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Painting Small Details On Canvas

Posted by: Gloria Koch on 05/11/2013 - 11:47 PM

I have found it difficult to paint very small details, such as features on a little face, on canvas. I tried every trick I could think of to get the paint in a small enough area, including cutting a brush that was already small, down so it only has a few bristles left to paint with. What sort of things do others use to paint small details on canvas?


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Posted by: Janine Riley on 05/11/2013 - 11:53 PM

Gloria - I have that horribly ugly magnifying visor thingy that I wear for the fine details.

I tell the husband that he is NOT allowed to look at me when I am wearing it. Always afraid I am going to forget - & then answer the door. Would scare the heck out of the UPS man.

Oh, & 00 brushes of course.


Posted by: Jacki McGovern on 05/12/2013 - 4:30 AM

I'm not above using anything I can find that will give me the result I want. Have you tried something like a tootpick - wooden or plastic? Depending on what you are trying to paint, look around your home with new "eyes".


Posted by: Loretta Luglio on 05/12/2013 - 8:06 AM

Use a magnifier and good brushes. I have used toothpicks. I try to go with a bigger canvas if I know there will be lots of fine detail work. I share your pain.


Posted by: Gloria Koch on 05/12/2013 - 11:00 AM

I'm going to have to get myself one of those magnifiers. Janine, you made me chuckle. Thanks! Loretta, I tried a toothpick, but you're right, I should look around to see what else I can use around the house to get those paint into those tiny spaces. I still have some work to do on those tiny faces.


Posted by: Isabella F Abbie Shores on 05/12/2013 - 11:01 AM

I gave up and became an impressionist ;)


Posted by: Alfred Ng on 05/12/2013 - 11:11 AM

To paint small details you need small brushes something like the #2 to # 0 and make sure you don't load the brush with too much paint. I usually use the dry brush technique for this.


Posted by: Lenora De Lude on 05/12/2013 - 12:26 PM

Another factor is the coarseness or smoothness of the canvas or other substrate. Smooth surfaces tend to make it easier to to paint precise, small details. Wiping and reloading the brush often is crucial. I've seen students try to get that last bit of paint off the brush, thereby ruining details that they have just created. But of course as Alfred said, you want to load it sparingly.


Posted by: Jim Vansant on 05/12/2013 - 1:38 PM

Some of the italian painters (Guardi, Canalleto) thinned the paint down to where they could apply it with an ink pen.


Posted by: H Drew on 05/12/2013 - 2:15 PM

Gloria, this oil is on a 9inch x 12inch canvas. glazing is more forgiving with small details then other techniques.

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Posted by: Gloria Koch on 05/12/2013 - 7:14 PM

H Drew, that's an amazing painting. Thanks for the tips everyone!


Posted by: Ben Van Rooyen on 05/12/2013 - 7:18 PM

Magnifying lamp and a 00 brush.


Posted by: Diane Daigle on 05/12/2013 - 7:28 PM

Thin (i'll use liquin or something like that) paint that will easily flow from a brush that only has a couple of bristles or hairs. When I need tiny details I will also get out my good sable brushes.


Posted by: H Drew on 05/13/2013 - 11:41 AM

Also, find some way to stable your palm. you cannot do this against wet paint so if your canvas is wet, let it dry or use a cross bar to rest your palm. learn to make quick single precise strokes to avoid mistakes.


Posted by: Phyllis Wolf on 05/13/2013 - 12:01 PM

An oil painting I did ( 24 x 36 ) that has a ton of small detail.

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The main thing I can say necessary for small detail work that hasn't been mentioned yet is : time and a whole lot of patience.


Posted by: Regina Valluzzi on 05/13/2013 - 12:15 PM

I find that s,mall details work best if I'm painting into a surface that's a little "wet" (oil), but not the really wet spreadable kind of wet. Then really thin paint using just the tip of a brush. Sometimes a squared off or angled brush has a sharper point if you tilt it at just the right angle.

Has anyone tried dog-earing a toothpick to expose the wood fibers, then cutting it down from there?


Posted by: Gloria Koch on 05/13/2013 - 1:55 PM

I had my husband make an artists' bridge for me. It really helps! That's a good idea Regina. I haven't tried that yet but I will. I did retouch a painting using a hat pin for some tiny details in a face. That worked ok.


Posted by: Ben Van Rooyen on 05/13/2013 - 7:24 PM

I forgot to mention that I use a #00 watercolour brush instead of an oil paint brush. The bristles are much more finer, but you can only use one brush per painting; then it's worthless.


Posted by: Mary Ellen Anderson on 05/14/2013 - 11:44 PM

I've always loved a lot of detail in my paintings and when I was first starting out then I'd buy very fine sable brushes. Unfortunately, I would quickly wear the bristles off these expensive brushes, so I'd use the quick. At some point it occurred to me that the brush end was basically a twig... and I had a whole box of twigs in the kitchen called toothpicks. This has lead to being nicknamed the 'toothpick artist' locally. So I use a toothpick, sometimes as a fine knife, roller, etc.. It really is a quite interesting tool, this portrait was painted almost entirely with a toothpick.
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Posted by: Gloria Koch on 05/15/2013 - 10:33 AM

Looks like those toothpicks are working very well for you Mary! Good job!


Posted by: H Drew on 05/15/2013 - 12:25 PM

Now Gloria, how can you say that..........I can't see a single tooth in Buffalo Bills mouth!........


Posted by: Gloria Koch on 05/16/2013 - 1:19 PM

LOL H Drew!


This discussion is closed.