acrylic painting

Starting The Year With Acrylics

In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster. Robert Genn

I will be teaching a class at the Richmond Art Center on Jan 11, “Acrylic Bag of Tricks.” In February, I will begin teaching a series of two workshops about painting acrylic still lives at the Frank Bette Center (Feb 24 and Mar 23). So I can rightfully say I will start the year with acrylics.

colorful acrylic paint pouring off a canvas

Liquid acrylic pigments change quickly due to gravity.

But did you know that I did not start using acrylics until 2005? I did not receive instruction in it when I was in art school in the 1980s. Some instructors used acrylics back then, but they treated it like a lesser medium. If, as painter Andrew Hamilton says, “acrylic is the only painting medium that can be all mediums – it can act like watercolor, it can act like oils, and it has its own innate properties,” none of this was demonstrated in the classes I paid for. Instead, the few instructors or colleagues that used acrylic complained of the loud colors, or the quick drying time, and of the fact that it ruined brushes faster than oils. After I left art school, the stigma persisted. So I did not touch acrylics. I did not hate them, I just did not know what was possible.

A student paints on top of a giant gel plate

This giant gel plate is being used like as a monotype tool. No need for a press!

Fast forward twenty years. I took a figure painting class and met my friend Karen Zullo Sherr, a feisty lady who used nothing else. She explained it was “all in the additives.” Intrigued, I began reading and trying out acrylic “recipes” I found in books, and sometimes on video. I began experimenting with thickening agents and eventually graduated to image transfers. Along the way, I figured out how to take advantage of its many features in plein air and studio situations.

Over the years, I realized not everyone will like or use acrylic. To find out if you are cut out for it, take my quiz:

1. My level of experience is ___________.
a. beginner  b. I have taken some classes  c. I use a different medium for most of my work

2. I do most of my work ___________.
a. indoors  b. outdoors  c. both

3. This word can be used to describe most of my paintings:
a. experimental  b. abstract  c. traditional

4. I am _________ to solvents
a. very sensitive  b. neither sensitive or insensitive  c. not sensitive

Give yourself two points for every “a” response, one point for every “b” response and zero points for any “c” response.

If you scored 6-8 points, acrylic is in the charts! You are too neat for oils, too sensitive to thinner, you work where a faster drying time is not an issue, and you “seize the moment” as an artist. If you are a beginner, this water soluble medium is definitely for you.

Magenta and yellow paint blobs on a palette

Modeling paste mixed with paint turns into textures.

Those who scored 3-5 points could give this medium a chance but first they would have to set themselves up for success. Using additives that mimic the qualities of oils, using retardants to delay drying time and taking the time to learn about the medium’s attributes will let you see what you’ve been missing!

Even if you scored less than 3 points, that does not mean you should write acrylics off. You may be very experienced with other media and thus ready for a change of pace. Your health might change later on and you might have to switch, or you might be getting ready to do different work. One never nows so why not check it out?

Acrylic Still Life

Small painting of clouds, hills and grass

Realistic effects are part of the impasto mystique.

Acrylic is possibly the most versatile and forgiving medium. This day is structured so that beginners as well as more experienced painters can take a tour of its exciting possibilities while painting the still life. We’ll cover the uses of several additives and how to mix acrylic colors.

Register here, at the Frank Bette Center’s site. The FBC has a list of materials available once you register.

The workshop runs from 9-4 pm. It costs $80 for members and $100 for non-members. Here is the agenda for the day:

Goals

  • Learn the most versatile way to begin an acrylic painting
  • Choose the best acrylic paints for the task at hand
  • Understand the possibilities of the medium
  • Complete more than one still life
A hand applies spray to a small canvas on a table.

This canvas was first treated with molding paste and the acrylic wash accentuates the textures.

Format
You will be able to receive instruction and create one or more still lives during this workshop. Each student will be given the choice of trying out a new effect with an acrylic additive. You will be able to receive as much or as little support as you specify. So that we can all be in the same page, during the first hour we will go through the basic steps in the development of an acrylic piece.

Here is the agenda for the day:

9:00- 9:15
Introductions, purpose and goals for the class.

