Sunday, 24 March 2019

Which Surfaces are Suitable in Acrylic Painting

Artists Guide to Preparing Canvasses, Boards and Paper for Acrylics

Acrylics are pigment bound with a polymer medium. It is water-soluble when wet, but water resistant when dry. It is a great base on which to complete oil paintings if conducting the under-painting and glazes. However, the acrylic painting surface must be properly prepared.

Any surface onto which a painting is applied is known as a “support.” Stretched canvas is the first type of support to spring to mind when one thinks of the artist’s practice. However, wood, card and even paper can be used if they have been properly sized with a gesso or primer. Such a sealant is known as a “ground.”

Acrylic Painting on a suitable surface

Sizing the Support Ready for Acrylic Painting

Applying the ground is known as “sizing.” The surface must be sized before the acrylic paint can be applied, otherwise the absorbent nature of the surface will retard the flow of the acrylic paint and cause it to sink, making the vibrant colours of the acrylic paint become dull. Grounds will be further explained in a moment.

Acrylic Gesso is the ideal ground for Acrylic Painting

Suitable Supports for an Acrylic Painting

Different supports can be used for an acrylic painting.

Stretched canvass
Wood, including plywood, MDF and hardboard.
Thick card
Thick paper of at least 300gsm
Paper, card and MDF are suitable supports for acrylic painting

Ready Stretched Canvas

Canvasses can be purchased ready stretched and primed onto a wooden frame. Various textures exist, from fine to coarse texture. Some artists take pleasure in stretching and preparing their own, but this can be time consuming. Certain DIY and craft stores stock ready-stretched canvasses quite cheaply. Coarse texture canvas is suitable for expressive paintings with broad brushstrokes. Fine texture canvas is suitable for more detailed paintings.

Artists Panels

MDF, hardboard and plywood provide suitable panels for acrylic painting. The surface provides a firm support that canvas lacks, for more control over the paint. However, wood must be properly sized so that the acrylic paint will not sink and become dull. Simply sand the surface gently with fine glass paper in order to provide a key for the ground.

Art Boards and Daler Boards

The large outlet, Daler Rowney famously stock Daler Boards. These are simply ready prepared thick card. Some are made with primed linen-canvas stretched and glued onto board. Card can be self-prepared at home at the fraction of the price by sizing it with a ground at home.

Painting in Acrylics on Watercolour Paper

Watercolour paper is ideal for acrylic painting, although it will need to be sized with a ground first. Watercolour paper is available in countless textures and grains. HP or hot pressed paper has a smooth surface. “Not” or cold pressed has a random texture. Rough watercolour paper is highly textured. The most suitable paper would consist of a thickness of 300gms or thicker.

Sizing the Surface with Acrylic Polymer Primer Ground

All sort of grounds are available in the market. Some require lengthy preparations, but the easiest to use is acrylic polymer primer. This is a brilliant white fast-drying water-based paint, ideal on which to apply acrylic paint. Two coats in a ventilated room at an hour’s interval are all that is required. A further coat might be necessary for very absorbent surfaces. Sometimes, acrylic primer is sold as “acrylic gesso primer.” It is a good guide to look for the word “acrylic” on the tin. Reading the manufacturer’s instructions will ensure satisfactory results.

Preparations Suited for an Acrylic Painting

All sorts of surfaces can be used for acrylic painting. This can include ready stretched canvasses and art boards, such as Daler Boards, available within craft outlets, to preparing your own. Wood, card and even watercolour paper can be used. So long as the surface has been properly sized, the acrylic paint will flow freely and the painting will retain its bright colours.

Acrylic paint can be used as the end medium or it can be used for the underpainting of an oil painting or the underglaze.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

My Painting Compositions are Off Balance: The Viewfinder Drawing Tool may Help

Looking at the world unedited is overwhelming for the artist. An interesting subject matter may be overlooked with lots of elements vying for attention. Furthermore, the drawing may end up falling off the edge of the page. How can the artist plan the best composition for painting?

A tool called the artist’s viewfinder will make things easier. The viewfinder is a piece of card with a window cut into it, from where the world can be viewed a little at a time. It’s rather like looking through the camera lens prior to taking pictures.

The artist's viewfinder

In a separate article, I have demonstrated how to make your own viewfinder from cheap art materials. Planning the drawing ready for painting is also made easier as the proportions of the ‘window’ are compatible with most sketchbooks. A simple grid to aid drawing is also provided. This will help simplify a seemingly complex subject matter, such as this line drawing of keys, as it is sectioned into quadrants.

The viewfinder makes drawing easier

Once you have made the viewfinder, it’s just a matter of looking around for the best composition for painting.

