Layering for painting is a simple concept yet is thrown around a lot in the painting world, and can get very confusing. It is used to refer to multiple concepts and can have different meanings depending on which medium you are using to paint. Here’s my take on layering for painting.
To make this really simple, let’s start with the idea of an open faced sandwich.
Starting at the sandwich bottom with the slice of bread, in painting this would be our canvas, or whatever substrate we decide to paint on – cardboard, wood, silk, etc. This bread, or substrate, does not count as a layer. It is our base or starting surface. From here as we add each item separately, like the mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and then sprouts, each of these items is a separate layer because each is separate from each other. So we could say this sandwich has four layers. If we took all those four ingredients (except the bread) and put them in a blender we would have some type of tapenade or pesto. If we spread that on the bread this would all count as one layer.
Same as in painting. Whatever we put onto our substrate counts as a layer. And each separate product, material and process counts as a new layer. For example, I apply a primer or gesso over my substrate before I paint. So that means before I even start painting I have one layer already applied to my substrate. From this point, if I use oil paint, and create a painting all in one day with the oil paint, that is my second layer because oil paint stays wet all day, so anything I do that day will all be mixed up into that one wet layer.
If I paint with acrylic, however, I usually use multiple layers in a day.
First Layer – Background colors Second Layer – adding white
Third Layer – adding yellow Fourth Layer – varying color ranges
Final Layer – blending hard edges
Using this simple painting of a lemon as an example, my first layer is the background using green and purple colors. I let that layer dry, and next applied white paint in the shape of the lemon so that when I apply yellow over it the yellow will be bright and the background colors won’t affect the yellow or show through it.
My third layer added the yellow over the white. The fourth layer I applied a variety of each of the three colors, green, purple and yellow to create a strategy for creating volume and space from the flat even colors. The fifth layer I reapplied those same variety colors but this time blended them more carefully for a more realistic appearance.
By working in layers using acrylic paint, I was able to focus on one thing for each layer, instead of trying to accomplish a full painting all at once in one wet layer.
For example, I could pour an acrylic color out onto a canvas, then while it is still wet pour another color over it so they merge and puddle up together. I could keep adding colors, mediums, and anything else I want to until I decide to stop for the day, and call the whole thing one layer. In this case my one layer is defined as my process for that day – pouring altogether. This is similar to the pesto mixture I mentioned previously for our open faced sandwich.
From these examples, the lemon and the pouring process, it looks like a layer can be defined as something I paint, that then is allowed to dry before I apply something wet over it. But that isn’t always true. Sometimes I can apply a background color and while it is still wet, I apply another color over it. That is called working wet-in-wet. If the second application of wet paint over the first application of wet paint is substantial enough, or thick enough, to still be visible as a separate color, I could call these two wet layers. Uh oh, I’m starting to get complicated…
No problem. We can still make this easy and simple, because hey, art term definitions are never universally agreed upon. This means we get to use the terms any way we want! Yay! Just use my definition as a back up in case you are reading some art recipe somewhere and they start to use the layer word in a confusing manner.
Another reason the term gets confusing is that just about every technique, process and medium I can think of deals in some way with layers. A layer can be broadly defined as something wet or dry that you are then applying over something else that is wet or dry. Wow is that a general statement or what?
Layering techniques will differ depending on whether you are using oil paint, watercolor, encaustic or acrylic. When you paint with oil paints, due to the long drying time of oils, you need to make sure you are always applying a layer of paint that is more flexible than the one below it. This means that you can start off with a first base layer using oil paint mixed with solvent like a wash. Then over that layer (wet or dry) you can apply oil paint without any solvent. Proceeding with overlayering, you can then apply oil paint mixed with mediums (oil mediums are fatty and therefore more flexible).
With acrylic you do not need to be as planned and as careful as in the case with oil paint layering. Any acrylic medium or paint, can be mixed into each other to make wet mixtures, and can be applied over or under any other layer, whether still wet or already dry. This means you can start with a wash or anything else, add products while wet or wait until dry, apply very thickly over very thin and vice versa, pour over a layer, anything! Acrylic loves to stick to itself, so as long as each layer is acrylic, then you can layer it on, over, under. When you start using mixed media (paper, ink, objects, etc – any non-acrylic material) along with layers of acrylic, you want to consider the material you are using and whether it will adhere to acrylic or not, and some other concerns (ie. is it waterproof, or will it smear when coming into contact with the acrylic, etc).
In summary, here’s my basic idea on layering in a nutshell. Strive to have each layer you use in a painting (not including primers and gessoes) to be visible in some way all the way through other overlying layers so that they all appear in the final image. In other words, each layer is applied with a sensitivity about letting the underlying layer show through. You can do this in two ways. Either make each subsequent layer more transparent, by adding more mediums to the paint, or if using an opaque paint, leave some areas uncovered with the opaque paint revealing parts of the underlying layer.
Oil pastels are still my number one favorite medium, even though I also paint with acrylic and oil. When working with oil pastels I feel as if I am able to combine both painting and drawing qualities using just this one medium.
First let’s make sure we don’t get confused between oil pastels and the other type of pastel –chalk pastel. Both oil and chalk pastels are small size chunks about 1 to 2″ long and about 1/2″ thick. Chalk pastels are mostly pigment loosely held together with a small amount of binder. They are fragile when you use them, and fragile once applied to a surface. These need toothy surfaces to grab the chalky particles, and will not work at all on smooth glossy surfaces.
Oil pastels have a lovely creamy quality when applied to a surface, feeling (and looking) somewhere between lipstick and crayon. They are made with wax and oil, so they always stay workable, but do dry enough to be stable, and stay on the surface fairly well. Since they are always workable it is recommended to either frame them behind glass or spray fix them with any clear fixative when your image is finished. Oil pastels can be applied on just about any surface, whether absorbent or non-absorbent, matte or glossy, smooth or textured, painted or unpainted.
My favorite surface for using oil pastels is a smooth Bristol cardstock. Oil pastels are fairly small in size, and are best for small size applications. There are ways to make your own oil pastels in larger sizes, but I found that I liked using them as drawing materials in the small size they come in, which fit my hand better, and are easily portable. I like to use them for outdoor landscape work, creating a small (8” x 10”) painting, then using that small size painting as a model to later enlarge in my studio to an acrylic or oil paint work on canvas.
