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Keeping Your Paintings Original

As artists we are always looking for new ideas and inspiration. Browsing through the internet in search of images, glancing through art books or a visit to galleries and museums are common ways to get the imagination going.

Working too closely from a photograph, though, has its issues, especially if the photograph you are using is not your own art or photo. Direct copying from another artist is not only illegal, it can stifle your creativity and dull down your own work. Albert Pinkham Ryder said “Imitation is not inspiration, and inspiration only can give birth to a work of art.”

To keep your painting fresh and original while still using photographs, here is one idea that works for me. Pick out at least three photographs to use as references for a particular painting, instead of just one. By combining some aspects of each into a whole new image, you may come up with not only something original, but a total surprise.

Suggested Tips for this Process: After finding three reference images, choose one aspect from each image that you want to use for your own work. For instance, one image may have a color palette you like, another image can contribute an interesting composition, while a third contains a detail that catches your eye.

Here are 3 images I found that I liked while browsing calendars and magazines.

Image 1
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Image 2
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Image 3
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These three images are made by other artists, not me, so instead of copying them directly, I need to transform, distill or select from them, to create a brand new image of my own imagination. I decided to use Image 1 for its composition, Image 2 for color, and Image 3 for the gate in the foreground. I first changed the composition in Image 1 from its square format to horizontal, and moved the horizon line downwards by cropping the bottom.

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Next I mixed colors to match those found in Image 2. I painted a loose underpainting using washy (diluted with water) paint to get the general color scheme and composition onto the canvas.

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The underpainting includes my interpretation of the composition from Image 1, the colors from Image 2, and the gate from Image 3. Here it is refined further for a more realistic landscape.

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This was so fun I decided to try the same process on a new canvas to create something more abstract or non-objective.

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This painting uses the same aspects from the references as before, but results in an abstract. Compare these final paintings to the original three references. They have veered dramatically from the references, and transformed into something original. It has been said that nothing is original, since all artists will use, recycle or reinterpret from what they see around them, even if not consciously. We can’t help it, we are a product of our time and environment. The key is to strive to find your own vision, and subsequently make art that only you can make. Hopefully you may like this idea as much as I do, or perhaps can find your own method to use reference imagery in original ways.

I will be teaching a workshop in Santa Fe on September 30, 2016, exploring this and other methods to recycle and reinterpret imagery for painting. Click here for more information on that workshop, or click here to schedule your own private or custom painting session with me at my Santa Fe studio.

 

Painting Waves and Clouds

Waves and clouds are frequently included in my paintings. Here are some details of them, cropped from my work:
unnamedThere are two methods I use to get wave or cloud effects.

The first method uses washes on a glossy surface and is from p. 99 of my book Acrylic Illuminations.

(1) Make your surface glossy. Simply apply a coat of gloss medium over your painting when you are ready to add cloud or wave effects. If you are just starting with a blank canvas, first apply a paint color then the gloss medium. In my book example I started by painting the canvas a rich black color under the gloss. (2) When dry, apply a wash (60-70% water to any paint color using fluid paints, or 90% water if using heavy or thick paints) over the gloss, and (very important!!!) do not play with it – just leave it alone to dry. If you move the wash around too much it won’t work. When dry it should have puddled up into some interesting patterns and shapes. Most problems with this technique occur when not enough water is used. The wash should move around in a puddle when you apply it, and should stay puddled while it dries.

The second method to get wave and cloud effects is to paint them using good old classical painting techniques with paint on a brush. The old masters have been doing this for years. Most of my waves are painted this way, as the wash technique described above produces happy accidents sometimes, but uncontrolled effects such as these don’t work other times.

There is a myth that abstract painters can’t paint, or that traditional painting techniques are unnecessary to paint abstraction well. I do believe it is my classical painting skills I learned in art school, in workshops and through many years of practice that are key in getting my abstract paintings to work. I have dedicated most of my recent years using acrylic, exploring ways to invent new tricks and techniques for  unusual contemporary painting effects. These tricks are fully shared in my books and videos. I have not included traditional painting techniques in these instructional tools because those are already being taught. I figured I didn’t have to repeat it. I recently checked the internet and found many good instructional videos for traditional painting. We are fortunate to be living in a time where abundant instruction is free and easily accessible.

The waves and clouds I paint, compared to others I found online, tend to be softer because I blend them more, and with greater transparency because I add more mediums to increase their transparency. Both blending and transparent applications such as glazing are in all my books and most of my videos because they are essential painting techniques.

