How to Paint an Acrylic Waterscape Painting

by | Aug 21, 2008 | Blog | 5 comments

This video is a recording from the HGTV show That’s Clever, where Nancy demonstrates how she creates a waterscape painting in layers using acrylic paint. Included in this demonstration are unique ways to paint a landscape using some fun acrylic techniques and unusual layering styles. HGTV produced and aired this segment in 2006 using their signature style – with fast-paced editing and TV’s goofy sense of humor. Enjoy!

This is the finished painting from the above video. It is made in several layers, using acrylic paint, mediums, acrylic crackle paste and a clear acrylic finishing sealer. In addition, mixed media such as glitter, gems and shells are added to enhance the water image.

Below is a step-by-step written version, along with list of supplies, to create the painting demonstrated in this video.

Step 1. Applying the Crackle Paste


Materials Needed
Spreading tools: Credit cards, plaster spatula, and a palette knife
Golden’s Crackle Paste
A wood panel primed with white acrylic gesso

Start with a sturdy wooden painting support preprimed with white acrylic gesso. The primer or gesso helps the paint and applied layers to adhere to the wood panel. Onto this primed panel, apply Golden’s acrylic crackle paste over the entire surface. Apply the paste using various tools such as a palette knife, a putty knife and an old credit card. Use a variety of tools to get different crackle effects.

Apply the paste ¼” to 1” thick. The thinner the paste application, the thinner the cracks. Thickly applied paste will crack in large crevices. Vary the thicknesses to get a variety of crackle effects. Apply the paste in different directions across the panel surface to keep the cracks varied and natural looking. Let dry 12-24 hours for cracks to form.

Step 2. Making the Cracks More Visible


Materials Needed
Ice cube tray
Golden’s fluid paints in the following colors:
Phthalo Blue (green shade), Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Phthalo Green (yellow shade), and Dioxizine Purple
Flat wide brush
Spray Bottle with Water
The dried cracked panel
Paper towels
Hair blowdryer

When the crackle paste has dried and the surface has cracked sufficiently, the cracks do not show very well at this point. Make them more visible by adding color into the cracks. First select a variety of colors and chose the following four Golden’s fluid acrylic paint colors: Phthalo Blue (green shade), Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Phthalo Green (yellow shade), and Dioxizine Purple. Put about a half teaspoon each of these colors into separate compartments of an ice cube tray. To each color add about a half teaspoon of water to turn them into diluted washes of color. The ice cube tray works very well for this by keeping the washes contained and separate.

Next spray the cracked surface all over with a water sprayer. By wetting the surface before applying the washes it will encourage the paint to seep into the cracks rather then stay on top. This will make the cracks more visible with the color, but will still keep the top surface white so that it will be easier to paint the waterscape image later. After spraying with water liberally apply the different colored washes to the entire cracked surface using a wide brush in varying and random patches of color.

Once you apply the colors all over the surface, heavily spray the surface again with water, and blot the excess paint with paper towels. Repeat spraying the surface with water and blotting the color with paper towels until the top surface is white and the cracks are colored. Blow dry the top surface using a hair dryer to quick dry the surface. If you don’t quick dry with the blow dryer, the color in the cracks will continue to seep up onto the top surface coloring that as well.

Step 3. Painting the Image


Materials Needed
The cracked panel with colored cracks
Various painting tools: brush, sponge, eyedropper, toothbrush
Ice cube tray
Various fluid acrylic paint colors
Water container
Paper towels

Paint the waterscape image onto the surface. The surface is still spongy and absorbent so continue to use diluted washes of paint color. However, this time don’t pre-wet the surface by spraying it with water, so the color will stain the top surface.

Select more fluid acrylic colors and add them to separate ice cube tray compartments. Use a full palette of colors for a wide range of color possibilities. Use red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, white and black. Add water to each color as before to create diluted washes of each color. Use a variety of painting tools to get different effects, like brushes, sponges, toothbrushes and eyedroppers with the paint colors. Sponges are great for dabbing color. Toothbrushes can add a dotted or spritzing texture by dipping the bristles into the color and rubbing them with your fingertips. Eyedroppers can be used to drop color onto the surface from a distance, or flowing onto the surface like a writing pen directly touching the surface with the dropper tip. Wash painting tools out with water in between color changes.

