An Easy Exercise with Oil Crayons after Modigliani

Mogdiliani Process 61311 007

Modigliani was an Italian painter who painted mainly in France during the 1920s.   He was a figurative painter who was known for his modern style.  His style was characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form. Sadly, he died at age 35 from meningitis caused by poverty, overwork and addiction to alcohol and narcotics.

Here is a simple way to copy the unmistakable style of Modigliani using oil crayons, baby oil and a pencil.

Allow 1 ½ hours for this exercise.

You will need:

  • 1 set of oil crayons (these are usually inexpensive)
  • 1 A3 size piece of good quality paper which will take some heavy duty “crayoning” (you can use a smaller piece of paper if you wish.)
  • 1 bottle of baby oil (I used coconut oil.)
  • 1 6B graphite pencil
  • A clean rag or disposable kitchen cloth.
  • A picture to copy from.  It is best to use a person with their neck and shoulders visible in the snapshot.  Great photos are obtainable from with no restrictions on copying.
  • 1 medium sized paint brush (watercolour brushes are good)

In true Zen style, you will approach this exercise with no purpose in mind; you are doing it for the fun of it, the joy of it.  If you can let go and enjoy the process, you will be surprised at the result.

Step 1

Tape your paper to a board (optional).

Taping the Board

Step 2

Loosely draw in the figure with a black oil crayon. Make sure to show the head, shoulders and clothing.  The more elongated the face and neck the more like a Modigliani your work will be.

Mogdiliani Process 1

Step 3

Fill in all over the drawing with light coloured crayon.  I had only a dull orange so went over it again with white.  Don’t worry about staying within the lines, just colour over everything.  The grey smudges will add life to the work.

Mogdiliani Process 2

Step 4

Select your colours and place them out of the box.  To obtain colour harmony it is best to restrict yourself to either:

You may use various tones of these colours so get out all the reds, all the greens, black and white or all the yellow/oranges, all the blues, black and white.

Colour the shapes with the selected colours.  Go over them again with another colour to blend and make interesting shades.  Go over the colours a third time to make sure there is a thick coating of oil crayon.  The more oil crayon on the paper the more the work will look like an oil painting.

Mogdiliani Process 3

Step 5

Paint the baby oil on all sections of the drawing.  Make sure to wipe your brush clean with a kitchen cloth before painting over a new section. This will help to avoid “muddiness” of colours.

Mogdiliani Process 4

Step 6

Draw in the outlines again with your 6B pencil to sharpen up the image.   Make it nice and dark and keep your marks loose.  You may wish to hold the pencil by the tip to loosen up.  Don’t worry if you go outside the lines.  That’s what makes a loose authentic picture drawn by a unique person – you!

Mogdiliani Process 6

In the end, I thought my painting made the girl look too pretty.  If you research Modigliani’s work, you will see the elongation much more pronounced and the faces more mask like.  If you would like to paint Modigliani’s “Woman with Black Cravat”, in acrylics follow this Zen School post in the Copy Famous Artists series.

Here is a portrait done by Modigliani for you to compare your work with.


A Few Facts About Oils

4.1 Three

Oils have a quite unjustified reputation for being difficult so I will detail a few tips that may change your mind!  At the end of the post you will find a great link to help you preserve your masterpieces.

  • Oils are the most forgiving of all the painting media.
  • Oils dry very slowly and give you plenty of time to think about your approach.
  • You can easily rework the paint if you change your mind.
  • Oil-painting is less technique led than say, watercolour.
  • Right from the start, a would-be artist can produce pleasing images with a richness and depth of colour unmatched by any other medium.
  • With tube paints, the pigment is held in an oil-binding medium, usually linseed oil.
  • Paint from the tube can be thinned down with solvent, (preferably the odourless variety) turps or a mixture of either with linseed oil.  (I do not use turps due to its toxicity.  I thin my tube paint down with either linseed, walnut or safflower oils only.)  The choice is yours.
  • Various effects can be obtained by thinning down the paint or using it fresh from the tube. Other types of thinners are available at art shops. Odourless thinners seem to be most popular with artists nowadays.
  • Work can be built up in a succession of thin layers or applied directly as thick dabs of buttery, creamy, textured colour.
  • Paint surfaces can end up either smooth and glossy or thickly encrusted with swirling paint.  Australian artist Ben Quilty shows us great examples of the latter style in his work.
  • Oil paints can be used on hardboard, canvas boards, stretched canvas and paper.

With the above work, I chose to paint the goup in oils and in a Sfumato style. I thinned down the paint and applied probably 6 or 7 layers allowing the work to dry for a couple of days between each.  It took ages!

“Sfumato” is an Italian word meaning “to evaporate like smoke”.  The Mona Lisa was done in this style. There are no harsh outlines with areas of different colours blending together.

The following site is a great reference on how to preserve your oil paintings.