Above is a 24″ x 30″ painting I made using acrylic on canvas, based on the 8″ x 10″ oil pastel model below.
Working on a smooth surface means I can use one of my favorite techniques; scraping back the oil pastel to reveal the original surface or underlying layers of oil pastel. I like to build up layers of colors, one on top of the other, then using a slanted blade x-acto knife, I carefully scrape off one color after another until I like the way it looks. The knife can scratch in white lines if you scratch deep enough to the original surface. You can also blend them with a small amount of solvent on a brush and work into them like oil paints. I like the fact that oil pastels are non-toxic, so prefer to blend with my finger and skip the solvent. You can also purchase blending sticks, but fingers are warm and can blend easier. If you do use solvent you may want to work on a surface that is sealed by priming with gesso.
There are different brands of oil pastels, and each one has a different quality of creaminess. Since I like to build up layers, I avoid using Neopastels, which are gooey as lipstick, and don’t tack up quickly enough to allow multiple layers. My favorite brand is Holbein and they make a super wide range of colors.
The oil pastels can make a mess on your hands, but are easily cleaned off using a baby-wipe. You can also use baby oil and a paper towel, but baby-wipes are super convenience especially if painting outdoors.
Avoid leaving oil pastels out in hot sun for long periods of time, or stored where they will be exposed to very hot temperatures. I left mine in the back of a car for three days while living in Phoenix in the summer where temperatures outside get to 120 degrees. This meant that temperatures were even hotter inside the car. The oil in the pastels bled out leaving a pile of chalk dust, that could not be used anymore.
What’s a mixed absorbency surface?
It’s a great surface you can easily make yourself, to get interesting painting effects and texture right away, regardless of which painting medium you use! Read on to find out how to use this with your creative work!
To start a painting, a painter will usually begin with some commercially prepared substrate; such as watercolor paper, cardboard, primed canvas or primed panel. From there you simply start applying paint. No problem with this process! It’s quick and easy. BUT you may be missing out on a fun and wonderful way to create interesting effects, and save money, all from adding one simple step before applying paint.
Compare this image, using diluted paint on board with gesso
with this image, using the same diluted paint but on a on mixed absorbency surface
Here is a photo of the mixed absorbency surface before applying paint
How to create a mixed absorbency surface.
1. Starting with any substrate, follow any necessary procedures required for painting. For example, watercolor paper needs no preparation but can be primed with gesso to add strength. Cardboard, canvas and wood panels do not need any preparation if they are already sealed and primed. If the substrates are raw with no sealer or primer they will need some preparation. Apply a stain sealer and primer if acrylic paint will be used for overpainting. Skip the stain sealer but still prime if oil paint or other mediums will be used. Let dry.
2. Apply acrylic binders (mediums, gels and pastes) onto your substrate to customize your surface absorbency.
Let’s look into this further. Every substrate has its own unique quality of absorbency. A high quality piece of watercolor paper is very absorbent. This means it has lots of tooth, or places where diluted paint can sink into which creates an even layer of color. Absorbent surfaces are always matte, which is one way you can tell if a surface is absorbent or not. Touch an absorbent surface and it will feel slightly rough because of its tooth. Something glossy, on the other hand, like Yupo paper, glass or metal, is non-absorbent. This means there isn’t much (if any) tooth. Diluted paint applied over a glossy surface will bead up and create an uneven layer of color, sometimes looking marbleized or puddled.
In the same way that substrates will each have a particular absorbency or non-absorbency, acrylic binders come in a wide variety of forms, also offering a variety of absorbent and non-absorbent qualities. Acrylic binders come in three different forms: mediums, gels and pastes. There are many choices in each of these three categories, and this can sometimes get confusing. Just remember that every product, when applied to your painting surface and left to dry, will create a unique surface quality and absorbency. And just about ANY acrylic product applied onto your substrate will present a more interesting surface to paint on then using the plain old substrate as is.
3. How to choose which binders to use.
Mediums are generally pourable and fluid, gels are thicker and create texture, pastes are also thick and create texture. So if you wanted texture you would choose gels or pastes, while mediums will offer a smoother layer. As I mentioned before, each product also creates a different absorbency. Gloss mediums and gloss gels create non-absorbent areas on a surface, matte mediums and matte gels create a semi-absorbent area, and most pastes (except for Molding Paste) create an absorbent surface area.
4. How to apply the binders.
To make your own custom surface, start by choosing one product. Apply it at least 1/4″ thick as acrylic will shrink down in volume while drying by about 30%. If you don’t apply enough of the product, by the time it dries you will not have a layer that is substantial enough to change the surface absorbency. I like to apply the products with a knife so I can apply enough product. You can add texture or keep it as smooth as your tool and product allow. Let this dry at least one day.
5. How to overpaint the custom surface.
Once your surface is dry, you can now overpaint it with paint. Appropriately dilute your paint (water for watercolor, water for acrylic, solvent for oil, etc) and apply these “washes” or diluted mixtures over the dry custom surface. You can spray water over the surface or apply water in areas to allow washes to “bleed” or run into each other. On absorbent surfaces, the washes stay wet for awhile due to the large amount of water in the mixtures. This means you can keep applying paint, as well as easily remove paint. On non-absorbent surfaces it is best to add lots of water to the surface to create a puddle, apply paint quickly leaving it alone to dry into interesting puddles.
Left: Washes on gessoed surface
Center: Washes on a mixed absorbency surface
Right: The mixed absorbency surface before paint was applied
6. Mixed absorbency surfaces.
Once you master making a custom surface using only one product, try making a mixed surface by using three or more products. Pick an absorbent, a non-absorbent and a product somewhere in the middle. Apply all over the substrate, overlapping if you wish, so that the end result is a surface with a variety of absorbencies. Once dry, apply diluted paint over the surface to see how quickly the surface encourages all kinds of effects.
You save money because with this process you use very little paint (since it is very diluted).
