How to Make Mud

I should know better, right? I mean, come on. I’ve studied color theory, and I learned a lot of the “do’s and do not’s” about color mixing when I was painting with watercolor. I should know how to avoid making a muddy mess on my canvas.

Yes, of course, I should. But, as I’ve been told, sooner or later everybody makes mud when it comes to oil painting. Why should I be any different? I should probably just be glad that I discovered mud-making early on in my oil-painting adventures. Now, I can chalk that off my list and move on to new discoveries.

I might have really liked this forest scene had I not muddied up all my colors.


“Forest Scene” by Judith Kraus 12 x 16 Oil on Canvas


What happened? I discovered “medium” — that curious mix of oil and solvent that every oil painter must have close at hand. Although pre-mixed “oil painting medium” is available, I tried mixing my own. It seems I went a little heavy on the solvent and managed to turn my paints into a drippy mess. My colors started running together, and I knew I was headed for disaster. Instead of lovely oranges and reds, I ended up with rusty-looking mud. Maybe it’s dirt with a lot of iron ore. My foreground grass turned to a dismal muddy gray, but you know what? It didn’t matter.

I was having fun. Even as I saw what was happening, I didn’t care. I shrugged, figured I’d do better in the future, and went right on dabbing at the trees and the leaves, still having fun with it all.

For a time, I entertained thoughts of letting the painting dry completely and then adding in a few yellows, maybe a bit of orange, definitely more scarlet. I considered making the little pool of water (yes, that’s supposed to be water at the very center of the foreground) a delicate blue.

But then, I decided not to touch this painting again. My husband actually liked it the way it was, and in my own perverse way, I like it, too. Not for what it is, but for what it could have been. If you stand back at a distance and squint a bit, the painting looks good. I love the feeling of light in the center, and even though the little clouds were an afterthought, I think the sky alone shows promise. Paintings like this — landscapes, woodsy forest scenes — are what I’ve always dreamed of painting. I never thought I could.

Now, though, I know differently. Despite making a muddy mess out of this first attempt at a forest scene, I feel confident that I can learn all the right techniques, that I can figure out how to successfully use oil painting medium, and that I can avoid mixing too much mud from now on.

Note: Another important tip I’ve learned. With oil painting, work from dark to light, otherwise youΒ can easily end up with mud.

So, be forewarned. You’ll be seeing a lot of forest scenes. You know how I love trees!


    1. To me, it shows promise. It’s definitely moving me in the direction I want to go. Considering this was only my second oil painting, I was pleased with it, mud and all! I’m glad you also see something within it. πŸ™‚ Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like the misty feeling of this painting, but what I like more is that you enjoyed the process and learned a few things along the way. It would have been easy to get frustrated and quit mid way, but you opted to see it through and had fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, indeed! I did enjoy doing this painting. Making mistakes is always helpful to me. Sometimes learning what not to do is as important as learning what we need to do. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the kind comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. At a glance i got the foggy feeling of this painting. It looks like you have done it intentionally. Love the muted colors. Ohh yes that’s great to know you started with oil painting 🎨

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really enjoying it! It’s not nearly as difficult as I always imagined it to be. I’m going to be doing more painting tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to it. I love oils. I’m glad you like my “muted” colors πŸ™‚

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