Practice with Acrylics: Blending and soft edges

Acrylic-blending Acrylic-watercolor

Acrylic on gessoed canvas and watercolor paper (R)
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(I know this isn’t much to look at, but it’s what I did with my art time today — practiced making soft edges using dry brush, blending with wet-in-wet and other techniques, and painting watercolor-style washes using acrylics thinned down with water and “Acrylic Flow Release.” It’s harder (but not impossible) to make the kinds of beautiful soft edges and blends that can be done easily in oil paints (these samples are neither beautiful nor soft as I’d like, but that’s what practice is for). I was surprised how easy it was to make clean flat washes using acrylics as watercolors.

I’ve just started reading “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting,” originally published in 1929. Even though he’s incredibly opinionated and assumes all artists are men, I’m finding his observations to be really interesting and often astute and applicable today. Here’s a few tidbits from the first chapter, “How to Approach Painting:”

“The art of painting, properly speaking, cannot be taught, and therefore cannot be learned. I believe about art, as I believe about music or architecture, that the only way to study is to practice; and that any good teacher can point out certain intellectual or technical “makings,” certain helps that will give a fulcrum to the lever of practice.”

“No one can teach ‘art.’ No one can give a singer a glorious voice, but granting the voice, and emotional sensibility, a teacher can teach a man to sing…”

“A snapshot is a correct rendition of physical fact…but the camera does not have an idea about the objects reflected upon its lens. It does not ‘feel’ anything, and will render one thing as well as another. This ‘idea,’ or thrill is the unteachable part of all art.”

“The beginner in painting begins by copying nature in all literalness, leaving nothing out and putting nothing in; he makes it look like the place or person or thing. By and by he will learn to omit the superfluous and to grasp the essentials and arrange them into a more power and significant whole. And it is wonderful to know that these ‘essentials’ will be essentials to him only (and herein lies the secret of orginality). Another man will choose another group of essentials out of the same fountain of inspiration.”

These hit home for me, especially the last one. Do you find them interesting? annoying? inspiring? helpful?

Acrylic glazing practice: Pear

Acrylic Glazing exercise

Acrylic on gessoed mat board, 8″ x 10″
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Today I practiced acrylic painting techniques in my new book, “Acrylic Revolution.” This exercise started with a painting done in black, white and grey (known as a grisaille) to establish the form and shadows. I meant to photograph that stage but got too involved and forgot. When it dried I painted over it with transparent layers of paint thinned with glazing liquid). I had to do a bunch of layers to compensate for having made the initial grisaille too dark. Unlike watercolor which dries lighter, acrylic dries darker than it looks when you mix colors. This is because acrylic medium is white when wet and clear when dry. I haven’t gotten used to accomodating that change yet.

I also experimented with using acrylic like watercolor, trying various types of washes which all worked perfectly. I was less successful with oil-style blending techniques and will work on those some more tomorrow.

Devil’s Tongue (aka Snake Palm) again

Devils Tongue Again

Acrylic on mat board, 27 x 13″
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I hadn’t posted anything for a couple of days because I’ve been working on this painting instead of daily sketches. I was determined to finish and post it today, and did, even though the photo isn’t great. I worked from a watercolor I did on site, and a bunch of photos I took of this odd stinky plant on a walk a few weeks ago. I did some sketches for composition, trying to make sense out of all the crazy foliage happening in the photo and to decide what to emphasize, eliminate or move. I did a couple of small value studies too. Then I just had at it, working very loosely in acrylics. To check values, I set my camera to black and white and took a picture. I could immediately see I need more light areas and where. I painted in layers, using thickened and thinned paint in many layers and glazes.

My main goal with this painting was to experiment with trying to make acrylics work like oils (except without the toxic solvents, lengthy clean-up and slow drying time). There was a ton of learning that went on as I worked on it.

I’ve done a lot of reading on acrylics, much of it contradictory or out-of-date information but finally found an excellent new book called “Acrylic Revolution” by a Golden Acrylics (the brand I’m using) working artist named Nancy Reyner. It’s the book on acrylics I’d been hoping for. Detailed up to date information about how to properly work with the various mediums and paints to do whatever you could dream of doing and more. It’s a great book and tomorrow I’m going to experiment with some of the techniques in it to try to better understand how to do some of the blending techniques and ways to get soft edges, to be able to work more like oils.

Update: This is a Dragon Arum plant (Dracunculus vulgaris), not as named in the title of the post.

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