7. My favorite mixed surface.
My favorite combination of products to use for a mixed surface is as follows:
First I apply Light Molding Paste in a few areas. This is my favorite absorbent paste, note this is NOT Molding Paste, but is a very different product by Golden called LIGHT Molding Paste. Other absorbent pastes I like are Coarse Molding Paste and Pastel Ground. After applying one or more of these absorbent ones, I can continue to apply other products while still wet if I wish. So next I apply some mid-absorbency products, filling in whatever areas are still uncovered, using products such as Glass Bead Gel, Molding Paste and Heavy Gel Matte. As a last step I apply the non-absorbent products. Anything that dries glossy will work. Whereve I apply gloss, it will act as a resist. When I apply a wash of color of the entire surface, the paint will resist off the gloss, revealing the white surface underneath. I create gloss lines (which will end up being white lines after painting) using Gloss Medium squeezed out of bottles. I create gloss areas (which will result in white areas after painting) using Regular or Soft Gloss Gels, and apply them wet over the still wet mixed surface I am working on. In other words you can apply multiple products in one session while all are still wet. You do not need to wait for one product to dry to add another. But you do need to let the products all dry on the surface for at least one day before using it to overpaint with the diluted paint.
I love browsing Ted Talks online. It’s addictive! You can find an incredible range of topics, each limited to 15 minutes, offering the finest in the “Art of Persuasion”! One in particular, about our natural creative tendencies, caught my interest, presented by writer Young-ha Kim. I’d enjoy hearing what you think! Please write your comments below.
More suggestions on creativity: Click Here for “Creative Empowerment for Painters” an online course Click Here for video “Free Your Creativity”
About the writer and performer, Young-ha Kim:
One of the premiere writers of his generation, Korean novelist Young-ha Kim weaves tales that speak to the thrills and challenges of young Koreans in our increasingly globalized and ever-changing world.
Translated by Clair Han
Reviewed by ChungHyun Lee
The theme of my talk today is, “Be an artist, right now.” Most people, when this subject is brought up, get tense and resist it: “Art doesn’t feed me, and right now I’m busy. I have to go to school, get a job, send my kids to lessons … ” You think, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time for art.” There are hundreds of reasons why we can’t be artists right now. Don’t they just pop into your head?
There are so many reasons why we can’t be, indeed, we’re not sure why we should be. We don’t know why we should be artists, but we have many reasons why we can’t be. Why do people instantly resist the idea of associating themselves with art? Perhaps you think art is for the greatly gifted or for the thoroughly and professionally trained. And some of you may think you’ve strayed too far from art. Well you might have, but I don’t think so. This is the theme of my talk today. We are all born artists.
If you have kids, you know what I mean. Almost everything kids do is art. They draw with crayons on the wall. They dance to Son Dam Bi’s dance on TV, but you can’t even call it Son Dam Bi’s dance — it becomes the kids’ own dance. So they dance a strange dance and inflict their singing on everyone. Perhaps their art is something only their parents can bear, and because they practice such art all day long, people honestly get a little tired around kids.
Kids will sometimes perform monodramas — playing house is indeed a monodrama or a play. And some kids, when they get a bit older, start to lie. Usually parents remember the very first time their kid lies. They’re shocked. “Now you’re showing your true colors,” Mom says. She thinks, “Why does he take after his dad?” She questions him, “What kind of a person are you going to be?”
But you shouldn’t worry. The moment kids start to lie is the moment storytelling begins. They are talking about things they didn’t see. It’s amazing. It’s a wonderful moment. Parents should celebrate. “Hurray! My boy finally started to lie!” All right! It calls for celebration. For example, a kid says, “Mom, guess what? I met an alien on my way home.” Then a typical mom responds, “Stop that nonsense.” Now, an ideal parent is someone who responds like this: “Really? An alien, huh? What did it look like? Did it say anything? Where did you meet it?” “Um, in front of the supermarket.”
When you have a conversation like this, the kid has to come up with the next thing to say to be responsible for what he started. Soon, a story develops. Of course this is an infantile story, but thinking up one sentence after the next is the same thing a professional writer like me does. In essence, they are not different. Roland Barthes once said of Flaubert’s novels, “Flaubert did not write a novel. He merely connected one sentence after another. The eros between sentences, that is the essence of Flaubert’s novel.” That’s right — a novel, basically, is writing one sentence, then, without violating the scope of the first one, writing the next sentence. And you continue to make connections.
Take a look at this sentence: “One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” Yes, it’s the first sentence of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” Writing such an unjustifiable sentence and continuing in order to justify it, Kafka’s work became the masterpiece of contemporary literature. Kafka did not show his work to his father. He was not on good terms with his father. On his own, he wrote these sentences. Had he shown his father, “My boy has finally lost it,” he would’ve thought.
And that’s right. Art is about going a little nuts and justifying the next sentence, which is not much different from what a kid does. A kid who has just started to lie is taking the first step as a storyteller. Kids do art. They don’t get tired and they have fun doing it. I was in Jeju Island a few days ago. When kids are on the beach, most of them love playing in the water. But some of them spend a lot of time in the sand, making mountains and seas — well, not seas, but different things — people and dogs, etc. But parents tell them, “It will all be washed away by the waves.” In other words, it’s useless. There’s no need. But kids don’t mind. They have fun in the moment and they keep playing in the sand. Kids don’t do it because someone told them to. They aren’t told by their boss or anyone, they just do it.
When you were little, I bet you spent time enjoying the pleasure of primitive art. When I ask my students to write about their happiest moment, many write about an early artistic experience they had as a kid. Learning to play piano for the first time and playing four hands with a friend, or performing a ridiculous skit with friends looking like idiots — things like that. Or the moment you developed the first film you shot with an old camera. They talk about these kinds of experiences. You must have had such a moment. In that moment, art makes you happy because it’s not work. Work doesn’t make you happy, does it? Mostly it’s tough.
The French writer Michel Tournier has a famous saying. It’s a bit mischievous, actually. “Work is against human nature. The proof is that it makes us tired.” Right? Why would work tire us if it’s in our nature? Playing doesn’t tire us. We can play all night long. If we work overnight, we should be paid for overtime. Why? Because it’s tiring and we feel fatigue. But kids, usually they do art for fun. It’s playing. They don’t draw to sell the work to a client or play the piano to earn money for the family. Of course, there were kids who had to. You know this gentleman, right? He had to tour around Europe to support his family — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — but that was centuries ago, so we can make him an exception. Unfortunately, at some point our art — such a joyful pastime — ends. Kids have to go to lessons, to school, do homework and of course they take piano or ballet lessons, but they aren’t fun anymore. You’re told to do it and there’s competition. How can it be fun? If you’re in elementary school and you still draw on the wall, you’ll surely get in trouble with your mom. Besides, if you continue to act like an artist as you get older, you’ll increasingly feel pressure — people will question your actions and ask you to act properly.
