Acrylics Rock!

From Inside the Studio, Acrylics Day

Painting with acrylics does not require a silver brush, but do be sure you don’t go el cheapo when you buy brushes. You don’t want to forever be picking hairs out of your wet acrylic masterpiece in the less than 10 minutes you have to work on it before that paint stroke dries. You can buy all sorts of shapes for your brushes if you want to, but you’ll always be looking for that perfect little square to pull down a stripe with one stroke or make a squarish something, to slide the wonderful straight edge straight along an edge for a perfect straight line. All who are resistant to painting always quote that old adage, “I can’t draw a straight line.” Don’t mess with me, they are saying. I’m not gifted like you, they actually tell you. Oh? Put out paints. Dip squared off brush into some paint color, Place on canvas, drag straight across with the edge. It worked, didn’t it? So sorry to prove you can paint a line. One further tip on that is to push up to the line, never float over it, which roughs it with additional color. Just keep all the color underneath the edge, and it can’t hop up there to mess it up.

Plant, or mash, as we Southerners say, your square-edged brush upon the edge and drag.

Again. Don’t hold it up in the air this time; we’re not looking for a pencil line, we’re looking for a straight edge under which is paint in a random shape. From this point on, just lather it on below and up to the wet random paint (but never all the way back up to the edge where you will likely mess up what you already had perfect) until you get to the next edge or the end of your passage. You can use just the square edge for a very small point, if you need it, but for the straight edge, match brush edge to edge to be painted. I am being tedious only because I have had to continue in this exact fashion with my students. It isn’t that we are dumb, it is that we have been taught that painting is hard, and we miss the obvious, sometimes.

You can use the same motions (for ladies) that you use for putting on your makeup, soft curving strokes (once you have the edge), some lightly feathered over the thicker ones to connect newer, different colors together seamlessly. Work as long as the paint will let you and you feel you need to. Don’t mindlessly dab. Dabs aren’t strokes, and what are you doing? Do you know the goal for all that dabbing? What was wrong with it the way it was first laid down? You don’t know? Well, then, stop. Another cautionary. Don’t keep pulling paint into new, dry areas from where you put the wet paint down. You are thinning it, and making it worse, not better. Do the logical brushing for the amount of paint you have, stop, and dip your brush in more paint. Feather the add-on into the old lightly, because by now it is drying and has lost its ability to give. Let the old part rest and dry, continue with the wet. If, heaven forbid, you go back over it with watered acrylic, you might lift up a hole, a whole patch of paint that leaves a hole. That is the number one worst error to make, I’m telling you. Can’t correct it, it will leave a bumpy edge all around the hole.

Did we say acrylic is dimensional paint? That means the paint itself builds up and has thickness to it. Oh, Well. You can sand it down and start again.

There are those who like to trip along the bumps of the canvas and spread a little paint here, a little paint there, leaving dry patches in-between. This strategy is not a good one. How do you ever find all those little squares you missed to patch over them? You have to, you know, because unlike watercolor, where bits of paper showing through is considered beautiful, bits of patterned canvas are considered ugly. Now I know some exception will raise it’s beautiful head to prove me wrong. That’s okay. But skipping along with a dry brush has just made your work needlessly more tedious. Just like making a tedious drawing akin to paint-by-numbers drawings with the eyelashes drawn in. And you’re supposed to paint between the eyelashes? I’m sorry, but you must use your noggin, here, and paint in large areas, colors, and surfaces, first. You can’t work from detail down, even if it does anchor you. You have to subtract detail and work with big shapes up.

Check around. Everybody’s saying it.

Now, if you didn’t do this to begin with, try it with your next one. Plan your layout of your canvas, your composition as it’s called, ahead of time. See if you can’t divide it into seven basic shapes. Now you’re cooking with gas. Allrightee, then. Into or onto those seven sections, if you will, you can further subdivide after you’ve painted the main color. All this, and we haven’t even come to modeling. Modeling is a real pain in acrylic. I’ll just say it exactly like it is. Acrylic lends itself to bold contrasts better than slight changes from dark green to lighter, for instance, being as how the paint dries so fast, and you will go back and forth like I’ve seen all my students do, thereby flattening the passage of paint instead of modeling it. You can try slight increments in color, increase of dark (darker color added), or increase of white added into it, lighter, pick one, don’t try both, and feather the edge over the older, drying color.

The toll-painting method of striation of color or variegating it is actually a good strategy. This is called double or triple-loading your brush with 2 or 3 different colors of paint. Don’t glob it all together, space the colors out as you pick them up off your palette. Then apply in short strokes for hair or grass, for instance, re-load, repeat. If you make your strokes too long, the grass will turn to weeds and the horses’ hair to a shaggy, strange breed. Think how hair is actually done on your head, in overhanging layers.