How to Use the Viewfinder

If you hold the viewfinder so that the window is horizontal, the composition will have a panoramic quality. As can be seen from the image of apples, width of the scene is emphasized. Allowing space on either side of the subject matter might be necessary if interesting elements can be found here.

The viewfinder in landscape mode

Hold the viewfinder in portrait mode and the top and bottom of the composition will be emphasized. As can be seen from the apples, more of the background above and below can be seen. This format might benefit a composition comprising tall buildings or thunderheads.

The viewfinder in portrait mode

Move the viewfinder close to the eye and the image will appear to pan out. Notice how more of the background can be seen around the apples.

Panning out from the subject matter

Move the viewfinder away from the eye and the image will appear to zoom in, cutting out surrounding subject matter, emphasizing the height of the scene. Here, the apples have added emphasis.

The Viewfinder’s Plotting Points

The two pieces of thread affixed across the window in cross formation serve as a drawing aid when plotting key points of the composition. The centre-point can be established as well as what lies within the four quadrants.

This prevents the drawing from falling off the edge of the sketching paper. Deciding the centre-point of the drawing means that the artist knows what element will lie at the centre of the drawing pad and work from there.

As can be seen, the viewfinder can be a useful drawing aid for the artist who doesn’t know where to begin. Taking this useful took with you means that interesting compositions can more easily be found, even in the most everyday places.

Monday, 4 June 2018

How to Make a Viewfinder a Drawing Aid for Artists

Using a viewfinder is a great way of making drawing easier. Composing pictures for oil painting is also made possible when the artist isn’t sure where to begin.

Finding inspiration from life can be overwhelming. What does the artist cut out and leave in? The viewfinder is ideal for editing out unwanted visual information in order to simplify what is seen in front. The viewfinder is simply a piece of card with a window cut in the middle from where the artist may view a particular aspect. Looking through the window is rather like looking through the camera lens before taking a picture.

Plotting your drawing is made easier because the image can be viewed through a frame. Here, I will show you how to create a viewfinder containing a frame that is compatible with most drawing pads. Plotting your drawing couldn’t be made easier.

Making a viewfinder is simple. Here is a step by step demo on making your own.

Demo on Making the Artist’s Viewfinder

The first image shows materials that will be required. These are:
A cutting mat or old magazines on which to cut on.
A piece of card measuring 11 x 8 inches (20 x 28cm).
Scissors, scalpel, a pencil, ruler, double-sided sticky tape and a piece of strong thread.

Materials needed for making a viewfinder

Making your Own Viewfinder

Firstly cut the piece of card in half so that each measures 5.5 x 8 inches (14x20cm). Lightly draw a cross in the centre of each card.

Cut the card in half

Scalpel a rectangular-shaped hole in the middle of each card. The dimensions of the hole should be 2.5 x 3 inches (6 x 7.5 cm). I have worked out these proportions to match standard sketchbook sizes. This will make sketching easier.

Cutting a rectangular hole in the viewfinder

Affix the thread via the tape across the ‘window’ so that it stretches horizontally across. The thread should be midway up the window, splitting it in two. Repeat this process with another piece of thread, this time, stretching it vertically. You should now have a window that appears split into equal quarters, like a cross.

Sticking thread across the viewfinder

This ‘cross’ can be used as plotting points for your drawing when looking through the viewfinder and transferring the image onto your sketchbook.
Now place the other piece of card over the first, sandwiching the sections of thread on the card. Use extra double-sided tape for more strength.
The two pieces of card should now be stuck securely. Trim off excess thread.

Stick the 2 pieces of card together

The viewfinder is ready for use.

Composing the underdrawing for oil painting is now made easier when the artist wishes to sketch from life.

The viewfinder is ready for use

My next article will show you how to use the viewfinder.

The images and text have been taken from my book Draw what You See Not What You Think you See

Saturday, 16 September 2017

10 Bite Sized Oil Painting Projects Book 1: Practice Color Mixing and Technique via Landscapes, Animals, Still Life and More

Buy from Amazon
Learn oil painting fast without having to look for inspiration.

A new set of oil painting materials is all well and good, but what does the artist paint? Looking for artistic inspiration can be a pain. Photos do not always translate to good oil paintings and looking for a great composition can be time consuming. Why can’t the artist just get on with exploring art techniques and color mixing without the fuss?

A challenging project may not be looked for, merely simple exercises to get the brushes moving. Such projects may require a few hours to complete and entail basic art materials.

This is where the first of three of my oil painting art instruction books comes in.

Projects within this book
Find 10 straightforward oil painting demonstrations on skies, landscapes, fruit, vegetables, animals, color-mixing and oils from old masters. Each demonstration lists the art materials required and a project overview describing an introduction to the project, project features and challenges. Step by step images and in depth instructions follow, guiding the artist from start to finish.