Here’s my story: I was an eighth grader and I entered a drawing contest at school in Gyeongbokgung. I was trying my best, and my teacher came around and asked me, “What are you doing?” “I’m drawing diligently,” I said. “Why are you using only black?” Indeed, I was eagerly coloring the sketchbook in black. And I explained, “It’s a dark night and a crow is perching on a branch.” Then my teacher said, “Really? Well, Young-ha, you may not be good at drawing but you have a talent for storytelling.” Or so I wished. “Now you’ll get it, you rascal!” was the response. (Laughter) “You’ll get it!” he said. You were supposed to draw the palace, the Gyeonghoeru, etc., but I was coloring everything in black, so he dragged me out of the group. There were a lot of girls there as well, so I was utterly mortified.
None of my explanations or excuses were heard, and I really got it big time. If he was an ideal teacher, he would have responded like I said before, “Young-ha may not have a talent for drawing, but he has a gift for making up stories,” and he would have encouraged me. But such a teacher is seldom found. Later, I grew up and went to Europe’s galleries — I was a university student — and I thought this was really unfair. Look what I found. (Laughter)
Works like this were hung in Basel while I was punished and stood in front of the palace with my drawing in my mouth. Look at this. Doesn’t it look just like wallpaper? Contemporary art, I later discovered, isn’t explained by a lame story like mine. No crows are brought up. Most of the works have no title, Untitled. Anyways, contemporary art in the 20th century is about doing something weird and filling the void with explanation and interpretation — essentially the same as I did. Of course, my work was very amateur, but let’s turn to more famous examples.
This is Picasso’s. He stuck handlebars into a bike seat and called it “Bull’s Head.” Sounds convincing, right? Next, a urinal was placed on its side and called “Fountain”. That was Duchamp. So filling the gap between explanation and a weird act with stories — that’s indeed what contemporary art is all about. Picasso even made the statement, “I draw not what I see but what I think.” Yes, it means I didn’t have to draw Gyeonghoeru. I wish I knew what Picasso said back then. I could have argued better with my teacher. Unfortunately, the little artists within us are choked to death before we get to fight against the oppressors of art. They get locked in. That’s our tragedy.
So what happens when little artists get locked in, banished or even killed? Our artistic desire doesn’t go away. We want to express, to reveal ourselves, but with the artist dead, the artistic desire reveals itself in dark form. In karaoke bars, there are always people who sing “She’s Gone” or “Hotel California,” miming the guitar riffs. Usually they sound awful. Awful indeed. Some people turn into rockers like this. Or some people dance in clubs. People who would have enjoyed telling stories end up trolling on the Internet all night long. That’s how a writing talent reveals itself on the dark side.
Sometimes we see dads get more excited than their kids playing with Legos or putting together plastic robots. They go, “Don’t touch it. Daddy will do it for you.” The kid has already lost interest and is doing something else, but the dad alone builds castles. This shows the artistic impulses inside us are suppressed, not gone. But they can often reveal themselves negatively, in the form of jealousy. You know the song “I would love to be on TV”? Why would we love it? TV is full of people who do what we wished to do, but never got to. They dance, they act — and the more they do, they are praised. So we start to envy them. We become dictators with a remote and start to criticize the people on TV. “He just can’t act.” “You call that singing? She can’t hit the notes.” We easily say these sorts of things. We get jealous, not because we’re evil, but because we have little artists pent up inside us. That’s what I think.
What should we do then? Yes, that’s right. Right now, we need to start our own art. Right this minute, we can turn off TV, log off the Internet, get up and start to do something. Where I teach students in drama school, there’s a course called Dramatics. In this course, all students must put on a play. However, acting majors are not supposed to act. They can write the play, for example, and the writers may work on stage art. Likewise, stage art majors may become actors, and in this way you put on a show. Students at first wonder whether they can actually do it, but later they have so much fun. I rarely see anyone who is miserable doing a play. In school, the military or even in a mental institution, once you make people do it, they enjoy it. I saw this happen in the army — many people had fun doing plays.
I have another experience: In my writing class, I give students a special assignment. I have students like you in the class — many who don’t major in writing. Some major in art or music and think they can’t write. So I give them blank sheets of paper and a theme. It can be a simple theme: Write about the most unfortunate experience in your childhood. There’s one condition: You must write like crazy. Like crazy! I walk around and encourage them, “Come on, come on!” They have to write like crazy for an hour or two. They only get to think for the first five minutes.
The reason I make them write like crazy is because when you write slowly and lots of thoughts cross your mind, the artistic devil creeps in. This devil will tell you hundreds of reasons why you can’t write: “People will laugh at you. This is not good writing! What kind of sentence is this? Look at your handwriting!” It will say a lot of things. You have to run fast so the devil can’t catch up. The really good writing I’ve seen in my class was not from the assignments with a long deadline, but from the 40- to 60-minute crazy writing students did in front of me with a pencil. The students go into a kind of trance. After 30 or 40 minutes, they write without knowing what they’re writing. And in this moment, the nagging devil disappears.
So I can say this: It’s not the hundreds of reasons why one can’t be an artist, but rather, the one reason one must be that makes us artists. Why we cannot be something is not important. Most artists became artists because of the one reason. When we put the devil in our heart to sleep and start our own art, enemies appear on the outside. Mostly, they have the faces of our parents. (Laughter) Sometimes they look like our spouses, but they are not your parents or spouses. They are devils. Devils. They came to Earth briefly transformed to stop you from being artistic, from becoming artists. And they have a magic question. When we say, “I think I’ll try acting. There’s a drama school in the community center,” or “I’d like to learn Italian songs,” they ask, “Oh, yeah? A play? What for?” The magic question is, “What for?” But art is not for anything. Art is the ultimate goal. It saves our souls and makes us live happily. It helps us express ourselves and be happy without the help of alcohol or drugs. So in response to such a pragmatic question, we need to be bold. “Well, just for the fun of it. Sorry for having fun without you,” is what you should say. “I’ll just go ahead and do it anyway.” The ideal future I imagine is where we all have multiple identities, at least one of which is an artist.
