This summer I decided that my mantle needed a change.
And that change came in the form of an oyster painting.
Now I don’t just go out and buy a new piece of art every time my mantle needs a little pick-me-up, so this particular painting is a Kelly Hedlund original. Ha!
And since I am all about sharing “How To”s on the blog, I figured I could share how to paint your own oyster painting with you as well.
First, I should start by saying that while anything artsy has often come easy to me, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I absolutely do not consider myself a painter. So if you don’t feel artistically-inclined, do not let that hinder you from trying this project. Oysters are a relatively easy shape to make and one can pretty much use any color paint they’d like and the oyster will come out looking pretty. If you don’t believe me, Google oyster paintings and see what images come up. There are green ones, blue ones, purple ones, white ones, brown ones, and they each look lovely in their own way.
Oysters are just a big swirl of color.
And that, to me, sounded like something fun to paint.
Paint Your Own Oyster Painting
Gather Your Supplies
Okay, so you’re going to need a canvas, some paint, and a few paint brushes.
I bought my canvas from Michaels. Always wait for the 50-70% off sales when buying large canvases–there’s no point in spending more than you have to, and seriously, they go on sale about once a month.
I used mostly acrylic paint, but I did pull some out cans of wall paint simply because I liked the colors. Color was really what I focused on when I pulled my paints out. I wanted any color that looked beachy–blues, greens, turquoises, grays, beiges, browns, tans.
You’ll also need a lot of white. You’ll use it for mixing and you’ll use it plain.
Real artists will cringe when they see the paint brushes I used, because yes, they are crappy, and yes, the bristles will come off in the painting occasionally. But I am not a full time painter, and paint brushes are expensive. These babies are cheap and easy to use when mixing colors, and I am not picky.
You’ll also need an inspiration. If you haven’t Googled oyster paintings yet, go ahead and do so. Find a shape you like or some colors you like, and let that be your inspiration. I fell in love with the colors artist Kim Hovell used in her painting Chincoteagues on Aqua. I frequently referred back to her painting as I was painting my own, noting how she used color.
The last thing you’ll need is some sort of paint tray. I’ve used paper plates and old tupperware containers in the past. Recently, I’ve been using an old plastic Halloween tray. It’s big and gives me plenty of room for mixing. It doesn’t really matter what you use, but know you’ll need something.
The first thing I did was sketch my oysters. I chose to draw three of them because I knew I wanted my painting to sit landscape-style rather than portrait-style. You can draw one, two, or three oysters depending on what you want your painting to look like (and how comfortable you are sketching).
Don’t freak out if you cannot draw. Oysters are funky shaped tear drops. You can draw a tear drop. Draw it once very loosely; then outline it again but make slight changes. Nothing you do right now can harm your painting, so don’t be afraid. I sketched mine about 3-4 times, just overlapping and making slight variations in the pencil movement.
For my really hesitant artists, follow these directions: 1) draw a teardrop 2) now outline the teardrop you just drew, but this time shake your pencil as you draw 3) outline it once more but make your outline wavy all the way around 4) breathe, you did it.
The next thing I did was paint my background.
I used one paintbrush (with no washing in between) and began swiping the colors I wanted in my background–mostly light blue, turquoise, and teal, but occasionally I added some green and darker blue. I swiped all the way into the line that I drew for my oyster and continued over it. This is important because you don’t really want to see “a seam” between your background and the oyster you will eventually paint.
Have fun with this part. Mix colors, swipe back and forth, you cannot go wrong with your background.
It’s okay for you to have white canvas showing as you swipe all the way around your oyster(s). Right now, you are just getting your initial background colors down.
Continue swiping until you have gone all the way around your oyster(s).
Once you’ve added color all the way around your oyster(s), you are going to add a second layer of swiping to fill in any white canvas areas, and to blend the colors you already have. Don’t worry if your first layer of paint is still wet–you actually kind of want it to be in order for your colors to blend nicely.
For your second layer, you are going to use the same process as before, but this time, you are also going to add white paint into your swiping. This will lighten your dark colors, create new blends of color, and soften the overall background.
I used a lot of white and light blue in my second layer, but I made sure to swipe lightly, so that strands of my darker colors would still show through here and there.
You will not see your oyster sketch lines anymore, and you have to be okay with this. The overall shape of the oyster is still there.
Allow some time for your background to dry before you proceed next (about 20-30 minutes).
I started with the outline of my oyster first. This is the only time I used a specific paintbrush. I realized as I went back through my photos that I didn’t have a photo of it, but you’ll want a flat or an angular flat brush for this part, simply because it will give you more control and your outline will be smooth. I used an angular brush–I didn’t buy it for this painting, it was just a paintbrush I had on hand. If you have kids, dig through their paintbrushes–they probably have one.
Pick a few colors you want to use for the outline of your oyster–I chose gray, beige, white, and brown.
Use your paint brush and start with one color. Begin painting an outline (over your swipes) where you imagine your sketch line is underneath. Once your paintbrush feels a bit dry, dip it into another color and continue painting your outline. You can see how I used both light gray and beige to start my first oyster.
Keep alternating colors as you move around. Occasionally paint one color over another to create a new blend. This is all about mixing your color as you move around the shell.
Keep your hand loose as you paint the oyster edges. Every once in awhile wiggle your hand as you paint (imagine a car sliding on a slick road and then getting back on track). This will give the oyster its jagged ridges without a lot of effort on your part.
Continue to paint all the way around your oyster until you have a nice outline.
Once you have your oyster(s) outlined, you can start to add the details. I started with the hinge.
Used the same colors you used in your outline, but add some darker colors as well (I chose dark brown and black). The hinge/beak area is shaped like a C or a crescent moon (it could be backwards like mine depending on the layout of your oyster shell).
Paint this area back and forth using dash marks _ _ _ of color. This will give your oyster texture.
You can also very lightly add some color to the middle of your shell. You can see below that I added purple and peach. This is a dry swipe, just to add a little color. You will go over this with white paint.
Now it is time to paint the inside of your oyster(s).
Choose one main color and two other colors (I picked white for my main color with gray and beige as my minor colors). As you paint the middle, move in a spiral rotation. Use mostly the color you chose as your main color, but add dashes of your other colors here and there to give your shell shadows and depth.
Once you have fully painted your oyster(s), you can add the muscle scar and any shadows you’d like. You can have a lot of fun with colors at this point. Start dark–you can always lighten along the way.
Pick three or four colors you’d like to use for the oyster’s muscle scar. I used dark blue, teal, dark gray, and purple. Swipe the paint on in a circular formation (think eye of the hurricane). Remember that this scar doesn’t tend to be directly in the center of the shell, but rather more to one side than the other.
Keep adding your colors, making it bigger, then swipe in a circular motion over the whole thing with white to blend.
Here’s the same scar in my finished piece. You can see that I really used a lot of white on the right hand side of the scar to mute the colors.
You can also add shadows to your shells.
This is my right bottom oysters shell. I started with a purple shadow. Then added some gray, and later dark blue.
Check out the finished shadow below.
At this point, you are almost done. Remember that there is no right or wrong color, and no right or wrong shape. Your oyster will be unique to you. Have fun with any last colors you’d like to add to the outline (I added some teal and black here and there) as well as any colors you’d like to add in the shell.
And remember, if you ever absolutely hate the way something turned out, let it dry, and then paint right over it. Paint is never unfixable.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. And I hope you have been inspired to paint your own oyster painting.