Dab painting tools onto paper towels to keep excess water from turning the image into a puddle. Start to paint the trees on the top part of the panel, then paint the water. The water is reflective so paint a mirror image of the trees and add blue for the sky reflected there as well. Keep adding color until the image is just the way you like it. Let this dry for 12-24 hours.

Step 4. Mixing the Clear Acrylic Finish


Materials Needed
16 oz. Golden’s Self Leveling Gel or GAC800
3 – 4 drops Golden’s Fluid Acrylic Interference Blue (fine)
4-6 oz. water
Mixing container
Paint stirrer

The cracked surface is still a bit delicate. The pieces formed in between the cracks can sometimes act like potato chips and may flake off unless stabilized with a clear pourable acrylic finishing coat. Pour 16 oz. of Golden’s Self Leveling Gel or GAC800 (or other pouring mediums made for pouring) into a mixing container. If the pouring medium is thick you can add about 4-6 oz of water to the gel to make it thinner to ensure that the gel can seep into the cracks. Optionally add 3-4 drops of Golden’s fluid Interference Blue (fine) for a special reflective quality.

The Interference paints are unique paints which refract light in an unusual way and add a special sheen to the painting, enhancing the look of water in this waterscape. This clear coat will accomplish two things. In addition to better securing the cracked surface this clear coat dries glossy and will enhance the colors of the painting in the same way that pebbles are more colorful when wet. After adding the water and interference paint into the gel stir with a paint stirrer until it is completely combined.

Step 5. Pouring the Clear Acrylic Coating


Materials Needed
The gel mixture from previous step
Putty knife
The cracked surface with finished painted image.

Holding the painting upright or vertical pour the mixed gel directly from the container onto the top end of the painting. Continue to hold the painting upright and let the gel move downwards with gravity. When the gel gets to the bottom turn the painting in different directions to let the gel seep well into the cracks. Use a putty knife to help move the gel into places that were missed so that the gel fully covers the entire top surface. Once the gel is applied over the entire surface place the panel flat to rest.

Step 6. Embedding Mixed Media


Materials Needed
Mixed media objects such as glitter, shells and gems.
The panel with wet clear acrylic finish

Acrylic is really a high quality glue, so while the poured acrylic coating is still wet you can add mixed media items like glitter, shells and gems in various places on top of the painting. These objects will add texture and reflective elements further enhancing the image. When the gel dries the objects will be permanently glued or embedded into it. After adding mixed media objects let the painting rest flat to dry for 12-24 hours. The gel is white when wet, but is clear when fully dry.

Step 7. The Finished Painting

 The poured acrylic coating has dried clear. This panel already has sides on it so it doesn’t need a frame. Optionally you can apply a fine art archival varnish over the painting as a final finishing layer. Varnishes for fine art usually contain UV protection, to keep the colors from fading. Varnishes are also removable for special circumstances where the painting may need archival cleaning.


Additional Resources:


The Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting

Classes with Nancy

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Hand painting pink wall with sponge.

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  1. canvas art

    really liked the video, it was great to see you work.

    Take care


  2. katrina

    Thank you so much for sharing such a useful information. Video is really great thanks for helping us.

  3. linda

    This was really fun to watch and what a clever way to get lots of texture! And that pourable GAC is fabulous!

    I love your book and refer to it all the time…it’s in tatters and paint spots everywhere! Love it!

  4. Peggy Stermer-Cox

    Hi Nancy, I liked the video — wonderfully entertaining and interesting. Thanks for adding the step by step; its fun to see you work!

  5. Anonymous

    Nancy – I absolutely love your work! Thanks for sharing so much information. I just ordered your book and am axious to get my hands on it. I am an abstract acrylic artist working on panel in Atlanta Ga


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About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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