Look! Up in the Sky!

Old television episodes of Superman back in the 1950s began with those shouted exclamations.

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Superman!”

Nothing about my painting for today is super in any way. It’s not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

But, look! Up in the sky! It’s… well, it’s supposed to be a bird.


Actually before it was a bird, it was supposed to be a barn. Yep, I tried drawing and painting an old barn based on the drawing I found recently. Obviously, it did not turn out well.

I wiped it all away and found myself left with a rather intriguing canvas. I liked the muted, wintry colors, and I wanted to do something with it. Last week I was doing silhouettes of birds in flight, so I thought it would be good practice to attempt doing one in oil.

It’s still hard for me to find exactly the best brush for fine details, and it’s still quite a challenge for me to get the right consistency in my paint. The success of a silhouette, I’ve been told, lies in whether or not it’s recognizable for what it is.

So, I ask you, please, look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Or is it some weird unidentified flying object? I know, I know. You’ll all be kind enough to say, “Oh, yes, it’s definitely a bird.” Thank you.

You can tell I had problems with the tree branches, too. Getting fine, delicate lines is hard for me. Maybe I need even smaller brushes than what I’ve been using. Maybe I just need lots more practice.

In the end, that’s what this painting was all about. It was a great opportunity for me to practice, and while the bird and the branches aren’t very good, I do like the bark on the tree. I’m always happy if I can find at least one thing I like in a painting.

I’d love to hear from oil painters who can give me a bit of advice. How do you create those very fine lines in your paintings? What size brushes do you use? What tricks, tips, or techniques can you share to help me improve?



  1. To me it’s a bird and I think it turned out great, but that’s only my opinion. To me branches are hard to draw so I can imagine that they are harder to paint. I’ve never tried painting them.

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  2. If you use Maroget medium you can paint detail easier. You can order it online. My daughter gets it for me. Paint in the couch, which means to paint uncolored medium on the dry canvas and paint the detail into the medium. It’s slick, so the paintbrush has less drag. And if it isn’t what you wanted you can wipe it off without lifting the dry layers of paint underneath. The medium “couches” the paint. It’s for oil paint.

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      1. Yes, I was just looking at it — and the prices. I might start with a “modern Maroger” — there’s one made by Gamblin which is less expensive. That might give me an idea of how to use it, and then if I like the results I could splurge on the Flemish Maroger. Thank you again for telling me about this medium.

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      2. The real stuff is rare these days because of the lead in it and danger to the people who cook it up. The other recipes probably are ok. but the lead makes it better. If you use the leaded one be sure to keep it away from kids and pets because it smells so good they might eat it. for real.

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      3. Thanks for the warning. 🙂 I’m sure the “real thing” would be better than the modern-day “equivalents”. At the same time, both price and health concerns are swaying more toward the newer products. I might venture out to an art store today. I’m excited to try this!

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  3. I use synthetic watercolour brushes almost exclusively for my oil painting. Round, soft #6 is my go-to brush and depending on the size of your work i find this is perfect for detail (I’m usually working 16×20 or larger). The bristles tend to get damaged after a few paintings, and you may lose that point. I find they are inexpensive enough compared with all the other materials involved in oil painting so I usually keep a few new ones on hand in my art room in case I need a better point.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I just spent the morning cleaning — and trying to salvage — my oil painting brushes. I’ve fallen into a few bad habits again, so I’m promising myself to do better in the future. I got a new palette this morning, and I’m about ready to make a “fresh start”. I will probably pick up a few new brushes to replace ones I’ve ruined.

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