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Virtual Paint-Out: Hawaii & Marathon Garage Clean Up Continued

Hawaii Virtual Paint-Out, Watercolor
Hawaii Virtual Paint-Out, Watercolor

I’m back on the blog after an intense week spent alternately deep in the bowels of a massive garage clean up/reorganization, and obsessively fighting the acrylic version of the watercolor sketch above. After finishing the garage on Saturday afternoon it was time to clean up in the house and studio and prep for my Sunday morning watercolor class (which went great with a terrific group of artists who left me feeling inspired).

Virtual Paintout: Hawaii

For the Virtual Paintout we went to Hawaii this month via the very cheap Google Air (just kidding—to participate you use Google Maps’ Street View feature to find your painting spot and all travels are virtual). Here’s the original scene:

Hawaii - near West Maui Forest Reserve
Hawaii - near West Maui Forest Reserve

The painting got off to a good start with Golden Open Acrylics. I was trying to work from both my watercolor sketch above in which I’d changed the colors, warming up the scene, and also from the Google photo which just has a blur for the foreground. I first painted the gate purple for fun, but nearing completion realized the gate was too prominent and acting as roadblock into the painting so I repainted it green.

Then I started fighting the foreground. Over and over I painted, repainted, scraped, repainted. Here it is in its current state with the foreground (and some of the fence) scraped off again .

Hawaii with Scraped Off Foreground
Hawaii with Scraped Off Foreground, Acrylic, 11x14"

Part of the problem may be the Utrecht Masters canvas panel that I was experimenting with. The canvas texture is too coarse and too absorbent so first I painted a layer of regular acrylic to smooth it out and reduce the absorbency (which is OK to do according to Golden). But then I had a paint adhesion problem, easily peeling off several layers where I’d painted thickly or repainted over not quite dry paint.

Since I wasted so much time messing with this painting and because I really love the top half of it I just didn’t want to give up. But to enjoy the second half of my vacation I’ve banished it to the closet and have gone back to working on a big watercolor of a tulip that is going great and makes me happy when I paint, not frustrated. I’m becoming convinced that I’m meant to be a watercolor painter and should forget about oils and acrylics.

The Garage

At the dump
Cody unloading and saying "Bye" to his junk at the dump

When I bought my house 10 years ago it had been a rental for many years before that and the standalone garage probably hadn’t been cleaned forever. Then for 9 years my son used it to dismantle and rebuild his 71 Firebird, leaving grease, car parts, tires, miscellaneous junk, and bondo dust on top of years of grime, cobwebs, and worse (we found a literal rats’ nest made of fluffy chewed up shop towels in one corner behind a piece of plywood but no sign of recent rodents).

After moving most of his stuff out and the initial trip to the dump above, the real clean up began. I hired the smart, hardworking 15-year old boy next door to help me clean and we worked together most of Friday and Saturday. He vacuumed the wood walls and concrete floors after cleaning out the Bondo-filled ShopVac, removed and cleaned all my storage bins from the shelving units and then cleaned the shelving too. Meanwhile I sorted my junk and took a carload to the recycling/donation center and made another pile for the dump.

Finally the garage is ready for its new life as studio annex and multipurpose room. And I’m ready for my last week of vacation which I will fill with art fun, rest and recreation!

Acrylic Painting Albany Art supplies Landscape Painting Places

Church on the Corner

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"
Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

On Solano Avenue in Albany to do an errand I looked up and saw the bell tower of this church against the very blue sky and was sorry I’d accidentally left my sketchbook and paints at home. Fortunately I did have my little camera and took a few photos I could paint from.

The title of the painting is actually the name of the church. According to their website this 100-year old church community changed their name from “First Baptist Church of Albany” to “Church on the Corner” in 2005 because “many people in the community refer to it that way.”

I can’t stop pondering the implications of this: like what if other businesses started dropping their identities and brand names and Apple Computer became “Big Corporation in Cupertino” or Starbucks became “That Coffee Place on Every Corner.”