Simple compositions permit ample focus upon color use and technique. And each project can be completed within two hours or so.

The back of the book details art materials required, saving money and preparing for oil painting. A glossary is also included. Learn oil painting fast without fuss with this book.

Inside preview
Available on Kindle and paperback.
With ample color images showing in-depth step by step instructions.
15,500 words.
Paperback measures 10x8inches and 82 pages in length.

Buy my artbooks in paperback from Amazon UK

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Most Difficult Portrait Painting in the World: A Lesson in Portraiture after Da Vinci in Oils

Some argue that Leonardo da Vinci’s angel within the Virgin of the Rocks is more difficult to paint than the Mona Lisa. One only has to view the latter of his two versions, housed in the National Gallery to see why.  See exquisite sfumato shadows over the face, ghostly highlights on the cheekbones, translucent eyes and hair like spun gold. And the face in three-quarter view poses a further quandary for the portrait painter.

How can the oil painter capture these Renaissance effects?

Well my book, Oil Painting the Angel within Da Vinci’s the Virgin of the Rocks
Unleash the Right Brain to Paint the Three-quarter Portrait View might help.

Paint Da Vinci's Angel step by step

This book offers practical advice on how to paint this most difficult portrait. Each stage is broken down into manageable pieces, which makes this Renaissance painting more achievable.

The first part of this book aims to unleash the right side of the brain in order to render a portrait in three-quarter view, avoiding common pitfalls in drawing the face. Art materials and the under painting is also explained.

Learn how sfumato of the Renaissance style can be achieved with modern art materials and a compact space, without the use of a studio or bulky easels.

Images within this book

Buy from Amazon
The chief section of this book comprises numerous step by step images and instructions on how the angel was completed. Learn about glazing in oils, color blending, applying detail and smooth shading. A troubleshooting guide and glossary can also be found.

A challenging yet rewarding project on achieving Da Vinci’s early Renaissance style by the use of modern and simple art materials. With color illustrations throughout.

Paperback book’s dimensions: 8x10in and 48 pages. Also available on Kindle, Kobo, Google Play and Apple.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

I’ve Squeezed Too Much Oil Paint out of the Tube and Can’t Put it Back in

Oil paint tubes get cranky as they get older. The thread gets gunged up with oil paint and the lid no longer wants to screw on tightly. No amount of cleaning or care can prevent the lid of the tube from getting temperamental with overuse. Eventually, the seal becomes compromised and a skin of dried oil paint develops within the spout of the tube.

Oil Paint Splodge
The next time the artist attempts to squeeze the paint from the tube, it resists before spurting out in one go. The result is a huge blob of oil paint on the palette that was not intended. This causes waste of oil paint and frustration, as the pigment cannot go back into the tube.

How to Save on Oil Paint

As with me, a tube of burnt sienna developed a wonky lid, no matter how I tried to screw it on squarely. A little air had got into the tube over time, causing a skin to form within the lid. With little pressure, the paint came out in one go, which was rather annoying. No one wants to waste costly oil paint.

But there are ways of salvaging the oil paint for another painting.

Art Tips for Oil Painting

Don’t despair. The oil paint can be salvaged. Remember that oil paint dries quite slowly and does so by oxidization. This means providing an airtight container where the paint is in no contact from the air. Of course, the tube is no longer an option.

How to salvage oil paint

Here is what I did:

1 Scrape the paint from the palette and into a little tin foil measuring a few inches square.
2 carefully parcel up the paint within the tin foil, allowing no air to remain within.
3 To ensure an airtight seal, wrap the tin foil parcel within a layer or two of tough clingfilm. Check there are no tears or holes where air can get in.

If no tin foil is at hand, two or three layers of clingfilm or similar plastic should do the trick, as I did here. Don’t use plastics or tin foil with print or dyes, or it could leach onto the pigment.

4 Seal the parcel tight with a twist of a food tag at the top.
5 Label the parcel with the pigment that is within.

The paint should remain fresh and useable for the next painting. I have yet to test out how long the paint will last, but I have kept the parcel for a month and the pigment within remains as fresh as from the day I had first squeezed it onto the palette.

Wonky Lids of Oil Paint Tubes

An oil paint lid that refuses to screw onto the tube will cause the paint within to dry out. To prevent this from happening, place clingfilm over the top of the tube. This is not ideal and care is needed not to get paint elsewhere when opening the tube, but is preferable to wasting lots of oil paint.

I keep temperamental oil paint tubes in a separate container wrapped in rags, so that the other tubes are kept clean.

