- Keeping Acrylic Paints Workable: Because acrylics dry so fast, squeeze only a little paint out of a tube. If you’re using a ‘normal’ plastic palette invest in a spray bottle so you can spray a fine mist over the paint regularly to keep it moist. ‘Stay-wet’ palettes – where the paint sits on a sheet of wax paper place on top of a damp piece of watercolour paper – eliminate the need to do this.
- Blot your Brushes: Keep a piece of paper towel or cloth next to your water jar and get into the habit of wiping your brushes on it after you rinse them. This prevents water drops running down the ferrule and onto your painting, making blotches.
- Opaque or Transparent: If applied thickly – either straight from the tube or with very little water added – or if mixed with a little white, all acrylic colours can be opaque. If diluted with lots of water, or extender, they can be used like watercolour paint and to create similar effects.
- Acrylic ‘Watercolour’ Washes: When an acrylic wash dries, it’s permanent and, unlike a watercolour wash, is insoluble and can be over-painted without fear of disturbing the existing wash. The colours of subsequent washes mix optically with the earlier ones, so a yellow wash over a blue wash will create green.
- Think Thin When Thinking Glazes: If you want transparent glazes, these should be built up in thin layers; a heavy layer will produce a glossy surface. Do not add white as this will make the glaze opaque. Acrylic glaze medium can help to create a more transparent effect.
- Improve Flow Without Losing Colour: Acrylic colours loose their colour strength the more you dilute with water. To increase the flow of a colour with minimal loss of colour strength, use a flow-improver medium rather than water.
- Blending Acrylic Paints: Because acrylics dry rapidly, you need to work fast if you wish to blend colours. If you’re working on paper, dampening the paper will increase your working time.
- Hard Edges: Masking tape can be put onto and removed from dried acrylic paint without damaging an existing layer. This makes it easy to produce a hard or sharp edge. Make sure the edges of the tape are stuck down firmly and don’t paint too thickly on the edges, otherwise you won’t get a clean line when you lift it. Paint along the edge of the tape and not up to it as this may drive paint underneath the tape.
- Washing-up Liquid with Masking Fluid: Masking fluid can be used on acrylic paintings just as you do with watercolour. Once masking fluid has dried in a brush, it’s nearly impossible to remove. Dipping a brush into some washing-up liquid before using the masking fluid makes it easier to wash masking fluid out of a brush.
- Using Acrylic Paint as a Glue for Collage: Provided it’s used fairly thickly and the item to be stuck isn’t too heavy, acrylic paint will work as a glue in a collage. Acrylic glaze medium is a much stronger ‘glue’ and will dry to strong, clear and flexible finish. This is a great idea if you wish to create multi-media paintings
Gesso is an acrylic based and therefore waterproof when dry, but is great for creating very smooth surfaces on mdf boards card and watercolour paper. It can be applied with a brush, a palette knife if you want a little texture, or even with a roller.
If you use the traditional wet on wet techniques you have to be aware of puddling because the surface is not absorbent, but the effects you can create if you work quickly can be wonderful. Working wet on dry also requires a slight change in application. Because the paint is not absorbed, but sits on the surface, floating a wet layer of paint has to be done when the first layer is completely dry, and I mean completely dry. It also has to be done quickly and with one stroke. Sweeping the brush backwards and forwards will cause the two layers of paint to mix.
The great advantage of using a gesso ground is that paint can be removed easily with clean water and a cloth without staining. So it is possible with a fine brush and clear water to remove fine lines of paint revealing the white gesso ground, which is great for fine detail.
It is well worth having go with a gesso ground, but be prepared to adapt your technique to a none absorbent surface. Finished works do need to be displayed under class to stop damage to the surface.
One of the things that distinguishes one artist from another is their palette – the colours they use to create their paintings. It is often a good idea to limit your palette to just a few colours, I would suggest five. The reason is twofold, one you really have to learn and be creative with your colour mixing and secondly, your paintings will take on a unique character of their own. Every artist will choose a different set of colours, but as a guide I would suggest, a yellow, blue, red, a white and an earth colour like burnt sienna. The problem is which colours to choose. The first consideration is not to choose colours that when mixed together create mud. Mixing permanent rose with ultramarine will create a great purple, but mixing vermilion red with Prussian blue will create a browny mauve.
When mixing colour remember to mix the weakest first – usually the lightest – yellow first with a touch of blue will make a green, but start with blue and you will need a large amount of yellow to attain the same tone of green. If you find some of your colour combinations don’t work or you don’t like them swap one of your colours. This often has the effect of invigorating your painting.
Remember that you can tone down any strong colour by mixing in either a little of the earth colour or a little of the opposite colour on the colour wheel, a little red to tone down a green, or a little blue to tone down an orange.
Using a limited palette will force you to consider an object’s local colour and to find a way to adapt and interpret that colour with one of your own. It might seem a little odd to do this, but remember that is how Matisse created such wonderful paintings by painting his equivalent of the local colour.
Finally, it is more important to really get to know what happens when you mix your limited range of colours together. This is much easier than having lots of colours in your palette, which tends to lead to having less of an idea of what the outcome of mixing a particular set of colours might be.
We have to remember that colour is not a natural phenomenon that follows a set of rules like gravity, it is highly variable depending on the amount of light and the colours of objects adjacent. A car may appear to be red in colour during the day yet will appear black at night time. The actual colour of the car is called its Local Colour, whereas the colour we see, which is constantly changing is referred to as the Perceived Colour.
Most artists will tend to paint perceived colours rather than local colours which is fine, but what about feelings and emotions. What if we were to use colour in the way that we feel it to be right. Think of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings or Matisse’s Fauve paintings.
Try this idea, take the perceived colours of a scene and create a colour plan for your painting based on that, now lets make some adjustments, but before we do we need to understand the following colour terms
- Value – is a measurement of the brightness of a colour. The brighter the colour the higher its value. A vivid yellow is brighter than dark blue therefore its value is higher.
- Saturation – can also be called a colour’s intensity. It is a measurement of how different from pure grey the colour is. Saturation is not just a matter of light and dark, but rather how pale or strong the colour is.
Just think for a moment that a high value, high saturation red is quite different from a low value, low saturation red. When you also add to this idea that a colour’s transparency may vary depending on the medium used, a whole world of possibilities opens up.
Imagine tweaking your colour plan by varying the value, saturation and even the transparency of your colours. Experiment with taking the same scene and painting a number of versions adjusting your your colour schemes as described. Suddenly, you’ll find that the same scene/painting can take on a very different emotional feel, because you have given thought to how you have used colour.
To learn more about painting visit Paul Priestley’s website