate proportions and placements on the canvas.  This is a 15 x 30 inch canvas with lots of detail and I therefore choose a grid size that will enable me to get the drawing as accurate as possible.  

Step 2:  Starting out with some of the local colours, getting a feeling for the colour variations in the light and shadow areas.  Quickly covering the remaining white parts of the canvas to help me judge tonal values better as well as warm and cool notes.

Step 3:  Refining the 2nd layer with more accurate colour, working from the rear of the animal towards the front.  

Final:  Leaving the head and facial features for last, I add the final touches as well as the background.  

"How To Choose a Brand of Oil Paint"  ~  An article by

I was recently invited by Olivier Jennes, founder of  the website "", to have a look at a newly published article on their website titled "How to choose a brand of oil paint".  As my fellow South African fine artists are all aware, our brands of oil paints and other fine art products are significantly limited compared to what is available in the US and Europe.  So I always find it interesting to read about these products.  What I liked about the article is the fact that it addressed some of the imported brands which I am familiar with, such as Winsor & Newton. Rembrandt, Maimeri and Daler-Rowney.   A very well written and interesting article by the team with tons of research poured into it which highlights both the pros and cons of each of the 29 brands that they discussed.    For artists who have trouble deciding on which brand to buy this is definitely a helpful list of facts on some of the top and leading brands that include both artist quality and economical student quality paints.  Check it out at  

Minimize Your Range of Tube Colours for Better Colour Mixing Results

I recently decided to clean out my studio and was shocked at just how many colours I had accumulated over the years.  Needless to say I discovered quite a few which I didn't even know I still had!  It is interesting to see how we as artists constantly experiment and adjust our palettes as we gain more experience.  I have gone through the stages of working with a very limited range of colours to the very extended range of having around 20 colours on my palette!   

Experimenting with colour is what we do and it is fun, so I don't feel too bad about my vast collection of rainbow tubes.  But I have also found that when you get to the point of having more than 12 tuble colours on your palette (which is actually quite a lot), you find that your decision process during mixing becomes hindered when you have too many options to choose from.  And because most of the mixtures can be duplicated following more than one route, I've decided to omit the ones that I seldom use and see what remains. I think I can now say that I have settled into what I have found to be a very practical range of colours. It's what I would like to call an expanded palette:  white plus the three primaries (warm & cool version of each) and a few earth colours -  a total of 10 tube colours which is a lot better than 20 and more economical!   

I pre-mix naples yellow along with orange (a deep and lighter version) and keep it on the palette.        

So here's my current palette of tube colours:  viridian, french ultramarine, cobalt blue, trans brown oxide, crimson lake, burnt sienna, cad red light, cad yellow light, ochre and white. Anything else I need is mixed from this range of colours including some very expensive artist quality colours which I don't buy anymore.

The less tube colours you have the more you will get to know them and the more powerfull your colour mixtures will become.  But keep in mind that there are many different versions of a specific colour as each manufacturer has their own recipe for creating a colour, e.g ultramarine or cobalt blue can be quite different between manufacturers - you need to find the one that works best for you and then stick to that brand with that specific colour.      

Colour Charts ~ the Quickest Way to Discover New Colour Mixtures

A question that I get very often from beginner painters is how they can learn in the quickest way about colour mixing recipes? But the truth is that there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning about colour mixtures.  The best advice I can give is to 1) use the same range of tube colours and stick to them and try to wean yourself from too many colours on your palette, and 2) do the colour charts.  I started following Richard Schmid's approach to painting a couple of years ago and did the charts back then.  It was one of the ways in which Richard was taught by his art mentor Bill Mosby on how to discover different colour mixtures.  I am busy re-doing them again and have found it to be such a valuable experience.    