Golden Open Acrylics and Utrecht Masters Panels

This painting had been nearly finished when I tried glazing over the sky and it failed miserably, lifting off some of the previous layer. So I painted the sky again. Not sure if it was something I did wrong or that the Open Acrylic Gloss Medium doesn’t work well for glazing over layers.

For this painting I used an archival-quality Utrecht Masters panel which is medium-textured canvas on MDF (medium density fiberboard). The surface seemed too absorbent and coarse for the soft Golden Open Acrylics so I applied a first layer of regular acrylic.

That solved the absorbency problem but the texture is still a little too rough for the way I like to paint in thin layers. I have several more of these panels so will continue to experiment with them, using paint more abundantly so the texture isn’t as problematic.

Acrylic Painting Benicia Landscape Outdoors/Landscape Painting

Benicia Meadow and Visitors Center

Benicia Meadow and Train Station, 9x12", Acrylic painting
Benicia Meadow and Visitors Center, 9x12"

The day I painted in this meadow was gorgeous: warm and sunny with the air full of the scents of spring and the sounds of birds, bees and frogs. The plein air painting I did wasn’t worth posting but served as a memory guide, along with my photos for this painting. It is painted with Golden Open Acrylics on a RayMarArt canvas/hardboard panel.

I know I’ve been a bit quiet here lately—just a bit of spring fever and choosing to be outdoors and/or painting,  not at the computer.  (:

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Borges Ranch Painted 3 Times in 3 Years: Seeing Progress

Borges Ranch View, Acrylic on canvas panel, 10"x12"
Borges Ranch View, Open Acrylics on canvas panel, 10x12" (studio painting)

It’s springtime in California and those famous “golden rolling hills” are actually a million shades of green right now, thanks to all the rain (which we probably won’t see again until next winter).  When my plein air group went to Borges Ranch in Walnut Creek last month for our paint out, I used the time to hike, sketch and take photos. Then I made the painting above in the studio from my photos memories of the day.

You can see my recent sketches of Borges here. The two Borges paintings below from 2009 and 2008 help me see that I am making progress.

March 2009; Plein air, Oil, 9x12"
Borges Ranch Plein Air, March 2008
March 2008, Plein Air, Oil (Ick!)

I really like going out sketching with the group and experiencing everything about the day without the frustration of trying to make a 2-hour painting as the light and scene changes completely. I’m better suited to doing sketches in the field and paintings in the studio.

Last Sunday I tried again to paint on site. I thoroughly enjoyed the sounds of birds, crickets and frogs in the meadow where I painted in the sun along the bay in Benicia. The painting was a 50-50 flop that might be salvageable but I took some photos which I altered in Photoshop to match my memories, from which I will make a painting

Acrylic Painting Art theory Blake Gardens Ink and watercolor wash Landscape Outdoors/Landscape Painting Places Plein Air Sketchbook Pages

Blake Gardens: Tulips, Tulip Trees: Sketches and Paintings

Blake Gardens Tulips & Tulip Tree, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

The tulip trees (Saucer Magnolias) and tulips were blooming when we painted at Blake Gardens on a sunny Friday a week ago. Of the multiple sketches and paintings I did of the scene, I think I’m happiest with the one above, done in my journal when I got home, from a combination of memory and photo. I clipped the text from their brochure and pasted it on the journal page.

Here is the final painting and below that are the steps in between:

Blake Tulips & Tulip Tree, Acrylic, 10x8" on Gessobord
Blake Tulips & Tulip Tree, Acrylic, 10x8" on Gessobord

After I picked my spot to paint and set up my easel, I did several thumbnail sketches (left below) to plan my composition. While each thumbnail improved on the one before it, none were great compositions and as a result neither was the plein air painting I did on site.

Journal spread with thumbnail sketches
Journal Spread with thumbnails

I was working with Golden Open Acrylics, my first time trying them outdoors. A Golden expert suggested I put a drop of Golden Open Acrylic Thinner atop each blob of paint to keep them moist when painting outdoors. Instead, thinking I was so clever, I mixed about 25% thinner with 75% water in a spray bottle and misted the paints occasionally.

