All posts by Nancy Reyner

Best Painting Surfaces for Artists

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?



∙ 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.


∙ 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.



∙ 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:

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


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:


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.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

How to make acrylic paint look like enamel

When I think of 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.

enamel-like finish with acrylic paint

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….” View Wiki’s full article click here. 

Here are 5 ways painters can 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 at 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.

(4) 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.

(5) 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 for more tips on pouring. My book Acrylic Illuminations has an entire section on pouring techniques, as well as other contemporary painting techniques for unusual effects.

More articles about pouring paint:

Tips on Pouring Acrylic
Acrylic Pouring
Pouring Resin-like Finishes

More articles of interest:
Great cleaning tips

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers workshops, courses, coaching and online consults for artists and craftsman.

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.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

Unusual Acrylic Painting Technique – Wet in Wet Gel

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.



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.



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.


Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

Our Left and Right Brain Sides


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.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

photo credit:

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.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

Painting: Composition and Underlying Shapes

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.








The Painter and his Pug, c. 1745, William Hogarth

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.

Nancy Reyner, painter, author and instructor offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

What is a Painting Glaze?

Glazing is a gem in the realm of painting techniques. Used throughout painting history,glazing is still popular today for styles from realism to abstraction and most mediums including oil, acrylic and watercolor. Here are my favorite tips on when and how to use it.

What is a glaze? The usual definition of a glaze is a transparent color, or application of a transparent layer of color onto a painting. A glaze is often applied to a painting in process, to shift whatever colors are already there. It can be applied very subtly to just slightly shift an underlying color, or more strongly to dramatically change underlying colors. In general though, it is usually used OVER a previously applied and dry, layer of one or more colors.

Why glaze? As an example, let’s say you are painting a portrait in a realistic style for a client. After months of hard work the portrait looks good enough to show to your client for approval. Your client, however, thinks the flesh tones are too yellow and wants you to fix it. What do you do? Argue with the client? Not a good idea. Return to your studio and repaint the entire face again? Also not a good idea. An easier solution is to apply a glaze over the flesh tones that will decrease the overall too yellow. By using purple, which is the opposite of yellow, in a VERY transparent layer this will be easily and quickly resolved.

How to make a glaze. Let’s continue using the above scenario. To reduce an overall too yellow color, we want to apply a very transparent purple glaze over it. To make the glaze mixture, start with any type of nonporous surface as a palette to mix your glaze color.

Some ideas for a palette:

  • a sheet of glass, palette pads (pads you can purchase made of gray or white sheets of coated paper)
  • disposable plastic plates (you can keep and reuse once the paint has dried)
  • sheets of freezer paper (not wax paper or parchment paper) taped to a table or piece of wood
  • shellac coated wood available in art stores as traditional painting palettes

On your palette of choice, squeeze out about a tablespoon of a clear medium (more or less depending on the size of the job at hand). Use a medium appropriate for the type of paint you are using. If working in oil use an oil medium, for encaustic (wax) use wax, and for acrylic use an acrylic medium. From here on, I will instruct as if for acrylic, where any gloss acrylic medium will be fine. These will appear white when wet, but dry clear.

Tip: Matte or satin acrylic mediums contain a white powder and may slightly shift your colors when dry.

Also add to your palette, not too close to the medium already there, a small amount of a purple paint color (I like to use Dioxazine Purple) in a 1:10 ratio. That’s 1 part paint to 10 parts medium. Mix it really well with a knife so it’s all homogenized. Mixing it with a knife instead of a brush will result in a well mixed color, making it easier to apply an even subtle layer of the purple glaze. To apply acrylic evenly without streaks, we need to slow down the drying time, to give us more time to brush it out smoothly before it dries. Oil painters don’t need to do this step because oil is already slow drying enough to easily apply an even glaze.

For our acrylic mixture, there are several options to slow down the drying of our glaze mixture. (1) add up to 15% retarder to the glaze mixture. (2) Instead of the retarder mentioned previously, substitute a medium by Golden called Acrylic Glazing Liquid. This medium already contains 15% retarder to 85% acrylic gloss medium. (3) Use a slow drying acrylic paint. I like to use Golden’s slow drying line of acrylics called OPEN.

Once you have made your mixture more slow drying, pick up a small amount using a smooth flat wash brush. Apply this mixture thinly to your surface to obtain an evenly applied transparent layer of color. If getting a smooth application with a brush is difficult for you, use a soft lint free rag instead of the brush.

Glazing an image to vignette

Here is another example where glazing comes in handy. For this painting I’d like to darken the top half sky area, just at the very top edge and close to the two side edges. This is called a vignette technique, closing in the image a bit to make the sky feel more contained and not as expansive.

Step 1. Since the glaze will go around the sides and top, I want the color to vary as I apply it, so the color won’t look too uniform – looking like a mistake or a wierd frame around the painting. So for this application I will not create just one uniform glaze color mixture. Instead I will use a variety of colors, adding them all into the mixture, but only combining it minimally so it isn’t all homogenized as in the previous example. I call this type of mixture a dirty mix glaze.