Once I was in New York and got in a cab. I took the backseat, and in front of me I saw something related to a play. So I asked the driver, “What is this?” He said it was his profile. “Then what are you?” I asked. “An actor,” he said. He was a cabby and an actor. I asked, “What roles do you usually play?” He proudly said he played King Lear. King Lear. “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” — a great line from King Lear. That’s the world I dream of. Someone is a golfer by day and writer by night. Or a cabby and an actor, a banker and a painter, secretly or publicly performing their own arts.
In 1990, Martha Graham, the legend of modern dance, came to Korea. The great artist, then in her 90s, arrived at Gimpo Airport and a reporter asked her a typical question: “What do you have to do to become a great dancer? Any advice for aspiring Korean dancers?” Now, she was the master. This photo was taken in 1948 and she was already a celebrated artist. In 1990, she was asked this question. And here’s what she answered: “Just do it.” Wow. I was touched. Only those three words and she left the airport. That’s it. So what should we do now? Let’s be artists, right now. Right away. How? Just do it!
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What results will you see from taking this course?Creative confidence! Gain clarity on your vision to paint braver, and express yourself through your work in a more powerful way. Bring more attention to your painting, extend its viewing time and heighten the viewing experience. See dramatic improvements in your work, and expertise to get the results you want!
Each week begins with a live conference meeting Sunday evening 8:30 – 10 pm EST. Attendance to meetings is not mandatory, and are recorded to hear any time at your convenience.
Four weeks of professional and personalized instruction with new course curriculum Nancy prepared especially for this course. Four modules, one per week, with information and assignments to get you inspired, gain clarity on your vision, and assist you in creating powerfully expressive work.
A special innovative technique using Feng Shui principles to analyze your work to enhance the energy flow and visual power of your images.
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Tips on how to photograph your work, and post it for the course.
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Pdf versions of all of Nancy’s books.
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What is the course curriculum? Week 1 – Painting Confidence
• Inspirational warm ups for new ideas
• Clarifying artistic vision and goals
• Creating power words for success
• Realism vs abstraction in imagery
• Creative approaches to using left and right brain sides
• Breath, brushstrokes and marks
• Combating fear and sabotage
• Painting Techniques – all mediums – professional advice and tips
Week 2 – Creating Strong Visuals
• Eye choreography: contemporary approaches and ideas
• Creating exciting visuals and eye movement in your work
• Using contrast in images
• Perfecting color!
• Edges – the magic where colors meet
• Best ways for enhancing your image’s attracting power
• Painting Techniques – all mediums – professional advice and tips
Week 3 – Powerful Vision
• Visual space and movement in images
• Positive and negative spaces – best strategies
• Optimal methods for image attraction
• Fine tuning Your workspace for best results
• Parallels of your physical space and your imagery
• Easy ways to identify and resolve design issues
• Is it finished?
• Painting Techniques – all mediums – professional advice and tips
Week 4 – New Discoveries
• Individual painting concerns and issues
• Your painting tells a story
• Sharpening self-analysis tools
• New directions and goals
• Painting Techniques – all mediums – professional advice and tips
Is this course for you? This course is for all painters, working in ANY 2D MEDIUM (oil, acrylic, watercolor, mixed media, encaustic, pastel) and ANY STYLE (realism, abstraction, pop, modern, etc). If you have been actively painting for at least one year this course is for you! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact Nancy.
How much time will this course require? The four week course offers an abundance of concepts, techniques, and ideas all of which take time to process to incorporate it into our work. Think of the four weeks as a condensed time frame to gather and experiment new material, which will continue to play out over a year or more, way after the course is completed. Time spent on the course is up to you. Optimally, by dedicating one hour per day for the course and one hour per day for painting, you will gain a tremendous amount. Even spending just one hour per day to process the course ideas will expand your practice greatly. Dedicating even more time to the course is up to you, continuing to add to your progress. Nancy is available for feedback and assistance EVERY DAY of this course, so the more you put in the more you will gain.
How does the online course work? A week before the course starts, you will receive by email, the first week’s curriculum and other information to get you started.
A live conference call kicks off each week on Sunday evening, at 8:30 pm EST, using the conference site Zoom. Just click on a link in your emailed materials to join the conference at the designated dates and times. The conferences will be recorded, for those that cannot attend, and a link to the recording will be sent the next day by email.
A private Facebook group will be set up for the course group. During the week, on any day, anyone in the course can post questions, images, assignments, etc. Nancy will comment daily on your posts, and other artists in the course will be encouraged to comment as well. You will get maximum feedback on your work!
Not everyone is using (or likes using) Facebook. However, this is an easy and great method for the group to work together. Contact Nancy for advice on how to minimally use Facebook with this course, if you are adverse to it. At the end of the course the Facebook group and all posted material and feedback, will be downloadable for you to save for later use, then Nancy will delete the whole course page and contents for optimal privacy.
Testimonials “Nancy Reyner is such a generous and wonderful teacher; one can’t help but be inspired. Her instruction, combined with the online discussion, Facebook group, and other painters from all areas of the world, has given me an intense and stimulating learning experience in just four weeks. I like to work in layers with multiple mediums, including oil, acrylic and gold/silver leaf. Nancy doesn’t hesitate to share all her information and experiences to give her students the tools to excel to the next level in their artistic journey.” Rajul Shah, Artist, Painter. Tokyo
“Until a few months ago I had never heard of Nancy Reyner. Now, after taking her Painting Excellence course, she feels like my fairy godmother. Many of the techniques she talks about in her books I had taught myself or learned by accident but felt very insecure about. She came along and validated me. Thank you, Nancy.” Phyllis Jaffe, Painter, Former Art Professor. Maryland
“Nancy Reyner is, in my estimation, one of the best painting instructors you will encounter, and she oozes knowledge! Regardless of a person’s accomplishments and achievements in the field of art, I believe ANY ARTIST can commit to this study and derive great benefit –perhaps beyond their expectations! I also believe that anyone desiring to expand their understanding of “how to” will complete this course with a new purpose, confidence and vigor for their art. Thank you, Nancy for all that you have poured into us — we all plan to make you proud! — and thanks to a great and supportive group of brilliant artists from around the world!” Barry Lubbe, Painter. Virginia
“I loved Nancy Reyner’s dedication, material, videos, classes, comments and most importantly, how she motivated us to create and develop our own art.