9:15- 9:45
Survey of acrylic pigments and additives. The role of quality in acrylic supplies. How to prime cardboard.

9:45- 10:15
Demo of the basic steps in starting a traditional acrylic painting.

10:15-10:30
How to prepare your own impasto or “fresco” textures.

10:30- 12:00
Still life #1

12:00 – 12:30
Lunch (bring your own)

12:30 – 1:00
Demo: how to make acrylic behave like oils. Retardant, gel medium and acrylic glazes

1:00 – 3:00
Still life #2

3:00-4:00
Debrief or critique of the work done today. Evaluation an.d cleanup

 

Blake Garden Did Not Disappoint

Photo of a woman with a viewfinder

Finding the best composition in a field of flowers.

Photo of a man painting

A sunlit path makes very dark shadows.

Photo of a mom and daughter

These students are clearly having too much fun!

Yesterday was our first Plein Air Fridays session at the Blake Garden. The day was beautiful and the temperature, perfect. This Berkeley garden did not disappoint those of us who were hoping for an afternoon free of cold wind and overcast skies. Everybody was on time and we met near the reflecting pool, where dappled light dotted the grassy area around it.
After a demo on how to use a viewfinder and how start an acrylic painting, the students dispersed and I began making rounds. I forgot how much walking is involved when students are spread out. The Blake Garden spans ten acres!
There are two spaces left in this class. Registration ends June 30.

Acrylic Washes And Pours

Two students tilt a paper with acrylic wash

Too bad this is not wine or we could say this wash has “legs!”

Those who love texture will appreciate the point of enhancing it with specially-mixed acrylic washes. Learning to make this mix was the first part of our class. While there are many recipes for it on Your Tube, we were aiming to mix something that could be used in a variety of materials such as paper, molding paste or canvas.

A female student tilts an acrylic wash she has applied with a spray bottle.

A student tilts an acrylic wash she has applied with a spray bottle.

Our surface was heavy watercolor paper because this paper can take a lot of abuse. We scored it, sanded it and covered it with masking fluid. The texture and hues on the wash can serve as a beautiful background for a collage. Once the acrylic washes were applied with a spray bottle, we tilted it and let the excess pour on a mixing tub that had an inch of water.

A hand applies spray to a small canvas on a table.

This canvas was first treated with molding paste and the acrylic wash accentuates the textures.

The second part of our class was devoted to learning how to mix the paint for a pour. This time we tried both paper and canvas. I had a few examples to show. There are many resources on You Tube that can show you how to make various types of pours, but I find there is no substitute for doing one yourself. Not everyone is comfortable with the messiness factor engendered by this type of activity. By the time we finished, our pours were hanging from a clothesline, dripping lots of paint on my studio floor!

A large paper shows patterns made with thick paint over wet paper.

Pouring medium over a wet paper results in something Joan Miró could have made.

Impasto!

Small painting of clouds, hills and grass

Realistic effects are part of the impasto mistique.

The third acrylics class was just like a food network show. We gathered round to see the making of modeling paste “recipes,” then we saw an impasto demonstration, and then it was time for us to try it for ourselves. Impasto is the application of thick paint to a surface. This can be done in a variety of ways with acrylic, thanks to the many applications of this medium and  to all of the additives in the market.

We worked from simple references, mixing colors first on the palette, then applying the thick paste with a palette knife onto primed cardboard.

A student's arms and hands hold a brush and a palette knife.

A student gets ready to apply impasto with a palette knife.

Woman's hands applying thick paint with palette knife.

Several acrylic additives give paint a thicker texture.

People like impasto because it visually reminds viewers of the very physical nature of paint while simultaneously creating an illusion. It gives you the opportunity to work with paint that is easier to control. Application with a palette knife does not require so much skill and some even say is more ergonomic than holding a brush. For people with arthritis, it is physically easier to spread heavy paint on a surface than to beat paint into a canvas.

I advised everyone to get the largest surface they could bring to class. Something we all discover sooner or later is that impasto call for a large palette or mixing surface. It is also more comfortable to use larger gestures to apply paint, and to be able to tilt the easel. Some people get rid of the easel altogether and use a table.

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