Now, then, I’ve taken you way beyond your limits for today, telling tales and jokes to lighten the seriousness of doing acrylic painting. No matter how serious our intents are, we won’t get there without funnies and breathers and laughing at ourselves and our teachers a little bit. That’s right, you can laugh at me, too. I can help because I’ve made all these mistakes at least once. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, or too sensitive about it. That slows you up so much and makes you hard to get along with. It’s not that big a deal. You can paint over what you did, too. When I say that, you don’t have to paint over everything. Just the things you think are bad wrong. It’s better to leave some paint alone and go from where you were. New starts make new mistakes. When layering in acrylic, make sure your under layer is bone dry first.

Thank you for reading my eBook, Acrylic Painting Techniques Easy(ier). link I try to break it down to its simplest components for easy access. I can complicate anything, so if you have questions to help me complicate the matter, just ask!

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EBook Watercolor Painting Techniques Easy(ier), Article #1, Distinctly Watercolor

Personality and Nature

Knowing the nature of watercolor ahead of time would help the would-be painter in his quest. When you are starting out, you really would profit from overview about the nature of the watercolor beast. First of all, watercolor has been around since the cave men, in ancient Chinese dynasties where artisans painted on silk. It is not a new phenomena or a craft craze, but a time honored type of fine art, like oils.

Watercolor has fallen in and out of favor, however, and its current renewal has found some resist and kickback from the establishment. In this regard, it is relevant to know that watercolors painted on archival (acid-free) paper with light-fast watercolor paints is one of the hardiest of the visual arts media. It has known its number of top-notch, museum quality artists over the years, one being J.M. W. Turner, the famous English watercolorist who strapped himself to the prow of a ship during a storm to render the effects afterwards in paint.

Painting watercolors is fun and productive, and easy to begin if you have an overview that includes the following seven peculiarities of it, or said, another way, if you know seven ways it is different from the other media.

The Seven Differences of Watercolor

1. Wet. All paint is wet, but in this medium, you supply the water, its carrier, whether you add it to dry or semi-moist cakes of color, or to wet paints from tubes. Watercolor tubes are smaller due to the high tinting strength of the pigment in the tube. You need to add water to the paint to give it its luster, its glow, to awaken its transparency. Watercolor paint plus water is called a wash, and washes can vary from 1 % pigment all the way up to 100 %. This is more than just a technical fact, it is what gives the medium life. You could say watercolor is born once the paint hits water. Water is the vehicle without which you can do very little. In spite of this, every year I encounter students who try to add water stingily, by the drop. Fear of lack of control puts a stranglehold on watercolor painting. In fact, you could say the only bad watercolor is a dry-looking one (but there’s probably one more). That’s what my Polish instructor, Leon Jonczyk, from Munich, Germany taught about watercolor.

Another implication of the wetness of watercolor as a separate medium is that water is probably more responsible for carrying your paint than even your brush is. You can’t say that about the paint in any other medium. More watercolors are ruined by over-stroking the paper with the brush, than by doing nothing once wet paint is applied. Back and forth fidgeting will even scrape holes in the paper.

Most of the names of the strokes include the word wet. ‘Wet-next-to-wet,’ ‘wet-next-to-dry,’ ‘wet-into-wet,’ ‘splatter,’ ‘backwash,’ and its opposite, dry-brush.

2. Losing Control. I don’t think any other painting medium addresses the matter of control in the same way as watercolors. Rarely does a skill require ‘losing’ control. However, this one does. The best analogy would be riding a runaway horse–you have to let the horse start to run away from you, before you can learn what to do with him at each phase along the way. Fortunately in watercolor, although you might lose a sheet or two of paper, you’re not going to get hurt, learning.

Oh, but how new students act as though it will. The overview to this is that you must learn what to do as the watercolor dries. There are appropriate things to do all along the way. This is not a science, so you must learn it intuitively. One good example is that if the watercolor passage on the paper is almost dry but still moist, you can’t put a loaded brush next to it, or into it. It will explode and ruin the nice set to the color laid down.

However, again, ‘ruin’ in watercolor is really temporary. The ruin of one moment is the success of the next, another outworking of less control.

Now it’s time to tell you the other type of ‘bad’ watercolor–that’s the one that is too dry. That means you’ve been working your little bit of water to death and worn out the paper and the color. Overworked watercolor crystals stop sparkling.

The type of control one needs in this medium is analogous to the reins on a horse, knowing when to pull him in, turn him left, right, when to talk to him, when to be quiet. This is why sketches, fun, and a sense of play are truly helpful with watercolors.