I like to make sure I use a combination of abstract tricks (like pouring) along with classical painting techniques in my work. That is one of the things, I think, that helps make the work intriguing. The waves and clouds, however, are painted traditionally. No tricks. No pouring, no hair dryer pushing the paint, no combs – (these are other suggestions from folks who emailed me asking how I paint them.) Just hours of mixing color and carefully applying the waves.

I attached a few paintings from other painters I found online using traditional techniques for waves and clouds.

These are from 19th Century French master Gustav Courbet.
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from www.pixelcreation.fr
cloudswithhousefrom www.conceptart.org
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Painting Surfaces – What Works Best!

Canvas or wood? This can be a tough choice for some artists. These two are the most commonly used materials, yet now there are even more choices such as plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, leather, paper, vinyl and cardboard.

Let’s start with the pros and cons of canvas and wood. Canvas comes in cotton duct or linen, while wood choices range from hardboard to panel. Both are fine for painting, but how do we choose what is right for us and our work?

CANVAS:

Advantages:

∙ It is lightweight, especially important for painting large.

∙ Canvas has a wonderful absorbency and woven texture if that suits your style.

∙ It can be used stretched over wooden stretcher bars for a tight bounce, or left unstretched to pin up onto walls or used on floors while working.

∙ For more information on selecting the appropriate stretchers and strainers click here.

∙ For more information on selecting the appropriate canvas click here.

Disadvantages:

∙ If you like to sand painted layers, or pour acrylic mediums over the surface as a layer, then the wood panels will be a better choice then canvas. For sanding or pouring you need a rigid level surface. The canvas when stretched on stretchers will droop if you sand or pour, and therefore needs to be propped up underneath for these techniques. Also, it can’t be easily moved if it needs to dry on a level place for a long time.

WOOD PANEL:

Advantages:

∙ As mentioned above, wood panel is already hard and rigid, and can be easily transported while layers are wet and still drying. A rigid surface is best for sanding and pouring techniques.

∙ It can cost less then stretched canvas. Canvas stretcher bars are made for reuse and are costly. A local carpenter or wood worker can make several wood panels at a time, with cost savings to the artist. Carpenters will generally charge per hour plus cost of materials, while purchasing stretcher bars and canvas have extra added retailer costs that are put on the final price.

∙ Wood panels can be made with different woods and braced to minimize warping.

∙ They are more sturdy then canvas. This means they will last longer than canvas given similar environmental circumstances.

∙ If you want to paint over an old painting on wood panel, it is easily remedied by sanding off any old texture and paint. I don’t recommend repainting over old paintings on canvas. It is difficult to properly sand the texture off, and isn’t as strong as wood panel for the added weight when applying extra layers.

∙ Confused about masonite, hardboard, and how to choose the right wood for panels? Here is a great article on just that, click here

∙ For more information on wood supports for painters click here:

Disadvantages:
∙ These can get heavy when working on large size panels.

CANVAS ON WOOD PANEL

You can also combine the two. Paint on canvas, then adhere the canvas onto wood panel. For more information on how to do this click here:

PLASTIC FOR PAINTING SURFACES:

This is a relatively new choice for painting surfaces. For more information click here.

For information on how to prepare the different supports mentioned above click here.

How to make acrylic paint look like enamel

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enamel-like finish with acrylic paint

When I see the word “enamel” a vision comes to mind of a beautifully smooth brushless glossy surface. The word is now commonly used for a variety of paint types, and I’ll avoid getting too technical here, (as I’d rather focus on the point of this article, which is how to customize fine art acrylic paints to create a brushless, smooth and glossy surface) by using a simple description from Wikipedia:

 “… the term “enamel paint” is used to describe oil-based covering products, usually with a significant amount of gloss in them, however recently many latex or water-based paints have adopted the term as well. The term today means “hard surfaced paint” and usually is in reference to paint brands of higher quality, floor coatings of a high gloss finish, or spray paints. Most enamel paints are alkyd resin based….” (For more information on enamel click here for the full Wikipedia article.)

 Here are several ideas for painters, to obtain an “enamel” appearance on a painting using fine artist’s acrylic paint:

 (1)  Start with a paint that is naturally or formulated in a thin consistency: Use the fluid acrylic paints that come in bottles, or the new super thin (but with highly saturated color) High Flow acrylic paints. Thinner consistency paints offer a smoother application with less visible brushstrokes or texture. The thick acrylic paints that come in tubes and jars have thickener added to them to look and act like oil paint. These are great for adding texture, but will take more effort on your part to get them to look smooth. By using the Fluid or High Flow paints you still have strong color, but won’t have to dilute with water or medium to thin to reduce texture.