But I should have taken her advice as my method didn’t work. She’d warned me that adding water to the Open paints will make them dry faster, which it did, and they started getting icky-sticky about the time I needed to quit and head for the critique anyway. Indoors they stay wet all day and in a closed palette, for a week or two.

The plein air painting was so UGLY that I’m glad I only expect my plein air paintings to be learning studies. My plein air painting goal is to fully experience and participate in a scene and embed my memories of color, light, texture, sounds and scents.

Very BAD Plein air study
Plein air study

And there were sounds and scents: not only were the many magnolias overly fragrant, but shortly after I set up, two gardeners fired up a gas-powered industrial-strength chain saw, cut down a huge tree and sawed it to pieces about 20 feet away from me. The sound was horrible and the smell was worse.

Below is a photo taken when I first arrived,  cropped into a more pleasing composition. I like the diagonals and the way shapes of shadows and colors lead the eye into and around the painting.

Photo at Blake Gardens
Photo at Blake Gardens

From my watercolor sketch and the photo above, I started working on a studio version of the painting. Below is the  underpainting with the main shapes and colors blocked in.

Underpainting in acrylic
Acrylic under painting

I liked just as it was and was hesitant to paint over it so I left it for a few days before working on it again until it decided it was finished.

Acrylic Painting Art supplies Landscape Outdoors/Landscape Painting Places Virtual Paint-Out

Virtual Paintout Norway & Golden Open Acrylics

Norway farm landscape painting, Acrylic, 9x12"
Norway farm landscape painting, Acrylic, 9x12"

This month’s Virtual Paint-out is taking place in Norway. When I picture Norway it’s always snowing—silly me. I was amazed to wander the roads and see the beautiful summer light and perfectly maintained buildings and fields. There was so much gorgeous scenery it was hard to pick, but I couldn’t resist all the different greens in this scene.

Here is the original scene from Google Earth. I used Windows 7 cool “Snipping Tool” that lets you select an area of the screen to copy and save:

Google Earth photo with address
Original Google photo

If you click to enlarge the image you will see the address of this farm in the top left. I played around in Photoshop to compose and crop the scene. Then I used the “Content Aware Scaling” feature in CS4 that allows you to compress a scene without distorting elements such as buildings or people. I wanted to fit the image on a 9×12″ canvas:

Scaled in photoshop
Cropped/Scaled in Photoshop

What’s really exciting to me about this painting is that I used Golden Open Acrylics to paint it. I am in love with these paints! [SEE less enthusiastic UPDATE AT BOTTOM]. They have all features that I love about oils and acrylics with none of the features I don’t like. I’ve been struggling with both those mediums for months and was going through an artistic crisis, considering giving them both up.

The problem with acrylics

I couldn’t stand working with regular acrylics because I like to layout a palette of paint and work intuitively, mixing as I go. Acrylics dry too fast to do this. (Yes I know you can mist the paint regularly and that there are special stay-wet palettes but I found they turn the paint to soup and smell bad after a couple of days). I also like to blend colors on the canvas and to be able to wipe off a passage if it’s not quite right. None of this is easy to do with regular acrylics.

The problem with oils

Because I try to use solvents as little as possible with oils due to their toxicity and smell, I can’t start with juicy washes for the first layer as I like to do when sketching out the composition with oils. And even with the minimal use of the least toxic odorless solvent (Gamsol mineral spirits) I found there was an odor (probably from linseed oil going rancid that was left in the solvent) that bothered me anyway. And then there’s the cleanup up dozens of brushes after a painting session.

Why I love[d] Golden Open Acrylics

Golden Open Acrylics do not smell, stay workable about as long as oil paints [update: they don’t really], can be diluted with medium and/or water, clean up with water, do not dry on brushes (for 24 hours at least), blend nicely and are just a dream to work with. When I quit painting last weekend I stuck a small, damp sponge on the palette, and closed my Masterson “Palette Seal” box. I opened it today, a week later, and the paint was still in perfect working condition, better than oil paint would have been.