3.Non-dimensional. Watercolor paint used in the traditional way is non-dimensional; it won’t stand up on the paper or any surface. No bumps, no bulges, no texture per se. It is a thin, surface medium, and that is not a detraction. It works best that way. You can paint the effect of texture with stippling, dry-brush, and other things, but it is trompe l’oeuil, or fool the eye. Really, if you clump watercolor paint onto your paper, the end result will be a deadening of the color.

This is because the system is designed to allow for the white of the paper to show through. The light reverberates through the applied color and gives a jeweled effect. It is as though light were turned on from behind.

This explains why you should gently caress the paper with your paint infusions and not solely rely on the tip of the brush, but on its side to deliver paint to the painting. This explains why classical watercolor as was taught me in Europe requires that you use only round-ferrule brushes. These brushes hold a lot of water but gently sweep over paper’s surface with its teardrop shape loaded with wash, the tip used primarily to get close to a line, not to make one.

4.Movable Medium. Again, the image of horseback riding applies. As the weight of the different colors varies, so does the movement of the color you have laid down. It means you can add other colors while it is running (wet). You can infuse small or large amounts at the edge or in the middle. You can develop a whole style based on using water aggressively to move paint, as in Charles Reid ‘s drip paintings. An internationally acclaimed watercolorist, he has successfully rendered flowers, interiors, and portraits with his aggressive runs, splats, and drips. I was lucky enough to have hims select one of my watercolor paintings for a Watercolor Society of North Carolina annual exhibit. He works with a huge, round brush and a bucket of water, H2O flying everywhere.

That is why some paint on an easel, instead of flat, to allow the drips to move downward.

5. Transparent paint. Transparent watercolor painting is one type of painting which has no need of white or black paint. Now this is so interesting, because supply houses do dearly love to play to ignorance by offering a Chinese white to watercolor kits. This color does not work the same way acrylic does, or oil. The only way to get a beautiful white in watercolor is to leave the white of the paper showing, as mentioned in another section. All the whites do not need to be solid, they can be intermittent, or soft, light colors. Add more water to your wash, and you come closer to white. If you try to buck the system and add white, three things might happen. You weaken the strength of the pigment. You alter the color that you are using. You turn the white into a blue cast white, because anything lighter painted over something darker is blued.

The transparent versions of these colors are so much more beautiful than the opaque version. Watercolors should sparkle and shine. If you do a full-fledged, multi-layered finished watercolor, you must leave some layers that go all the way to the paper, some with only a wash, some two, and on, to maintain the painting’s luminosity and sense of transparency.

6. Not wysiwyg. All of the other media are more or less additive, and so, they are wysiwyg, or, what you see is what you get. Not watercolor. It changes minutely, hourly. You will never get what you think in your mind’s eye, or if you do, you will have over-controlled your paint. Over-controlled watercolors are just like that type of children–joyless, rigid, not spontaneous, murky, sullen.

7. Moody. All six of the foregoing lead to the last conclusion about the idiosyncrasies of transparent watercolor. Watercolor is like a mood ring that changes colors with you and your mood. If you are feeling frisky, you probably will have a good product that day. If you are anxious, insecure, leave it alone and come back. You will notice the mood by reading the watercolor. Three quarters of the painting might work and that last fourth? It runs counter to all of the rest. You will have already read my eBook, Watercolor Painting Techniques Easy(ier). If not, make sure you do, it is free to download.

This will hopefully provide a base for you as you delve into painting successful watercolors.

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EBook Oil Painting Techniques Easy(ier), Article #1


What is an artist’s stock in trade? Why, color, of course.

Color is so important major conferrences are held annually on the colors used in high-end trade markets. Colors are so important that studies are made on their psychological effects on a person’s well-being. Hospitals pick their paints based on them. I have even heard of 6-figure jobs whose primary duty was naming colors, and I’m sure paint stores pay someone to name their colors, big time. What is color, but the separated emissions of white light into a rainbow prism, which in part, depends on the color that is blocked out of your vision range.

That’s why I am so big on both the range and order of my palette of colors and value the tone or tint way over the longevity or archival nature. I try not to do this, but darn. It’s such a big deal that even in my Old Masters’ paintings of darkest darks, I try to bring in a wide range of hues on the dark side as well as the light. I cannot go with one neutral and let it dirty up all the colors. When you go to the light side, I’m especially keen on a kaleidoscopic dose of color, and I specialize in making sure I know the additives to clean up the chroma of a color, while still leaving it toned. (Toned means there exists some grey in the mix.) Today I got an A-plus on a test naming the colors in famous Old Masters paintings. That was fun.

Rainbow emissions of colors have wonderful names like ‘magenta,’ ‘cobalt blue,’ ‘alizarin crimson,’ and ‘phthalocyanine blue.’ In oil painting, these colors come from a pigment base of one of earth’s natural substances or a man-made chemical. The worth of the color is rated on this and the topic of hot discussion in my oil painting circles. This knowledge is invaluable, and yet is only part of the help I give those who follow my trail of color crumbs.