(2) Customize your paint by adding thin mediums to make a thinner color mixture:  Add to your paint color some hard, clear mediums like Golden’s GAC500 or GAC100. These can be added to thick paints to help thin them, although the color will become less intense, so if possible use thin paints to start with as stated previously. Adding these mediums to your Fluid or High Flow paint colors will make them harder and glossier, increase refraction and increase leveling capabilities. Additionally add up to 15% retarder to this mixture to slow down drying, enabling even smoother applications.

(3) Position brush properly for smooth applications: Apply paint or mixtures onto your surface using a soft wide flat brush, spreading thinly by working in small areas at a time. Keep brush positioned on a low angle to your surface for smooth applications, instead of a 90 degree angle or perpendicular to the surface which will create more texture.

(3) Alternate layers of paint with medium: Another option is to first apply a thin layer of pure paint color undiluted onto your surface and let dry. Do not add any water or medium to the paint color. If using a thicker paint sand smooth after drying. Over this dried paint color layer, brush apply a thin layer of GAC500 (or any thin undiluted gloss acrylic medium). Let dry. Repeat by applying another layer of paint color, then another layer of medium. Repeat as many times as you like, waiting until each application or layer is dry before applying the next. By building up in layers alternating between paint and medium you can achieve a very smooth brushless highly refractive surface. If your paint color layers are holding brush strokes you can lightly sand each layer when dry with waterproof sandpaper, using water to keep any sanded particles from getting airborn. Wipe off the sanded areas while still wet with a soft rag.

(4) Pour the paint: Add some paint color to a glossy pouring medium, and apply onto your surface by pouring. This eliminates brushstrokes and easily creates the perfect enamel look. Spray the freshly poured layer lightly with alcohol immediately after pouring and while still very wet to eliminate bubbles. Click here for more tips on pouring. Also, my new book, Acrylic Illuminations has an entire section with many techniques on pouring. Click here for easy (and discounted) purchase through Amazon.

Video Demonstration from Acrylic Illuminations

 

26-4Nancy Reyner’s book, Acrylic Illuminations: Reflective and Luminous Acrylic Painting Techniques, demonstrates many unusual painting techniques using acrylic. Click on the link below to see one of these techniques demonstrated in a video, called Embedded Pearlized Color. This technique uses specialty paints called Interference paints, along with layers of acrylic gloss gel to create a special reflective effect. Click here for the link.

Unusual Technique from Acrylic Illuminations

Here is an example of  “Soft Melted Effects”, from Nancy Reyner’s book, Acrylic Illuminations: Reflective and Luminous Acrylic Painting Techniques. This technique can transform hard edges into soft by embedding them texturally into a wet gel layer. Soft edges make blurred forms, offering the illusion of receding forms in space. This can enhance any style, whether real or abstract while adding variety to the composition. To purchase the book, click here.

SOFT MELTED EFFECTS

Materials

Paint: one or more acrylic paint colors 

Substrate: any primed painting surface

Tools: paintbrush, painting knife or other spreading tool

Products: a matte or gloss acrylic gel

For clean-up: water, water container, paper towels or rags 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStep 1: Rough Out an Underpainting
On a surface paint an underpainting using any style or technique. This ice cream cone with violet background uses Cobalt Turquoise, Burnt Sienna, Vat Orange, Raw Umber, Carbon Black, Titanium White and Hansa Yellow Light.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStep 2: Apply Gel Thickly
Select an acrylic gel. Gloss dries transparent while a matte gel appears veiled or cloudy. Using a knife or other spreading tool, such as a spatula, heavily apply gel all over surface at least ¼” in depth. Here Heavy Gel Gloss is applied. Continue to the next step while wet.

 

 

Step 3: Paint Into the Wet Gel
Using a brush or knife, apply paint color on the wet gel. Heavier gels allow smoother applications of paint, while softer gels record the application texturally. Gel appears white when wet, temporarily hiding the underpainting. If you need to control where the paint is applied for this layer scrape the gel away from small areas at a time with a knife to peak at where forms are then push gel back into place. Tip: Remember to use white as it’s easy to forget to use it when the wet gel is white. Continue to the next step while wet.

Step 4: Embed Edges
Using a clean knife glide over the edges pushing the color down into the depths of the gel layer. Move the paint around to soften and blur until satisfied. When the gel is dry the underpainting and overpainting will visually merge as seen here.

 

 

A Whole New “it” Brain

 

The popular book A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, exemplifies a new movement towards rebalancing our left and right brain hemispheres. He postures that the high paying executive jobs now filled with left-brain information types will be replaced by the new desirables – the “creatives”, who are more in tune with their right side. Our current educational system encourages left brain thinking while art schools tend to encourage the right. Even though Betty Edward’s book, Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, has become a household phrase, our right side has been belittled and downplayed as the lesser brain functioning power for decades. The key is probably somewhere in the middle, to create a balance between both sides for a healthier, happier, productive and functioning society.

