Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How To Paint With Acrylic

I have received several requests to share my process with somewhat more of an explanation than what can be found on the DawgArt YouTube channel.

There are many valid techniques for the use of acrylic paint. As someone with over ten years of experience with this medium, I have developed my own process that works for me. Changing the amount of water used, the thickness of the paint, and the type of prepared ground will obviously create varying results. Experiment to find the process that works for you.



Step 1. Sketch out your painting. Be sure to mark where the different values will be by making a line sketch of interlocking shapes.

Step 2: Pick out your palette. Working with arbitrary color can be fun and exciting, but also just as easily, it can be scary and overwhelming. For your first painting, try a limited palette, choosing colors in a narrow range that harmonize well with each other. This way, you won't run into jarring juxtapositions of color that can discourage you. 

Tip: Researching artists you admire is a great way to experiment with color. Find a painting you like and try to emulate the palette.

Step 3. Set up your supplies. For each painting, I use professional grade, heavy body acrylic paint, water, two or three brushes, paper towels, and a triple-primed, cotton duck or linen canvas. Put the supplies on a tabaret or tabletop near the hand you'll be using, so you don't have to reach across your canvas every time. Set your canvas on an easel at an angle that is upright, but comfortable.

Tip: Don't set your canvas flat on the table top, unless you can lean directly over it. If you sit in your chair and paint on a canvas that's stretching away from you, your final painting will be stretched and distorted when you hold it up at eye-level.

Step 4: I always start by blocking in the darkest darks. To do this I use dioxazine purple. Every time. It doesn't matter what the final painting palette is going to be, I always start with this color. I don't paint with black. Choose a color in a dark shade and block in the darkest parts of the image, creating a value painting using only that color and white. For the darkest portions, the paint goes on thick, with very little water added. For lighter portions, the paint is applied to the brush, then dipped into the water briefly, excess tapped onto a paper towel. Mop any drips. 

Tip: Value is king; value refers to lights and darks. Value is the most important part of what will make your subject believable. No matter what colors you use, value is what will cause your subject to make sense. If you want your subject to appear to have volume, where you put your lights and darks is key to creating a cohesive and pleasing image. Pay attention to your reference and place your lights and darks accordingly.

Step 5: Choose the next darkest color in your palette and apply it in the areas of the painting with mid-range values. Acrylic paints are somewhat translucent, so the previous layer will show through on each subsequent glaze of color.

Tip: Work from general to specific. This means to use larger brushes at first, blocking in large and general shapes. Work with as large a brush as you feel comfortable with, and don't switch down to smaller until absolutely necessary. You won't work on tiny details until the end.

Step 6: Continue the process, adding new colors according to the values of your reference, working from darkest to lightest, adding white last.

Step 7: Take care of any ragged edges, things you may have overlooked, and tiny details. Check for eye traps, or places on the painting where your eye gets caught, for whatever reason. Acrylic dries fast, so you can paint over things that aren't working and try something else.

Tip: Don't get too obsessed with little details. Don't paint every individual hair. Your painting should feel spontaneous and lively, and noodling too much can bog it down.


Don't be afraid to make marks. Play on the canvas, experiment with color, and just have fun!

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