Have you ever wondered why some people’s paintings work like magic, why people rave over the color? Or why some paintings look to you like random spitup? Well, of course there is the subjective element, which could be the reason early reviews on Wyeth’s works were called out by a major critic as a palette using “mud and baby poop,” an opinion that echoed almost all the major art critics used to abstract expressionism and pop-op art that models high school and college teaching on art. They put down not only Wyeth’s realism, but his morality and austerity. Association is a factor in a human’s reaction to color. Taste testers have proven this in non-blind tasting events: when the water is colored orange, people taste orange juice without a drop of orange in it.

Funny, I never had a bad reaction to Wyeth’s subdued colors. I look at them and think, earth, earthy, spare, awesome composition, about this wonderful American artist.

Participation in artists’ discussions for any amount of time will eventually turn to talk of getting the colors all ‘muddy.’ Many courses claim to teach how to avoid making mud in their color mixing. Muddy is best described as the reaction felt when colors are observed as ‘yuck’ colors. The ‘yuck’ reaction happens when the color seen resembles no known color on earth, and not in a good way. In my experience, mud develops from over-mixing colors indiscriminately. One version of mud comes from not perceiving the difference between what are called ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colors. Just teaching the eye that one distinction could fast-track a student to more radiant and consistent colors. It is then that they begin to clean up all those nondescript paintings they display to sell unsuspecting, well-intentioned, and potential art-loving owners who come with a prospect to buy.

Let’s talk about warm colors. What would you immediately designate as hot? Sunshine, fire, sun-lit grass, molten lava spewed by volcanoes, red peppers. Now you can find a whole group of them by name–they are the cadmium oranges and yellows, the fire engine reds and the neon greens. Color theory teaches that the warmth factor can change simply by who yellow sits next to on the bench. So if alizarin crimson, a cooler red, sat next to ultramarine blue, a cold blue, it would be warm by comparison. Complexity will grow on the foundation of the basics. Think, concentrate for now on what colors pull the object close up, painting with those colors that draw an object forward. They would be warm. Warm red is associated with hearts, love, and also anger.

Then imagine colors pushing a cloud or a mountain back into the distance, like blue and purple, and you have a cool color that helps the illusion of perspective and distance. These colors include blues and lavenders and blue-greens to push an object back. That is why mountains seen in the distance are blue, purple or lavender. Blues are synonyms for depression in some circles, but to me blues are peaceful and restful.

The emotive power of color in conjuring up a feeling or a taste on our tongue should not be discredited. You can memorize colors on tube labels, but that does not order them in terms of warmth. That doesn’t even tell you where or on which color scale it falls.

Back to the very beginning. Not many people know how many colors make up the set called primary. Or secondary. For that, it’s three guesses and the first two don’t count. There are three primary colors–red, blue, and yellow–on one color system, the one most of us use. But is every red primary? There are hundreds of them. Phthalocyanine blue has been re-marketed with an ‘RS’ and a ‘GS’ on the call number to further identify the blue as to the red side or to the green side. Visual images of colors are so important. Call a color by the name that conjures that color up to your mind’s eye, like orange sherbet, or raspberry, so you can navigate more easily among all the foreign oil colors with strange-sounding names, as I’ve mentioned in my eBook, Oil Painting Techniques Easy(ier). link

I personally use a primary palette and a secondary palette, the terms primary and secondary not directly related to the primary and secondary colors at all. On the primary palette are all the colors to the blue side, which would be a lemon yellow, yellow ochre, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, veridian green, and some neutrals. Eventually experiential knowledge can be coordinated with book knowledge to ground you in the wonderful world of color.

• colors range from light to dark
• colors conjure up things like tangerine, pineapple, or raspberry
• there are warm and cool colors
• learn your primary, secondary, and complementary colors
• ‘read’ a color for its content, what other colors are in it (it’s a journey)

Once you begin to recognize what hidden colors you ‘see’ in another color, THEN you can begin to stretch your mix toward that color. This will give your color an unexpected excitement. Once you learn complementaries, you can begin to experiment by stretching those to new and exciting combos. Stretching your colors leads to a whole new room in your color house. As does devising your own color wheel.

Start with your own personal favorites and make a journal with samples of these colors. Soon you will be mixing up a storm, and your efforts will no doubt please the eye—and another eye as well as your own. Now you can begin to follow the Hansel and Gretel color trail home to easier and easy oil color recognition, mixing, using, and stretching. And you won’t let anyone talk you into shading every color with black or brown ever again (more in an advanced installment, later).

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