While I admire thick, expressive, brush strokes in paintings, it’s not really my thing. I prefer working more thinly and that’s just the way Golden Open Acrylics are meant to be used: in layers less than the thickness of a penny. They can also be mixed with regular acrylics to modify the texture or the drying time. Or they can be combined in different layers, although it’s suggested to use regular acrylics as the first layer(s) before adding the Opens or waiting for the layers of Open Acrylics to thoroughly dry (2 weeks) before applying a layer of regular acrylics.

I think these paints are also  going to transform my plein air painting. [update: they didn’t work for plein air; got tacky too quickly] I won’t need to bring solvent or a slew of brushes. I haven’t figured out what to carry for a water container or how much water I will need to carry for brush washing between colors.

Our first plein-air session of the new season is next Friday and I’m looking forward to playing with my new medium in a Non-Virtual paint-out too.

UPDATE June 30, 2010

After working the Golden Open Acrylics for three months I’m considerably less enthusiastic about them. The deal breaker is that the paint dries darker (about 10%, varies between colors) which requires guessing when mixing paint how much lighter to make it and makes it impossible for me to try to match colors I’m seeing . Other problems are the drying time which depends on the humidity and wind which makes painting outdoors with them next to impossible in my area. Unless there is no breeze and high humidity, even indoors, you have to work quickly before the painting starts getting tacky within an hour or so. But then it can take a really long time for the paint to dry completely. When trying to glaze on top of a seemingly dry layer, I’ve ended up lifting the previous layer instead and had to give up glazing.

I’ve now switched to Holbein Duo Aqua water soluble oils and so far and am finding them the best of all worlds. No color shift, artist quality pigments and pigment load, no toxics, no smells, easy clean up. I write about them here.

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Acrylic Painting Technique Practice

Acrylic Practice, 24 x 24"
Acrylic Practice, 24 x 24"

After I started working on a series of paintings in acrylic I realized I needed to learn more about acrylic technique and materials if I wanted to make better progress. Although I’d read several good books and seen a couple of brief demonstrations I needed more.

Although there are hundreds of oil painting and watercolor videos, I could find only a few for acrylics. I rented a couple of awful ones from Netflix and viewed an online video from that I found useless. Then I found the video that provided the lessons from which I did the exercises above. The video is “16 Acrylic Painting Techniques: A Studio Workshop with Jackie Miller.” Miller demonstrates and carefully explains how to prepare the support and create each of the 4.5″ square paintings.

I played the DVD on my computer in my studio, and worked along with it, pausing and rewinding as needed. Below are close-ups of the 4.5″ technique squares with a little information about each.

#1 - Discrete Brush Strokes
#1: Discrete Brush Strokes

1. Discrete Brush Strokes. Apply a flat, gradated blue background and many layers of individual brush strokes to create optical color mixing (and theoretically the illusion of water and sun reflections).

#2: Stencil and Stamp Painting
#2: Stencil and Stamp Painting

2. Stencil and Stamp Painting. Used a variety of materials as stencils, such as plastic embroidery mesh, hardware cloth, plastic decorative stencils. Multiple layers of paint were applied with a stencil brush and with q-tips and a rubber stamp. Fun!

#3: Energized Brush Strokes Alla Prima
#3: Energized Brush Strokes Alla Prima

3. Energized Brush Strokes Alla Prima. Using glazing liquid to keep paint workable a bit longer, applied layers of brush strokes freely, letting colors blend into each other.

#4: Impasto with Sgraffito
#4: Impasto with Sgraffito

4. Impasto with Sgraffito (scraping). On top of flat underpainting, applied paint mixed with gel medium and before it dried, scraped through it with a variety of implements including popsicle stick, rubber combs, and paint shapers.

#5: Glazing and Scumbling
#5: Glazing and Scumbling

5. Glazing and Scumbling. Applied underpainting of blue, leaving white hole in the center. Then half the blue was glazed with a very thin layer of the same blue mixed with glazing medium (to see how it enriches the color and removes chalkiness). The center hole was painted red. Then turquoise paint was scumbled (scrubbed with a dry brush) on top of the blue and softly over the edge of the red.

