Oil Painting Basics: Ten Tips For Cleanliness


I remember thumbing through my clothes in my closet as a little girl, counting the number of t-shirts and jeans that had remnants of oil paint on them. (It was exciting and saddening at the same time.) I don't remember exactly how many there were, but I'd guess more than half had paint on them. Those were in addition to my box of "painting clothes" specifically reserved for painting; those reserved painting clothes were covered in so much paint they could be works of art themselves. To be honest, my clothes weren't the only thing in my house I left my paint tracks on. The floor, chairs, rugs, my cat (he jumped on my palette occasionally,) my sister's clothes, random things in the kitchen . . . there was sure to be paint on them somewhere. The more I think about it the more grateful I am to my parents for letting me paint so young.

I'm not alone in my oil painting messes; other artists and friends wanting to paint will say to me, "I used to paint with oil, but I switched to something a little less messy," or "I would love to oil paint, but I'm just worried about the mess." It's a wild and crazy medium, but I just think it is too beautiful to not work with. After painting for a number of years, ruining too many clothes and things, and having some fabulous teachers be great examples of cleanly painting and well kept workspaces, I have discovered some helpful ways to paint with cleanliness. Often times, I now paint in my nice, day-to-day clothes with confidence that I will walk away paint free. Here are ten tips to help avoid a mess:

1. Paint in the right area. A tidy studio or painting area is a huge factor in staying clean when you paint. I rarely paint over carpet or near furniture that I don't want ruined. No matter how much I trust myself, accidents happen. If there isn't that perfect place to paint however, like my tiny, shared dorm room my freshmen year of college, I make sure to have a wipeable surface completely clear of anything but my painting supplies, and put an old sheet or drop cloth below me.

2. Keep a paper towel in your non-dominate hand at all times. I keep a paper towel in my left hand while I paint (I hold the brush with my right,) or at least sitting between my palette and painting. This helps me to not only wipe my brushes between colors, to keep the color on my painting fresh and clean, but to keep thick wet paint from getting somewhere I don't want after I am done using that brush for a moment. An old phone book with the cover torn off is another great "brush wipe area" to have right next to you. The paper is absorbent, and they you can just tear the pages off as they get too filled with paint.*

3. Use baby wipes and clean right when it gets messy. Having a pack of cheap baby wipes in my painting area is one of the best ways I keep my hands, brushes, easel, and whatever else I may be close to, clean. If I get a smidgen of paint on my hands, brush handle, or somewhere else it is not supposed to be, no matter what, I put my brush down and wipe off the paint. I always check my brush handles too, as this is where I usually pick up the paint. If I don't do this, I am absolutely sure to touch my face or clothing and leave my painting tracks. Also, don't forget to check under your nails for paint!

*With both baby wipes and paper towels, I also find it important to put them right into the trash and not just laying around. If I don't away them away immediately, later, when I pick them up, I always get paint on me.

4. Put the lids on your paint tubes. This should be a no-brainer, but it something I still manage to forget sometimes; however, keeping the lids on your paint tubes not only allows your paint to last longer, but it keeps them from leaking out onto places they shouldn't be leaking out on.

5. Never lay your brushes in your palette. I used to work solely on a glass palette that I kept on a taboret or table, but when I made the switch to a handheld palette, I was surprised to find that by not having the option to lay my brush on my palette, my brush handles, my hands, and everything else stayed cleaner. I now keep a wood block with brush slots in it or a jar for all my "in use" brushes that I need to set down.

6. Wear an apron and gloves, but don’t get in the habit of wiping your paint on it or letting your gloves stay messy. To be honest, when I first wore an apron while painting, I thought all my clothes-destroying mishaps were over; however, because I felt like I had a shield between my clothes and my paint, I would skip the paper towel and just wipe my hands or brush on my apron. It became a habit that I quickly had to break when the sleeve of my arm would touch the apron and be ruined. I've learned to wear an apron as an extra precaution. Similarly, when I started wearing gloves to paint, I realized they're great for final clean up – take the gloves off and your hands are sparkly clean (assuming they were to begin with) – but they are not great if you think the paint on your gloves won't travel the same as it would if your hands were bare. The same habits now apply to whether I am wearing gloves or not: if paint gets on my hands, bare or gloved, I stop and wipe it off.

