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.
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
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 Artistsnetwork.tv 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. 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. 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. 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 (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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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.