In meditation the left brain (words, analytical judgments, etc) is subdued so the right side (spatial, timeless) can better evoke the desired calm. In Kimon Nicolaides’ best-selling book, The Natural Way to Draw he writes that while focused in the right side of the brain there can be no mistakes. In meditation, just as in creating art, the right side is dominant. It is interesting that both meditation groups and attendance in art workshops are gaining in popularity. The activity of viewing art, however, offers another opportunity to utilize the right side as well.

In the act of seeing, our eyes have the ability to perceive two different ways: optically and tactilely, and each of us tends to favor one over the other. Seeing optically we focus on the light and dark qualities and color. Seeing tactilely our eyes extend tiny illusionary “hands” outwards almost like touching the viewed objects, and we see sculpturally noticing the tactile qualities. Those favoring the tactile approach first notice a painting’s surface quality or texture. When next visiting a museum or gallery, take a moment and notice where your eyes wander; what attracts them, and what remains unnoticed on the walls. When artists give attention to all aspects of an artwork; the light and dark, the color, and sensuousness of the surface, then the artwork has the potential to attract a wider audience by appealing to both types of viewers.

photo credit: nhne-pulse.org

Painting Ideas with Acrylic “Skins”

What’s a skin? It’s a separate piece of acrylic without any backing or support.  Any acrylic product when applied to a non-stick surface and left to dry, can be peeled off producing a piece of acrylic with no backing. This piece of acrylic, or “skin” can be used as a collage item in a painting, or as an entire layer of a painting.

What non-stick surfaces will work? Plastic garbage bags, plastic painting drop cloths at home improvement stores that are whitish and cloudy, plexi sheets called HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), Freezer Paper (found in grocery stores – not to be confused with wax paper) and protective plastic binder sheets found in office supply stores.

Which type of acrylic works best? The quick answer is that any acrylic product will make a skin. But to delve a bit deeper, let’s start by thinking of acrylic in two broad categories. There’s paint and binder. Acrylic paint has color, while binders come in 3 basic types: mediums, gels and pastes. So any paint, medium, gel or paste can create a skin, which means a skin can come in any color, opacity/transparency, thickness, sheen, texture or combination.

Some painting ideas with skins:

Make a variety of skins and store them for later use by stacking them together with freezer paper in between so they don’t stick together.

Cut the skins into specific shapes with scissors and glue them onto an acrylic painting using a gel as glue.

Roll them into shapes to add a three-dimensional relief onto the painting surface.

Create large sheets of clear skins, paint something different on each one, then arrange one on top of the other to create different effects (pictured below)

photos from Nancy Reyner’s book, Acrylic Innovation. To purchase the book, click here.

Create large sheets of translucent skins by using matte gels, or thin layers of paste, and adhere over a painting to create the illusion of depth. Optionally you can continue to paint over this skin, or add another skin layer.

Viewing Paintings

A previous blog article I wrote on the “S” curve stimulated some email questions on how to see subtle underlying shapes, such as the classic “S” curve in paintings. Negative space, (or the illusion of space perceived in between forms) is perceived via our lesser used right brain hemisphere, while shapes or defined forms are seen with our more frequently used left brain.

As an experiment, place your hand flat on a table in front of you with fingers spread out. Our left brain takes control right away and so we see our fingers. I believe it is difficult if not impossible to see from both sides of our brain at the same time. Now try to look at the spaces in between the fingers by keeping your eyes fixed on those spaces, until our eyes turn them into interesting shapes. You will need to switch from left to right brain hemispheres to fully view those spaces in between the fingers. Our left brain is our default system, so it is easier to look at forms while it takes more of a conscious effort to see the spaces in between. In paintings to see the space in between the forms takes more of a conscious effort too.

To find subtle forms in a painting then, requires a conscious switch between our two brain hemispheres while viewing the painting, and also as artists, while painting it. When we allow ourselves time to view a painting with our right brain (viewing the negative spaces), you will begin to see or form larger geometric patterns such as the “S” curve I mentioned. Each work of art generally uses at least one geometric shape as an overriding principle to hold the smaller shapes together. Other common geometric shapes found in paintings are diamonds, pyramids, circles and squares. These are forms that we as humans will naturally impose onto images. I believe that any painting you find interesting, be it an Old Masters famous painting from the Renaissance, or a contemporary one in a local gallery, will have some form of underlying geometry in its composition.