It was great to find out through the group that other artists have similar needs and interests. I really enjoyed sharing and being part of an “artistic family” I found through this course.
Many Thanks!!!” Deborah Levy, Painter. CA
“This course gave me a GREAT LEAP FORWARD! After spending four weeks with this group, a family of interesting artists and personalities, I have to tell you how much I appreciate what you have done for us, and how exciting it is to immerse our creative heads and hearts into a world where it did not feel competitive, but supportive, and seeing others’ works got my own creative juices flowing! Your vast wealth of knowledge about materials, techniques, and the way you support us is immeasurable. Deep in my heart and soul, I knew that if anyone could get me out of the creative slump I dug myself into, it would be Nancy Reyner. The results from her course are unfurling.” Mary Manning Whitaker, Painter. Utah
Nancy Reyner loves to paint and believes painting is a powerful tool for self expression. She has been painting for over 30 years, and enjoys sharing her experiences, techniques and processes with other artists. She has authored four top selling painting books with North Light Books, as well as numerous instructional painting videos, received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and an MFA from Columbia University. Nancy has expertise in a variety of mediums, including oil, acrylic, watercolor and mixed media. She has appeared on television for HGTV’s “That’s Clever”, and worked as a technical consultant for Golden Artist Colors for 16 years. Nancy currently lives and paints in Santa Fe, NM.
I could have sworn I covered it all with my video on how to apply gold leaf. You know that old expression “everything but the kitchen sink”? Well that definitely applies to my gold leaf video (see it for free here) which gives all the tips and tricks for creating a gold leaf surface to paint on, and then how to prepare the leafed surface for overpainting with acrylic paint. HOWEVER, it appears I was amiss to include how to prepare the leafed surface for overpainting with OIL PAINT! How silly of me. So here I go with additional information on using gold leaf with oil paint.
Real Gold Leaf vs Imitation Gold Leaf
First I want to repeat some info from the video to mention the difference between using real gold leaf and imitation (or composite) gold leaf (made with copper and zinc). In the video I explain why I choose to use the imitation gold leaf and not the real gold leaf for my painting purposes. In summary, these two types of metal leaf look exactly the same when using size (glue or adhesive) to adhere the leaf. Using real gold (involving extra expense) is worth the expense (in my opinion) when you will be showing it off uncovered and unpainted, like applying it to a picture frame, AND using a different application method – water gilding not size. Water gilding is extremely labor intensive. In my work, I cover a good portion of the leaf by overpainting it with paint. So it doesn’t make sense for me to go to the expense of using water gilding and real gold as most of this will be covered. I know there are some good reasons some of you may have for using real gold, and that’s fine. I just wanted to share my opinion.
On left is real gold leaf; On right is imitation gold leaf
How to Apply Gold Leaf
Whether you are using real gold leaf or imitation gold leaf, the techniques for application using size adhesive are the same. So for this process, please watch my video (link here) to get all the information on using size adhesive to adhere the leaf.
Applying Gold Leaf OVER Oil Paint
If you plan to use OIL PAINT to overpaint the leaf, then make sure you stop the video I mentioned above when you get to the part about sealing the leaf. That is because there are different considerations to sealing the leaf for oil paint vs acrylic paint.
1. If you are applying gold leaf OVER oil paint, make sure the oil paint is fully dry before applying the adhesive and leaf. Drying times for oil paint depend on how thick it is applied, and your climate conditions.
2. Once dry, follow my video instructions to apply the leaf using adhesive, BUT with one exception – use an oil based size adhesive, NOT the water based size adhesive. Best way to tell the difference? The oil based size will say on its container label to clean brushes with solvents, while the water based size will instruct you to clean brushes with water.
Does Real Gold Leaf Need to be Sealed?
Real Gold Leaf does NOT tarnish. So you do NOT have to seal it to protect it from tarnishing. HOWEVER, the real gold leaf is so thin (like the imitation leaf only even more delicate) that once it is applied onto your painting, and not sealed, it can be marred if mishandled. So even though you do not need to apply ANYTHING over the real gold leaf, you may still want to seal it to add some protection from getting scratched or damaged.
Are Sealing Requirements the Same for Oil Paint as Acrylic Paint?
NO! Sealing requirements are different depending on which paint you will be using to apply over the leaf.
If you are overpainting the leaf with acrylic paint, then stop reading this article and just follow my free video (link here) because acrylic paint will tarnish unsealed imitation leaf, as I mention in the video.
If you are overpainting the leaf with oil paint, you have a choice to 1) seal over the leaf before you apply your oil paint, or 2) apply oil paint over unsealed leaf, then seal at the very end over both leaf and oil paint when dry. To seal over the leaf before you apply oil paint, use a permanent sealer, as opposed to a removable varnish sealer. The varnish I recommend in the video, Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss is removable, and therefore you should not put this under oil paint, (as solvents added to oil paint could redissolve the varnish.) You can use Goldens Archival Varnish Gloss (or any solvent based varnish or sealer) OVER the final painting at the end, over leaf and paint as a final coat. If using imitation gold leaf then you MUST seal at some point within 6 months after application, so it will not tarnish from exposure to air. Avoid using waterbased sealers (like Golden’s Polymer Varnish) at any stage when using imitation gold leaf and/or oil paint. Check with the company that makes your leaf to see if they carry an appropriate sealer.
Important Reminders for Acrylic Painters
Imitation leaf will tarnish TWO ways. It will tarnish when exposed to air, and also when exposed to the ammonia in acrylic products while the acrylic is still wet. Once the acrylic dries the ammonia has dissipated and will not tarnish your leaf. SO, if you are applying acrylic paint over real gold leaf you can opt to wait to seal at the very end when your painting is complete. If you are using imitation gold leaf along with acrylic paint, you MUST seal it BEFORE you apply any acrylic paint or acrylic products over the leaf.
