acrylic

Printmaking Studio Etiquette

Setup
Based on safety and experience, your instructor will determine the location of print stations, additional supplies, and cleaning materials.

You decide where your personal supplies will be located.

A station consists of any table or area where your instructor has determined printing or cleaning will take place.

Printing
Be kind to others. If you see someone struggling, offer help!

If the number of printing or cleaning stations is limited, be nice as you wait for your turn.

Share rollers, brushes, spray bottles and any other supplies.

If in doubt about how to use tools or equipment, please ask your instructor.

Leave plates and work areas free of ink or paint as you go, unless your classmate has asked you to leave them “as is.”

Pay attention that you do not leave your supplies behind at a station.

Ask permission to use materials or supplies that belong to your instructor or your classmates.

Cleanup
Cleanup takes time, so a ten-minute reminder will be issued as cleanup time approaches. After that heads-up, please stop printing when your instructor tells you to stop, and assist us in cleaning up the collective areas.

Intellectual Rights
Never use images created by your classmates or your instructor without first asking for permission.

Be aware that mages used by students in class must be either properly attributed or used in a “transformative manner” in order to be covered by Fair Use law. More on that here: http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/fair-use-code-faq-students.pdf

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?

Thinking About Color

Photo of a watercolor palette

A watercolor tray with a chart that shows how the colors behave on paper.

“I just start painting very excitedly and the last thing I think about is my palette. Most of the time, composition keep me so busy I completely forget about color.”
“I feel like an outsider during visits to the art store. I must be the only person in the universe that does not know what colors to buy!”
“My palette is so garish. Everything looks fine in the beginning but when I finish I see my colors are too bright for my taste.”

Color is one of the dimensions of design that seems the most inscrutable. While almost everyone can appreciate size, texture and contrast, color perception is highly individual. To complicate matters, as humans we have developed a series of terms to discuss color that vary enormously from person to person. Then there’s color theory. Some of us were taught color theory as a means to learn those specialized color concepts such as the law of simultaneous contrast. Others just remember the tedious exercises.

Photo of four flower still lives

Student Diane Platner tried out four different color harmonies for this subject.

Is there a way to make sense of color that is friendlier to the average art learner? I would say there are many, but what they all have in common is that they all involve today’s most precious commodity: time. “Serious” art students have for decades gravitated towards instructors with a mastery over color. Those instructors have in turn passed on their methods for making color decisions very much like passing on a recipe. Those students adopt those methods and use them forever.

Then there is the rare instructor who has developed their own teaching technique for helping students figure out color relationships on their own. Some host wonderful, meaningful studio discussions and others, like Josef Albers, have developed interesting exercises to stimulate this type of individual discovery. These two approaches require the context of a class in order for a student to have time to ponder what color is all about. In short, there is no quick and dirty method to “learn color” overnight.

Photo of a finished exercise with two limited palettes.

I send these exercises home as a way for students to experience a limited palette.

All of this would have no meaning if a students is not allowed to engage in the most important aspect of color learning for an artist, which is to integrate this new knowledge into the work they like to do. In my opinion, the only reason we learn about color is to develop and enhance our voice as visual artists. Questions like the role that color plays in our work, the mood that color variations bring to a painting, the importance that adopting a given palette might have or not have. This is why we would take a class, to engage in this type of thinking. No instructor can answer these questions for us. A good teacher will provide the space to answer them.

Blake Garden Delights

For our first visit to the Blake Garden, I thought I should talk about its enduring appeal to east bay painters. While the garden “contains a large diversity of plant materials that grow in our Mediterranean type climate” as well as “new and historic garden design and structures” I’ve long suspected this is not why artists flock to this enclosed space. It is more because, unlike other (and perhaps more) popular gardens in the area, this one packs a lot into a relatively small and it seems to have been designed with the plein air painter in mind. No, there aren’t a lot of benches, but there is plenty of shade near its most popular attractions, and a high number of secluded nooks and crannies where one may paint undisturbed. If to this you add that it lies nestled in a very quiet neighborhood, protected from the worst winds, you realize what a jewel it is.

No matter what the result is, the garden encourages you to reflect on your work. This is a place where you can hear your own thoughts, where you can listen to your quiet artist voice. Seven years ago, I was able to write this after a day of painting at the garden: “I didn’t feel inspired by the reflecting pool or anything else. For some reason, i didn’t feel very talkative and retreated into the northern part of the garden. At the bottom, I saw a pool formed by creek water and then I saw a bench. It felt like the place was beckoning me, so I stayed. Onlookers had to leave the path to come see what I was doing, so I felt safe. I was going for the feeling of the place. I love this painting.”

I miss dearly a painter friend of mine, who often wrote about the Blake Garden on our East Bay Landscape Painter’s blog. Even though she was a fantastic painter, on some days she struggled, and let her frustration flow freely: “This painting was a struggle to work on, after my easel broke and I had to work on the ground. The colors developed in a way I liked but in the end I lost some of the composition and may work on it from memory. I like Blake Garden but never get a painting I like there.” But other days were better: “What a good idea it was to go to Blake Gardens this week. Every year when the fruit trees start to bloom I want to find a place to paint them. The cherry and plum are blooming on Thousand Oaks.”

What a wonderful assurance it must be to know that no matter how our paintings may turn out, the Blake Garden will always welcome us with open arms.

Acrylic is Perfect for Multimedia

Photo of a table holds a large colorful paper.

Printing with acrylic pigments yields rich and colorful results.

We used a giant gel plate for experimental monotypes, and I have to say the colors are always much brighter than when we use block printing ink. The other big difference is that the results cannot be altered as acrylic is not water soluble. But these prints can become a background for play with other paint with watercolor or ink, for example. The gel plate was created using a variation of a recipe I found on the internet. 6 months and $150 later, I found the right combination of gelatin and glycerin and now share it with my students. I love gel plates, not just because of their sensitivity to textures but because they require almost no physical exertion.

colorful acrylic paint pouring off a canvas

Liquid acrylic pigments change quickly due to gravity.

Pours on small canvasses are the happy experiments on which anyone can build a larger or more complex piece. I buy packs of these 9 x 12″ canvasses and do my teaching demos on them. The pours are exciting because the colors change right before our eyes. Anne Marie from BeadFX because has a much better description of what happens: “layer up various densities of paint dollops (heaviest on the bottom, and lightest on top). A couple of light swirls with a stir stick, and then you pour on your background. When you’re done, you start tipping the substrate, for a wonderful, swirling explosion of color saturated eye candy!” In our case, we sprayed liquid acrylic, poured some using a different recipe, and added latex paint at the end.

hand tilting colorful canvas

Another “dirty” pour in process!

You don’t really need to take a class to learn how to pour acrylics on a canvas. I find that what people want to learn is how to prepare the various pouring recipes. But I always tell them that the internet has so many instructions for the curious. Michael Townsend has written an excellent article that goes beyond recipes. It is more of an overview, explaining how the various mixes behave on a level surface. I would start here first and then go to You Tube for the many variations.