Pictured here, along with Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Medium in the center of the palette, I placed several earth tone colors: Sap Green, Burnt Sienna, Payne’s Gray, Raw Umber and Carbon Black. Dip a brush or rag (pictured here) into the medium first, picking up about ¼ teaspoon of the medium, then dip the same rag with the medium into a small amount of one or more of the paint colors. Both medium and paint will be on your rag or brush simultaneously but not mixed together. Now you can see why I call it a dirty mix glaze.

Step 2. Apply what’s on the rag onto the edges of the painting, using another clean rag to soften the edges wherever I stop glazing towards the center of the image. I use small circular motions instead of wiping lines parallel to the edges to avoid creating the illusion of a frame, and instead getting what I want – a subtle darkening at the edges.

Work in small areas while the paint is still wet. Switch to a clean brush or dry rag to remove some of the excess glaze to allow this newly applied glaze color to subtly blend into the image. As you finish one area, move along the edge using different combinations of color every 1″ – 2″ (25 – 51 mm). Avoid using the same color too frequently or applying the color too opaquely with not enough medium.

Here is the finished painting. Compare this to the original image. Notice the dark glazing around the edges to vignette, which creates a romantic mood and cozier feel in the sky.

Key Glazing Tips
The amount of medium you use makes a big difference. Use enough medium in your glaze mixture to make it transparent. It can be subtle to shift the underlying layer a small amount, or more opaque overlaying a more intense color coverage.

Always start with the medium on your palette, adding very small amounts of paint into it. If you do the reverse – starting with the paint, and adding medium into it – the mixture may remain stubbornly opaque causing you to go through large quantities of medium to get it transparent enough to your liking.

If your painting becomes too opaque in feel because you covered the underlying layers too heavily, you can sand of some of the upper paint layers once they are dry. Work by hand with pieces of waterproof sandpaper (I like grit 220) and lots of water. For large areas or heavy layers use an electric sander.

Additional Resources

Painting with Transparent Layers – A Glaze vs. A Wash

Glazes with Texture

Best Time to Use Glazes

Article from GOLDEN Glazing with Acrylics, Oils & Watercolors

Nancy Reyner is a professional fine art painter, international best-selling author and instructor. She offers assistance to artists in a variety of ways. Click here for more info.

Acrylic Pouring – the Hottest Craze for Painters

A painter’s “toolkit” consists of many materials and tools as well as techniques. Pouring acrylic directly onto a painting surface is one technique that has recently taken off into stardom as the newest hottest painting trick for abstraction. A search online for “acrylic pouring” will deliver thousands of blog articles and videos from artists sharing their process and results.

I  use pouring techniques for my work, while keeping in mind it’s ONLY a technique, not necessarily a finished painting. Pouring gives unexpected results. While this makes it super fun, it frequently creates a “high failure” rate because it can take many tries to achieve the look you want.

More infrequently than not, a single pouring process on any one layer, may produce an exciting abstract image that left as is may be considered a successful and finished piece. Yet most of the time after an initial pour the image requires additional layers of new pours along with more painting skills, to get the piece to a place where it creates an exciting viewing experience beyond technique.

To the left shows pouring on a silver leaf panel. It’s final appearance, which looks like stained glass, is at the top of this page.

What is Pouring?
Pouring is actually a simple concept. It’s a way of applying paint without using brushes, knives or other application tools. Just grab a large container of acrylic medium and pour it out onto a surface. Simple? Yes. Messy? Yes. Easy? Often, no.


How to get a surfboard finish with pouring!

Pouring is most commonly used to get a “surfboard finish”; a super glossy, brushless and smooth rich layer of color or clear coating on a painting. This is often obtained by using toxic resins. However, there are ways to get the same results with non-toxic acrylic.

In addition to the surfboard finish, pouring can offer some new and unusual special effects to your work. With pouring its easy to think of Jackson Pollock. It can be a great way to add some fun into your painting process, smooth out unwanted texture on your surface, get marbleized effects, and rich colored glazes.

Try the following ideas to create a flawless “surfboard finish”, taken from my book Acrylic Illuminations, which also includes an entire chapter on pouring techniques.

(1) Use a rigid surface to keep from buckling while drying.

(2) Properly prepare the surface before pouring by applying a stain sealer. Then prime the surface with Gesso. These steps will keep stains from coming through the surface into the poured medium.

(3) Use a medium that is made specifically for pouring, like Golden’s GAC800. If using other fluid mediums, such as Clear Tar Gel or Self-Leveling Gel, dilute up to 40% with water and spread thinly to avoid crevicing.

(4) Level your surface before pouring so while it dries it won’t shift.

(5) Once your medium is poured, immediately spray lightly with alcohol to eliminate bubbles.

(6) For deep pours apply duct tape around the edges like a wall, seal the seam with a gel, then pour as deep as you want using GAC800. This is the only non-toxic medium that I know of that can be poured deeper than ¼” without crevicing. (Toxic resins can be used in deep pours without crevicing, but will outgas for up to a week while drying).

More pouring articles:

Tips on Pouring Acrylic
How to Make Acrylic Paint Look Like Enamel
Pouring Resin-like Finishes

For even more information on pouring, purchase my book Acrylic Illuminations.