I know this can get confusing, but I have to add a note here. You can seal your imitation leaf using an acrylic product IF AND ONLY IF the acrylic product you are using to seal is super fast drying, (so fast the ammonia will dissipate before it can tarnish the leaf) like the Archival Varnish Spray (not for overpainting with oil paint), or for oil or acrylic overpainting you can use Golden’s GAC200 or GAC500 (but you must apply several coats of these if these are your only sealers over the leaf.)
Apply oil paint directly over real or imitation leaf without any need to seal the leaf before painting.
Do not apply oil paint OVER removable solvent based sealers. But these same sealers can be applied over the oil paint and leaf at the very end.
Apply acrylic paint directly over real leaf without any need to seal before painting (but sealing the leaf may allow the acrylic paint to be applied easier.)
When applying acrylic paint over imitation leaf, the leaf MUST be sealed before painting.
It’s a good idea to seal your painting at the very end, even if you already sealed the leaf before painting. Sealing with an archival varnish enables the painting to be cleaned, and adds UV protection
Artist: Donna Gillispie, Lake View No. 1, 4′ x 12′, mixed media and wood panels Photo Credit: Linda Edge-Dunlap
I was recently given the honorable task to present an award to an artist included in the online exhibition HerStory 2017 Art Exhibition, curated by Renee Phillips, Director of Manhattan Arts International.
The show is intended to promote outstanding women artists, and runs from April 27, 2017 through June 27, 2017, featuring 63 selected artists.
For my special award, a main criteria was a painting that shows innovative paint application or playful experimentation. In addition to the quality of paint usage, there were other criteria I was seeking. The work should be visually engaging with contemporary design, and offer a uniquely personal story, situation or viewpoint. I found all of these in abundance in Donna Gilllispie’s painting Lake View No. 1 shown in full at the top of this article.
I was impressed by the painting’s eye catching and riveting appeal and its epic mural size of four feet by twelve feet. Lake View No. 1 is a satellite view of Table Rock Lake, at the intersection of three rivers, located close to where the artist lives, and a place she frequents. The idea of the lake is imaginatively abstracted, and Donna succeeded in capturing the wide variety of colors she sees at the lake. From the sunsets through the four seasons, the work’s color palette reflects its shifting moods. On the far left are the colors for winter, then moving to the right is spring, summer then fall.
This detail gives us a hint of Donna’s passion and expertise with her use of mediums. Using an incredible range of materials Donna pulls them altogether in a cohesive and rich display. Materials include metal leaf (gold, copper, silver and variegated), watercolor, acrylic paints, gold leaf flakes, wood panels, acrylic gels and mediums, glass beads, paper. Watercolor paper is stretched first then woven to form the visible grid design in this giant painting collage. The two bands of color on the top and bottom are made with rice paper. Elsewhere in the work Donna uses tissue paper with gesso to texturize underneath the leaf. Smooth areas contrast texture, warm contrasts cool, and the woven paper grid expertly mimics the grid of the square leaf pieces, and mosaic use of multiple wood panels. Donna uses Fibonacci number proportions to create the swirl shape of the rivers. This painting is a rich mix of creativity, thought, technique and playful experimentation.
Donna Gillispie Bio: Inspired by a childhood love of painting, Donna obtained a Fine Arts degree from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. Since, she has consistently studied the arts through a lifetime of books, museums, and working alongside several nationally known artists. She particularly enjoys studying the Old Masters, with them finding a very effective way to learn about historic procedures, techniques and expressive content. While her paintings are often representational, Donna starts each one with an abstract design pattern. The compositions then evolve instinctively and are essentially arranged by putting together those shapes and designs which are related and connected to each other. She is often drawn to unusual perspectives and imagery. She also feels a painting can be a powerful tool of communication, invoking a plea to the viewer to join her in caring deeply about a subject. The area lakes near her home, have profoundly influenced her recent works, as she celebrates them with the joy of painting through color, form, and texture.
This 45 minute interview of Nancy Reyner was taped on February 23, 2017, as part of Julie Merritt’s Mindfully Alive Retreat, an online series of interviews with artists on the topic of creativity. Nancy explains how all artists have creative blocks, and that they are a natural part of our rhythm. She explains what a creative block is, and reveals her five favorite methods to free a creative block when you get one.
A list of Nancy’s five favorite methods discussed in the video interview. These are also included in her new book, Create Perfect Paintings, published by North Light Books.
(1) Reconnect with your inner voice:
(2) Coaching, therapy and some DIY methods to self-therapy
(3) Practice positive thinking
(4) Avoid perfectionism
(5) Know how to take a break – and enjoy it!
Why Use Wood Panels for Painting?
There are many types of surfaces that painters can use for fine art painting. Canvas on stretchers have been used for a long time, and wood panels even longer. Wood is stronger and more durable then the fabric of canvas or linen, and is therefore more archival. Contemporary painting techniques such as pouring paint (i.e. Jackson Pollock) and gluing collage-style are much easier with a sturdy level surface such as wood. (By the way, Pollock did not use wood for his paintings).
Proper preparation of an artist support is essential for producing long-lasting artwork. Raw wood panels need to be sealed prior to priming and painting, to keep moisture from getting to the wood causing warping and other damage. So once you purchase a wood panel you need to do two important steps before painting: seal to keep out moisture, and then prime to strengthen adhesion between the paint and wood panel.
What’s the difference between hardboard and Masonite? I get asked all the time about the difference between these two terms for wood panels. Click here for a great article that clears up any confusion between the two.
Where to Get Wood Panels
If you are lucky enough to have wood working machinery, you can make wood panels yourself. Otherwise you can purchase commercially made wood panels from art stores, and online artist supply sites. Ampersand makes great panels of good quality. They are the only commercial panel company that I know of that properly seals and primes their panels called Gessobord. Less expensive versions are available through Dick Blick and other online sites. Commercial panels can come with or without cradled sides (separate wood applied to the panel to add depth to the sides), and with or without coatings (such as gesso or other primers).
