“West Wind” – Oil Painting Tutorial

About Dan

Dan Schultz was born in New Mexico in 1975 and soon began to take an interest in art. He enjoyed art classes through his primary and high school years, and studied commercial art at Pensacola Christian College in Florida. He received his degree with a focus on illustration and graphic design, but he never felt driven to pursue either as a career. After college, he continued to sharpen his drawing and painting skills by attending Cottonwood Artists’ School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and it was there that he realized for the first time his desire for a career in fine art.

He chooses to work in a classical style because he deeply connects with traditional works which aptly express reality. “Art should bring about a respect for life and God’s creation around us,” he says. “I want to do my best to faithfully render what is beautiful to me and hopefully others will find that beauty reflected in my work.”

Please do take a moment to visit Dan’s Website by following the link below. Much of the artwork on his website (beside what is in his current galleries) is available for purchase directly from his studio. I know Dan worked real hard on this oil painting tutorial. I am sure he would appreciate your visit. If you have time, why not drop him a line as well.

Follow this link to visit Dan’s Website.

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“West Wind”

(Click Images Below to Enlarge)

For this studio painting I used Claessens double oil primed linen canvas, #15 (my usual painting surface). This painting, as with most of my larger paintings, was completed using a photograph as my reference. (My wife, Sarah, is the lovely lady in the photo. Somehow I doubt she would have been very excited to pose in the middle of a field long enough for me to do the painting from life.)

West Wind

Step 1:

When doing a painting of this size (or larger), I am most comfortable starting with a fairly detailed drawing of my composition. In this case, I use vine charcoal directly on the canvas. I make sure to take as much time as necessary on this step since it will provide me with the direction I will follow for the rest of the painting. As I draw, I take careful measurements using my reference photo to make sure everything ends up the right size and in the right place. (On a side note, I carefully measure when painting smaller sizes too. I just don’t necessarily do a charcoal drawing first.) I always double-check my drawing by looking at it in a mirror. Somehow seeing the image in reverse makes it easier to see my mistakes.

Dan Schultz Demo 2

Step 2:

Now that I am ready to paint, I take a few moments to think about how I will proceed. When doing smaller paintings, I will often work on the whole painting at once. But, because this painting is a little larger, I decide to start in one area and work outwards. This way I have the freedom to stop if I need to, and when I return it won’t matter if the paint has started to dry because I (hopefully) won’t have to work on areas that I’ve already painted. (I always prefer to work wet-into-wet so I can easily handle my edges without having to repaint over dry paint.) Of course, this requires some planning as I begin, but it’s also a fun way to work because I can see the painting begin to take shape fairly quickly. So now all I have to do is decide where to start! I’ve found that the easiest way for me to establish my value range for a painting is to start in an area with strong, dark values and some good contrast. For this painting, some of my darkest values are in the focal point (Sarah), so it makes sense for me to start there.

Schultz Demo 3

Step 3:

I do a lot of squinting at my photo and at my painting to compare the value relationships between shapes. If I get the relationships right, I will be able to continue through the painting without having to go back to change any of the values.

Dan Schultz Demonstration 4

Step 4:

As I continue, I also pay attention the edges between shapes so that they won’t all end up looking the same. In order to lead the viewer’s eye to the focal point, I make sure to keep my sharpest edges there, while softening other surrounding edges in comparison. One of the keys to good edges is variety.

Oil Painting Demonstration 5

Step 5:

As I work on Sarah’s white coat in the picture, I keep in mind that photographs have a tendency to incorrectly portray color information, especially in extremely light and dark areas. As a result, I must think about the sunlight from the day I took the photo and remember the effect its color temperature had on the entire scene. (This is where all of that continued practice painting from life pays off too, because I have information in my mind from experiences painting in these very conditions.) Since I remember that the color temperature of direct sunlight is warm, I make sure to add warm colors to all the areas of the coat that are in the direct light. As a result, the shadows are relatively cooler when compared to the light areas.

Oil Painting Lesson 6

Step 6:

Sarah is now mostly finished (along with the most critical part of the painting.) The farther along I get in the painting, the more comparisons are taking place. Every shape I paint has to be correct in drawing accuracy, value, color, and edges when compared to what I have already painted. This is why it is so important for me to be accurate as I begin. If I get to this point and notice that one of those main components is incorrect, I will either have a lot of repainting to do, or it will be time to decide to just start over. (And yes, unfortunately this has happened.)

Oil Painting Tutorial 7

Step 7:

Fortunately, I don’t see any glaring errors at this point, so I am free to start working on the background. The challenge of a background filled with trees is to keep from adding too much detail and distracting from the focal point. Yet another benefit of starting with the focal point is that now I can compare the rest of my painting with it and make sure that it still predominates. So I try to discern the major shapes in the trees and only put in what is necessary to give the impression of many trees and branches.