The charts are time consuming, especially if you do them right, but they are worth every hour.  Even the experienced painter will know how handy the charts are when you need to jog your memory in mixing the right neutral or a less familiar hue in a painting.  You cannot remember all the possible mixtures, but the charts are the only "shortcut" that can help you get an idea of how to get to a specific hue, so keep them nearby.  But what can you learn from these charts apart from the obvious "recipes" of adding two colours together?   

a) You will discover the actual identity of the tube colours.  Some of the transparent colours are almost black in the tube and you can only see the actual colour when you add a tiny bit of white.   
b) You will discover the vast range of possible neutrals, greens, violets, yellows etc and how to mix earth notes such as browns, ochres and siennas.  So instead of buying a colour such as yellow ochre or raw sienna, why not learn how to mix it with your standard set of paints?
c)  You will discover that some of the transparent hues create rich dark "blacks" and when tinted out with white they make the most beautiful lively grays (much better than your standard black & white mixture).
d)  When gradually tinted out with white you will notice that the brightest hues are in the mid value range.  The more white you add the duller and cooler a colour becomes.  Pthalo blue, on the other hand is one of few colours that actually becomes brighter when a bit of white added to it.  
e) When you add white you not only lighten a colour, but you also changes it and you can get a completely different hue simply by adding white.  
f) Adding white will also reveal how vibrant a tube colour really is, for example, some tube colours such as cad red medium and cad red deep looks very bright in the tube but once you start to add white they dull and desaturate quickly.               

How to do the charts?  Below is an example of two charts (click on image to enlarge). The chart on the left is the colour straight from the tube (top row) with white added gradually to each colour (rows 2 - 5).  In the last row (lightest tonal value) it should still be recognizable as a colour.  

In the chart on the right cad lemon yellow dominates the mixture:  first column is cad Lem Yel from the tube (row 1) tinted out with white (rows 2 to 5).  Second column is cad LY plus Cad Yellow Light, tinted out with white.  Third column is cad LY plus cad yellow deep, tinted out with white, etc.  Repeat the chart with each of the tube colours on your palette, letting the tube colour in the first column dominate the mixture. 

An Alternative to Turpentine in the Studio

For those of you who cannot use turpentine anymore during oil painting you might want to try out white spirits as an alternative.  One painting session of gum turps in my studio and I suffer till the next day.  So I switched to a very high quality artist white spirits that is completely odourless, has a low evaporation rate and doesn't absorb through the skin on my hands.  So after almost three months of not using turpentine in the studio anymore the headaches and chronic sinusitis have cleared up completely.  

When mixed with walnut oil (50/50) white spirits makes for the most wonderful oil painting medium.  If you use it to rinse brushes during a painting session you will see the pigment settled within an hour on the bottom of the jar.  Decant into a clean container and you have clean recycled solvent for your next session. Turps takes forever to settle.  

An added bonus is the fact that white spirits rinses out quickly from paint brushes with a mild dishwashing liquid and cold water whereas turps doesn't :-)

Practical Approach to the Sequence of Colours on My Palette  

I used to put my colours out from light to dark (left to right) and always in the same order ~ yellows to oranges to reds to violets to blues to greens (as in the white light spectrum). You can still see the old patches underneath the new ones.  They will eventually disappear.  

But I've been studying Michael Klein's approach to oil painting for quite some time now and decided to switch my palette from dark to light.  Two practical reasons:  in oils I paint from dark to light and always start out with the darker transparent hues on my palette for the darker areas and then work my way up towards the mid value and lighter tones which are also more opaque.  

I also focus a lot on the Munsell colour scheme that specifies colours using three dimensions, namely hue, value and chroma.  In other words my palette now represents the 3 dimensions of the Munsell system with the outside ring of tube colours representing the darks on the left going towards the lighter values on the right like a rod standing in the middle of the palette with the darks at the bottom and the lighter tones at the top - I adjust the tonal value in the middle of the palette. The tube colours on the outside perimeter of my palette also represents the hues and it is where the colours are found at their highest chroma (saturation).  Working from the outside perimeter towards the middle of the palette allows me to adjust the chroma of these hues by mixing neutrals. I find this layout makes a lot more sense than my old system as it is more practical.  I am more aware of how I mix colours and it also helps me to focus on using neutrals more effectively.


Daily Quick Painting Exercise  

A quick small (27 x 17 cm) pastel study on watercolour paper.  These small studies are a great way to exercise drawing, colour mixing and edges. They are perfect for days when you don't have much time to spent behind the easel.  