I have two issues with commercially made wood panels. I like to work large and in sizes that are not standard. Since commercial panels only come in standard sizes, and only up to around 40″ per side, if you want a custom size, or something larger than 40″ there are not many options. Some commercial companies offer custom panels, but may take up to six months (not kidding) to get it to you. Commercial panels use hardboard for the painting surface. Hardboard can get very heavy when used for large sizes. I created my own brand of panel, Nancy Reyner Custom Artist Panels, only available through, Artisans Art Supply. These are high quality panels, custom made in three weeks or less to your size preference, cradled with 1 7/8″ sides, and made with a special poplar wood material that is super lightweight.
Preparing Your Wood Panel
Oil painters must seal wood to stop any acidic oil in the paint, from penetrating into the wood support, which can cause the fibers to rot. While acrylic painters do not have this same issue, sealing is still an important step if you plan to use acrylic paint, to eliminate Support Induced Discoloration (SID). SID is a phenomenon that occurs uniquely with acrylic paints. Supports naturally contain impurities that can cause an amber yellow discoloring to any light colored or clear acrylic layer that is applied to the wood, unless the support is sealed properly.
Sealing (sometimes called sizing) reduces chances for the wood to warp due to shifts in humidity, and therefore adds an important archival process to your artwork regardless of which painting medium you choose. Sealing also provides an easier surface to apply subsequent paint layers.
Sealers are often confused with primers. A sealer protects the underlying layer or material. It usually needs to be glossy (or non-absorbent) to properly protect by creating a barrier. A primer is a foundation layer that improves paint adhesion onto the support. Generally, a primer refers to a coating that prepares the surface for the acceptance of paint. Gesso is a primer and not a sealer. Gesso, when applied, has a satin or matte finish, is absorbent in nature, and therefore will not seal the wood unless multiple applications are used.
A general rule is to apply at least two coats of sealer directly onto the raw wood to protect the wood. Then apply primer to enhance adhesion, return tooth to the surface, and whiten the surface for optimizing paint colors you plan to apply over it.
Instructions to Prepare Your Panel
(1) Clean off any dust or debris from all faces of the panel including the cradled sides, first using a vacuum or air pressure if very dusty, then wiping clean with a microfiber cloth (or other lint free cloth) slightly dampened (with water).
(2) Lay the panel flat on a table, propping it up several inches on all four corners with jars, wood props, etc to allow for wiping away any drips, and ease of application.
(3) Apply a glossy acrylic medium over all exposed wood surfaces. Golden’s GAC100 is made especially for this purpose. It’s special thin formulation of polymer acrylic, applied over the wood, soaks in quickly and minimizes brushstrokes and texture.
Tip: Let one surface dry fully before flipping over to seal the reverse side. Drying times can vary. If dry to the touch with no tack, it can be flipped over without sticking to the props.
(4) When all exposed wood areas are sealed and fully dry, the wood will feel very coarse. That is because the wood grain gets raised with this first coat of sealer. Lightly sand all surfaces to smooth them using a 220 grit. There is no need to heavily sand, just an easy swipe with the sandpaper will suffice. Sanding blocks with a fine to medium fine grit are convenient for this purpose.
(5) Wipe the surfaces clean after sanding, then apply a second coat of sealer. Usually two coats of a sealer is sufficient, making the wood appear slightly satin or glossy in sheen. Optionally add more coats if you desire a more saturated seal.
(6) When those sealing layers are dry to the touch, it is recommended to apply one or two coats of a primer, such as an acrylic gesso, especially to the front surface to regain surface tooth. Priming your panel, regardless of which paint medium you plan to use, will add a second archival process to your artwork, by strengthening adhesion between your first painting layer and the primer. Opt to prime all surfaces, including the back and sides, for a clean white professional look.
For acrylic painters, one coat of a better quality gesso, such as Golden’s Gesso, will add adhesion strength between the sealed wood and your first layer of acrylic paint. Lesser quality primers are satisfactory when used with oil paint.
Once the gesso is dry to the touch it is ready for applications of acrylic paint. Wait 1 to 3 more days for applications of oil paint.
Making art is my career. It pays my bills while also being very fulfilling. Lately I’ve been asked to talk on panels and seminars on the topic of making a living with your art. This 26 minute interview, was part of an online series called Starving Artist No More hosted and produced by Heidi Easley.
Heidi interviewed many artists from around the world, gathering tips for artists on how to make a living with your art. The series was broadcast free Feb 1-3, 2017. For more information on her series or to view the other interviews: http:// starvingartistnomoresummit.com
(1) Make the best paintings you can. Strive to make your work the best it can be. Put your best foot forward in all your efforts, not only with painting, but business aspects as well, such as your website, writing, your portfolio, showing up on time for appointments, following through with commitments, etc.
(2) Develop a clear vision. It’s important to clearly understand what you paint and why. Equally important is to envision how you want a career to relate to your painting. The book “The Answer” by John Assaraf, offers great ideas to create your vision.
(3) Stay open and positive. This is more work than it sounds. It takes a lot of effort to keep from whining, complaining, getting stressed and being negative. But once you create a habit of positive thinking, it releases an enormous amount of energy and adds confidence.
(4) Show your work. Online publishing sites allow you to create a small portable professional looking portfolio for very little cost. Carry it everywhere as you never know what opportunities will come up. Find ways to exhibit your work. Have an exhibition in your studio. Invite friends, and put a posting in the local paper. Ask at your local restaurants, banks and other public venues if you can hang your work on their walls. Donate work to public institutions like colleges and hospitals.
(5) Continually Seek New Venues. Always be on the lookout for better galleries, dealers, and agents to sell your work. Find artists whose work is compatible to yours online or in galleries you may visit, and read their bios to find out where they show. Research galleries, agents, grants and any other information you feel an affinity with to see if you can use these in your own search.
(6) Seek Advice From Experts. To allow more time for you to paint, use specialists to do the work you don’t want. Use coaches for guidance, financial advisors for budgets, photographers for professional shots of your work, lawyers for contracts, web and other tech experts to keep your website running, and social media teams for publicity assistance.
(7) Stay connected with your team. Stay in touch with anyone who helps you in your career, especially your venues and dealers. Make a list of all those who help you, both friends and business associates. This is your team. Stay in touch regularly. Online correspondence is not enough. Add occasional team get-togethers such as a cocktail party in your studio, or a fun night out.
(8) Protect your time. Be aware and protective of how your time is spent. Eliminating one extra unnecessary activity in your day, such as watching television, can increase time for business tasks, or even more studio painting time.