7. Keep your paintings upright, up high, where they can stay until they are dry. I usually leave my paintings on my easel over night, and then transfer them somewhere like a fireplace mantel or my studio window sill. I keep them upright so I can see them and not place anything on top of them (like car keys) in a rush. I also make sure to put them up high so no feet or pant legs run into them. Not to mention, little ones (though I don't have any yet,) and pets could also brush past them if they're down low.

8. Keep a trash can next to you. My favorite "trash can" when painting in just a brown paper grocery bag doubled so it is sturdy. I fill them with paper towels within a few paintings, and it's easy to just take the brown bag out to the trash. Plus, I find that trash cans get very dirty in art studios no matter what. This way, my "trash can" is always very clean.

9. Clean your brushes. I'll admit it, this is one I struggle with, but cleaning your brushes after you're done painting for the day not only helps them last longer, but it means that when you come back to paint, you know exactly where the wet paint is and what you're dealing with. Plus, clean brushes are just the BEST. 

10. Don’t start until you’re ready.  I always go through a check list of my "cleanliness kit," as I am now calling it, before I start painting. Being prepared for the little messes is the best way to avoid the big messes. It's always best to have everything within arm's reach and not in a cupboard across the room, don't you think?

If you're worried about the possibility of a mess with oil paint, try using these tips and go for it! To me, there's nothing more rewarding in regards to art making than working with oil paint. I know you'll fall in love with it, even if you have to be careful not to make a mess! If you have worked in oil paint before and have any more tips on painting with cleanliness, please comment, I would love to hear them! Happy Painting! 

Garden Roses - Preview for your Valentine


Spring has sprung in my studio!! Or at least I am pretending that it has. It's still frigidly cold outside here in Chicago, and when I paint by the windows to get some natural light I actually have to take breaks because there's a tiny draft and I end up shivering -- eek! But I am feeling very blessed knowing that this winter is what people are calling a "warmer" winter here. 

I found these stunningly beautiful garden roses from a florist department the other day, and I've been painting them from life every chance I get since. Sun up to sun down. They are so gorgeously fragrant, but what I really love is their charming softness. I have a couple other paintings from these roses that are still on my easel, but these two have won my heart for now. There is just something absolutely exquisite about painting these garden roses from life. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I love it. 


For Valentine's Day!!! These two floral paintings along with a few more will be available in my shop, January 31st at 5pm CT.  First come first serve. I am already feeling that little tinge of sadness when my originals leave my studio, but I love seeing them go to the perfect places in your homes - especially when it's for a special occasion! More details about this coming to the blog soon, so keep your eyes open and stay tuned! Be sure to follow along on Instagram @SarahCNighitngale or my Facebook page Sarah Croft Nightingale Art for frequent updates too! 

A Study of Tai O


What a happy new year it is! I am finally home from the glorious holidays and at my easel working. I never really feel like I'm home until I am at my easel. It's both thrilling and a bit sad to be away from family again. Nonetheless, I think we're in for a treat with 2015! 

It was my first time traveling abroad this past holiday season, and was nothing short of spectacular! My husband, Alex, and I went to Hong Kong for three weeks, and I was blown away by its beauty. It was nothing like I imagined it to be – it was so much better! Alex's family has been living there for eight years, and he and I have been trying to go over together since we were dating! It was a long-overdue trip. 

One of our day trips that we took in Hong Kong was to the Tai O Fishing Village. It is a quaint village on one of Hong Kong's Islands with dozens of little homes built on stilts and a very busy water way. I was in awe to see the fishermen cruise past on their boats with nets ready to be tossed out into the sea. The markets were filled with both delicious smells and terrible, fishy smells; mangy dogs that were equally stoic and beautiful roamed the streets; there were beautiful, more modern feeling shops in the market, but their neighboring shops were often shack-like and old. Crazy trinkets made from dried fish, oysters filled with pearls, and other Chinese paraphernalia and souvenirs lied quietly on market tables while both tourist and local buzzed about. It all came together in beautiful harmony that made the village feel perfectly authentic.  

While wandering the markets, Alex and I took a path into a more residential area and down a tiny alley so we could see the water way again. When we came to the end of the alley way, it led us right to the water where a fisherman with a red cap was tying his boats. I found it to be the most beautiful little sight. It was really the first time in Hong Kong (despite everywhere we had been already) that I felt like I was in a completely different country; it was a different world this fisherman lived in. 