Dan Schults Image 8

Step 8:

As I block in more of the background trees and foreground grasses, I keep the paint fairly thin. This allows me to apply thicker paint on top when I get into more detail, and I can also let some of this initial wash show through in the finished painting. Again, this gives me some variety of texture which is pleasing in the same way as variety in my edgework (which I mentioned in Step 4).

Schultz Tutoral 9

Step 9:

Now that I have the background all blocked in, the time has come to start working on the foreground trees. As I mentioned when I was ready to begin painting back in Step 2, I took a few moments to think about how to proceed. One of the things I took note of was that my darkest values in the scene were actually in these foreground trees. Therefore, I had to hold back a bit on how dark I made the shadows in Sarah’s skirt so that when the time came to paint the foreground trees, they would be the darkest elements. This helps increase the illusion of depth in the painting since it “pushes” Sarah farther into the background because the darkest values on her aren’t quite as dark as the foreground trees which should appear closest to the viewer. I also had to remember that my camera saw the shadows on Sarah’s skirt and the value of the foreground trees to be about the same, which gave me another reason to be careful about how dark I made the shadows on Sarah’s skirt.

Oil Painting Demonstration 10

Step 10:

I start adding details to the trees and grasses, taking care that they don’t become too interesting in comparison with Sarah. After all, she’s most important!

Dan Schultz Demo 11

Step 11:

It looks like the whole right side of the painting is pretty much finished now. Painting the values correctly in the grasses at the bottom is somewhat tricky. I have to squint and make more comparisons between the grasses and other values in the painting so that the shadows and lights on the grasses will be correct. Just like painting the trees and branches, I try to look at the big shapes in the grasses so I don’t get them too detailed.

Oil Painting Tutorial 12

Step 12:

Almost finished now! All that’s left is to finish the trees on the left in both the foreground and background. So all I have to do is treat them the same way I’ve treated the other trees in the painting.

Dan Schultz Demo 13

West Wind • Oil on Linen • 16″ x 28″

Step 13:

I always look at the painting in the mirror one last time to make sure nothing is incorrect or distracting from my focal point. Often an edge that is too sharp or a distracting brush stroke needs to be softened. Once those are corrected to my satisfaction, the painting is finished!


  1. says

    This is pretty good. One more thing that would be interesting to see for a beginner would be a tutorial on choosing the right equipment, type of paint etc.

  2. says

    Experienced painters with many years of painting under their belts will attest to the fact that fine quality paint brushes are an absolute necessity if you wish to create the perfect art piece.

  3. sarah sharrock says

    that painting blew me away , so interesting I am no drawer but I try I have to trace, I have =been painting a few years now self taught mostly . I am in a class with about 26 other people but I love it , I am 78yr, of age and wish I started years ago

  4. bren says

    Well Done, went to web site and love your style…very impresssive..you’ve mastered the light….

  5. says

    I think this piece is brilliant. I love the fact that the subject is so unique and free. I noticed you paint wet on wet, but did you paint step 12 on dry? I am struggling in my art classes to achieve such beautiful crisp results as some of yours do you have any advice for us beginners? Thank you

  6. mehtab singh says

    Such lessons encourages “the aspiring artist ” hidden in each human being of course you have to be lucky to find such lessons—–great job ,


  7. says

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. To address Brooke’s question — Step 12 was still painted wet-into-wet. That’s the nice thing of painting one area at a time — you can always be painting wet-into-wet. Of course, if you find yourself having to go back to work on a previous area, the surface may have dried, but I try to avoid that when working this way if possible.

    I have a few more demonstrations on my website….

  8. Maria Heidi v. Yen says

    you are a good artist. I am a neophyte artist and I want to learn techniques. Ur page helped me a lot now. Thank you. And enjoy your endeavor.. 🙂

  9. Adam says

    You are indeed a master of your own piece of art. Like you, I am passionate with visual arts as well, specifically painting. But, my drawing is not as good as yours. I definitely need more time to practice. Anyway, thank you for the great detail you posted in your guideline. I hope you can help more aspiring artists like me.

  10. Donna says

    Love the painting! I live in upstate NY near the Canadian border, and your painting could’ve represented this area without a doubt. I appreciate the written walk through, but have you considered a YouTube video? Actually seeing you do your brush strokes with reference to color mixing would be phenomenal! Thanks!!!

  11. David DuVal says

    Thanks so much for a very insightfull and easy-to-follow tutorial. This is going to get me “a little further down the road” to completing my first painting. I’ve been researching oil painting allot and have found this tutorial the most effective.

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