#6: Cross-hatch Brush Stroke
#6: Cross-hatch Brush Stroke

6. Cross-hatch Brush Stroke. I need more practice with this one. A flat, dark underpainting was done first and then the idea was to make brush strokes that cross each other in hundreds of little X’s with a fairly dry brush to create soft gradations with many layers. The original actually looks better than this photo shows because of glare, but I still found it difficult to make those X’s.

#7: Soft-edge & Hard-edge
#7: Soft-edge & Hard-edge

7. Creating soft- and hard-edged transitions. A dark, flat background was painted first and then the edge of the section at the top left was masked with masking tape and lighter red painted in that area. The transition at the bottom was created with layers and layers of softly scumbled paint lightly scrubbed on with a nearly dry brush, always starting at the corner and moving towards the center so there was less paint on the brush as it approached the transition area.

#8: Glazes, Wipe Removal & Combing
#8: Glazes, Wipe Removal & Combing

8. Glazes, Wipe Removal & Combing. On top of a flat, mauve background, layers of paint mixed with glazing medium were applied and then wiped back with a damp cloth and combed through using a rubber, multi-sided comb.

#9: Finger Painting & Mixed Media
#9: Finger Painting & Mixed Media

9. Finger Painting & Mixed Media. Started by finger painting with grey paint (she used Graphite Gray meant to look like graphite) and then added water soluable crayons, Sharpie marker, pencil, layer of acrylic medium, and more crayons and pens, finishing with medium to seal the crayon layer.

#10. Staining
#10: Staining

10. Staining. On the video she left this square of the canvas raw, but since I was using watercolor paper, I gessoed the whole sheet and then covered this square with Absorbent Ground Medium which creates an absorbent surface, similar to ungessoed paper. The paint was mixed with a high proportion of water and allowed to move and blend wet into wet. It didn’t work as nicely as watercolor does wet into wet. Mixing more than 25% water with acrylics can cause them to fail to bond with other acrylic layers, but that’s not important when working with an absorbent ground since it will sink ito the fibers.

#11. Alla Prima as Underpainting
#11. Alla Prima as Underpainting

11. Alla Prima as Underpainting. The underpainting was created like #3 using bold strokes of paint, wet into wet. When dry it was painted over with various techniques including combing and glazing. On the video she did the over-painting with oil paint. I used acrylic.

#12: Painted Gel Relief
#12: Painted Gel Relief

12. Painted Gel Relief. First a a pile of heavy clear gel was applied to the surface and then pushed around and smoothed and shaped with various implements. When it was dry to the touch after 24 hours I painted it with Micaceous Iron Oxide, Copper and Bronze acrylic paint.

#13: Found-Object Collage
#13: Found-Object Collage

13. Found-Object Collage. A flat layer of heavy gel was applied and then random stuff stuck into it (twine, match stick, pennies, plastic stretcher bar “key”, electrical wire thingees, some glitter for texture). When dry it was painted.

#14: Rubber Cement & Tape Masking
#14: Rubber Cement & Tape Masking

14. Rubber Cement & Tape Masking. Rubber cement was applied and when dry, the square was painted. Then rubber cement was removed, another layer of rubber cement painted over a different area, another layer of paint, cement removed. Masking tape applied and then painted over, etc.

#15: Paper and Fabric Collage
#15: Paper and Fabric Collage

15. Paper and Fabric Collage. Acrylic medium was used as an adhesive to attach scraps of fabric, string, lace and paper. When dry the surface was painted  using various colors and Iridescent Gold paint.

#16. Water Soluable Crayon
#16: Water Soluble Crayon

16. Water Soluble Crayon. This was supposed to also include bits of dried acrylic paint film but I didn’t quite see the point of using scraps of dried up paint. I’m not sure I really got the point of drawing with the water soluble crayons and then coating them with acrylic medium (they smear) either, but I gave it a try.


I was suprised how much I enjoyed the more abstract, random, textural pieces; a nice respite from my usual striving to capture what I see in a somewhat realistic fashion. I can see many possibilities for exploration with acrylics, but I’m still not convinced of their suitability for my work right now, although I haven’t given up yet. I’ve gone back to working on the paintings in progress with more understanding and skill but still feel like I’m fighting the medium. More about that later.