The fisherman tying his boats was so simply poetic to me, and I thought that a painting of it would be a beautiful way to start my new year. A memory of a beautiful end to 2014. 

I put together this 12x16 boat study in a few hours one afternoon this past week. I plan to take it to a larger, more complete piece (with more details to the houses on stilts and more fluid water,) but there is still something about this study that I love. I didn't think things over too much when laying paint, I just painted, and the quick strokes seem to give it a dreamy feeling and a purposeful message. A real impression. What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts before I start on the bigger piece. 

The Portrait Project - Baby Girl


I know I've said it a million times on this blog and social media, but I am so grateful for the amazing submissions that have been submitted to The Portrait Project! Seriously, the best! Although I'm still less than ten paintings into this project (50 is my goal with no due date!), I am just beyond thrilled with how it is coming together. I feel like I get to know each beautiful soul that I am painting, and that's a remarkable thing. 

Sometimes I am able to finish one of these paintings in a span over a couple of days with long hours,  while others take rent on my easel for the entire week it seems! This beautiful baby girl was one of those week-long residence! And I have been pretty happy about it! Noooo complaining here. I planned to have her up on my blog over the weekend, but we seemed to need a bit more time together. I don't know her personally, but I just know she's an amazing little person because she has been a blast to paint! I think there are a few things I still want to change, but I just wanted to share first. 

Below are photos I took during my process, hopefully in the future I can take more and share.  

I will be taking submissions for The Portrait Project until #50! If you haven't already read the guide to submitting or don't know how to submit, click here

- See more detail shots in extended post -

Inspiration Gatherings No. 1


The truth is that ideas for projects aren't pulled out of thin air. For me, inspiration comes from the normal day to day of course, but I have to do a bit of inspiration gathering, too. Here I will share some things I have gathered lately. These seem to be heavily art influenced, but that isn't always the case when I go "gathering." Sometimes it's a leaf I find on my front porch in the dead of winter (true story,) or another completely obscure scenario.  I hope to post more of my gatherings in future posts and let you get a sense for what inspires me, so keep an eye out. I'd love to hear what you're gathering, too, feel free to share in comments or use #InspirationGatherings on social media. For now, read on and enjoy!

- Mary Cassatt -

In addition to making art, I've always loved simply looking at art. When I'm feeling uninspired to paint I look at good art until the spark comes back to me.  This painting by the beautiful Mary Cassatt was one of those "sparklers." The real goodness of this painting is seen when you can see it close up. Click the image to see it larger, and watch her brushwork come to life! An additional viewing pleasure is to look through this online collection of Mary's work. I think some of her lesser-known works are some of her best!

- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp -

I love to read. I'll dive into a good book just to let my imagination run somewhere fabulous. It's not always a book with a thick storyline that I love to read though, sometimes even a great blog post will spark something in me. Since graduating college I've been intrigued about the topic of . . . "advice"? Maybe it's that I'm no longer in the presence of many other wonderful artists who were giving out good advice like candy on Halloween, but I read this book just before graduation and the thoughts have really stuck with me still. It's a great read for any creative. Also, this post from Muddy Colors is also one I've been thinking over a lot. I'm not quite ready to elaborate though. What do you think?

-Breanna Rose Wallpaper and My Custom Folder Icons -

If I were to give out medals to the places I spend most of my working hours, my easel would come in first, and my laptop second. Aside from the normal business upkeep like emails, invoices, etc. I spend a lot of time sorting through photos to paint and planning out compositions in photoshop. I'm also blogging (yay!) and doing some other freelance design workIt can be a lot of time staring at a screen, so I like to make it clean, organized, and beautiful. I think when your workspace is clean, inspiration can more easily walk through the front door. (Continue reading below image.)

Currently, I have this wallpaper from Breanna Rose! Don't you just love that?! "Make It Happen!" I only discovered this girl after finding the wallpaper, and I'm already pouring over her blog and work. Go browse around her blog--you'll definitely be inspired! She has lots of other desktop wallpaper that she posts occasionally, along with many other things, and it's all wonderful! 

In addition to Breanna Rose's incredible desktop wallpaper, I customized my folders! Inspired by Kate Spade of course, because who isn't inspired by her, too? ;) It's fairly simple, to change your folder icons on a Mac, read this article. You can create your own .png images on Photoshop and convert them to the correct file type using this website, or download my gold stripe/ Kate Spade inspired folders here. 

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