The artist’s box of tricks might not appear aesthetically pleasing as of the day the tubes of oil paints have been purchased, but it is the paint applied onto the canvas that matters, not the appearance of the artist’s materials. I prefer to see well-used art materials to the pristine unused sort that languishes within a forgotten cupboard.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Evaluation of Oil on Canvas Painting of Old Truck in North Carolina

This painting featured for appraisal is a sun drenched rusty pickup truck in North Carolina, completed via oil on canvas with coarse bristle brushes.

Oil Painting of Rusty Pickup in North Carolina
This painting, completed by an artist who wishes to remain anonymous, is only her fifth attempt at oil painting. She has found inspiration from a subject matter that personally fascinates me: how things crumble and rust through time. The artist has shown evidence of an eye for finding inspiration from the most unlikely places. Degradation of objects, such as this old truck in ruin provides endless textures, contours and hues to explore.

Finding Inspiration from Rusty Objects

The medium used is oil on canvas, and what appears to be of a limited palette comprising mostly yellows, blues, greens with varying amounts of white. The rough texture of the canvas has been plied over via broad coarse bristle brushes for an impasto feel. The marks have been pasted on in different directions, creating energy and movement to the painting, which I find appealing. An underwash of a slightly deeper hue provides contrast against the sun-parched colour of grass in the foreground.

The original photograph
The artist has handled the complex subject matter well, conveying the feel of rust; of a vehicle yielding to the forces within the landscape. We can see pinks, violets and beiges, which I feel is the painting’s greatest strength and focal point. And yet there is a dreamy appeal that conflicts against the reality of rust.

Awareness of Light and Shadow

It can be seen from the photograph that North Carolina has fantastic light, almost brutal. In England, where I come from, light like this does not occur often enough. In this respect, I think the artist has great opportunities to exploit this incredible light. This means being aware of light and shadow, not just the outlines of the truck itself. Light and shadow can be seen as subject matters in themselves.

Shadow Shapes
Look for colours within shadows, for these are not merely darker versions of the surrounding colour, but often contain definite hues. In the photograph, the shadows on the truck display an array of blues, violets and even greens.

Light and shadow have been suggested in the painting, but I feel these could have been brought out more. Taking a closer look at the shapes of the shadows will yield odd, abstract and angular shapes cast across the truck’s front. I have simplified the shadow shapes of the truck in this illustration and blacked out the background to make these shapes stand out.

Don’t be afraid of expressing odd shapes in shadows, and of using bright colours if these can be seen. Often, reflected light will infill shadows. For instance, the sundrenched grass has created a turquoise cast on the truck’s door.

Colours within Green Foliage in Backgrounds

Simplifying Tree Shapes Decode their Meaning
Green is often a problematic colour for landscape artists, because of its label. But when we actually look at green in nature, it is rarely pure green, but somewhat sombre. Here, the artist has used what appears to be viridian or similar. The trees are actually quite honey-coloured with deep shadows between. Backgrounds comprising lots of foliage can leave the artist confused on what to do with it.

The secret is to simplify. See illustration of how I have broken down the seemingly complex shapes of the trees. Seeing these basic shapes decodes the background areas into what can more easily be expressed. Here, the trees can almost be seen as two or three colour shapes held together by a few key trunks. Of course, this can be elaborated on, but be vigilant of over-fussing.

How to Paint Trees in Oil a Few Tips

The colours seen in the original photograph can be achieved via a mixture of cadmium yellow, white with a dab of ultramarine. The shadows can be achieved via ultramarine and burnt umber with a dab or alizarin or similar crimson. The tree trunks can be expressed by burnt umber and ultramarine (or any cool blue).

Pick up Truck, Close up View
When painting a scene with many contrasting tones such as this, it is a good idea to have more than one art brush on the go. This saves on constantly cleaning the brushes. I might have a ‘sunlit’ brush and a ‘shadow’ brush’. This will prove useful when painting a scene with lots of light and shadow, and will retain freshness in the painting, as can be seen here.


Being only the fifth attempt at oil painting landscapes, it is evident the artist has a flair for expression. She also has an eye for where to glean artistic inspiration, which is not in the usual places. I love the loose brush marks in the foreground that is rather Impressionistic and also of the freshness and vibrancy. But the real highlight of the painting I feel is the sensitive portrayal of rust colours on the wheel arch and the bonnet of the truck.

I do feel the dazzling contrasts supplied by the Californian light could have been exploited more fully. This entails placing bright highlights against cool shadows. The trees in the background may also have overwhelmed, causing the artist to paste green paint indiscriminately. The secret is to simplify the complex and don’t be afraid of using bright colours if these can be seen. 

But the overall feel of this painting, is as dreamy, appealing expression of a rusted vehicle, giving way to the landscape, uniquely handled by someone at the beginning of an interesting journey.