An Unplanned Direction

This painting wasn't done in my usual style of work.  What started earlier this week as a plein air work on a sunny winter's day at noon, and which was completed about 70% on location, eventually turned out in the studio to be something quite different.  No matter how hard I tried to pull it back to my original idea (and style), the painting just kept pulling itself back into a new direction.  It was almost like it had a mind of its own, which I guess goes to show that new inspiration and ideas can come to light even when we are out there trying to paint the idea of what we think we are seeing in front of us.  But in the end trying to do that is not the goal, the goal is to create something fulfilling from what we were given during that period of time.  A tree, a house and a fence on the outskirts of a field can in the end become something so much more than what we originally hoped for... soft flowing shapes and colours got replaced by geometric shapes with barren angular lines within simple arrangements, whilst a noon day paint session in the end revealed a morning's delight of cool light and atmosphere..... the painting wants what the painting wants.  The lesson to be learned is this, stop fiddling with plein air works in the studio (that is not an easy one because we get carried away) or be prepared to get pulled into a new direction.  At least I got the season right, it is still winter in the painting.

The unfinished painting as it was done on location. 

Final studio version
Forgotten winter morning memories
9 x 12 inches, pastel

Solvent use and Safety  when working with oil paints

As an oil painter it is not always possible for me to not use a solvent such as turpentine in my studio.  I have experimented with various paint mediums and solvents including the low odor liquid petroleum distillates such as white spirits, but I have recently started to use only gum turpentine and walnut oil, either as separate mediums or mixed together in different quantities.  

Solvents such as mineral turpentine, mineral spirits (white spirits) and kerosene (paraffin oil) evaporate quickly from an open jar or a wet paint rag to release harmful gases into the air.  The term "turpentine" is used to refer to both gum turpentine, one of the oldest traditional oil painting solvents which is derived from pine tree resin, or mineral turpentine which is a much cheaper version but are created during the processing of crude oil.  Mineral turpentine should never be used as an oil painting medium as it contains dirt particles and is an extremely harmful chemical to work with; in fact it is one the most toxic of all household paint removing solvents.  Mineral turpentine is often used by artists for cleaning oil paint from paint brushes and almost every oil painter has contact with this solvent on a daily basis.  The cumulative effect of mineral turpentine inhalation and skin contact should not be underestimated.  

Many artists over the years have developed an acute sensitivity to mineral and even gum turpentine which lead manufacturers to produce low odor solvents that are less “harmful”.  These low odor petroleum based (liquid hydrocarbon) products are now mainly used in the fine art industry as solvents for cleaning brushes and in admixtures with alkyd resins to form quick drying painting mediums for oil paints.  

The term “odorless” refers to formulations where the molecules that cause the offensive odor are removed.  Although these low odor solvents, such as kerosene (paraffin oil) and white spirits (a product of paraffin) have a moderate evaporation rate and release less harmful vapors into the air compared to turpentines, sufficient ventilation should still be used when working with them.  The fact that they cannot be smelled does not mean they are not in the air and skin contact should still be avoided.

Prolonged inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption of large quantities of solvents such as mineral turpentine can lead to drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, feelings of intoxication, fatigue, mental confusion, increased heart rate, nausea, and loss of coordination.  High-level exposure may also cause breathing difficulty, convulsions, kidney damage, and even death. Inhalation of vapors from most organic solvents such as gum turpentine can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation and even sinusitis.  

Resin Sculpture Model

A resin sculpture which I used as model for this painting.  It is an excellent method for studying form without having to focus too much on colour or trying to get an exact likeness to the subject. I like the idea of using it as a guide by allowing myself a bit of freedom with the final product.  

The setup

Step 1 ~ laying in first colours and background

Step 2 ~ adding more colour and some detail

Step 3 ~ add final detail.  Finished painting
Forgotten glory
9 x 12 inch, oil

Studying Classical Painting

Two  small flower paintings from the archives which I did while studying some of the methods of still life teacher David Leffel whose chiaroscuro work has been a huge inspiration in my own approach towards classical still life painting.  

9 x 12 inch oil
A study after David Leffel's "Peonies"

9 x 12 inch oil
A study after David Leffel's "Carnations"

New Work in Progress

A shot from my old working room.  I will be moving into my new studio soon.  Currently working on a painting that forms part of my introspection range of still lifes.

In progress....