Nancy’s Painting Blog

Making an Acrylic Painting in Layers

This video is from an HGTV show called That’s Clever, where I demonstrate how to create a painting in layers using acrylic paint. HGTV produced this in 2006 using their signature style – with fast paced editing and TV’s goofy sense of humor. Enjoy!

Here are step-by-step explanations and supplies for making the painting in this video.

Steps for Waterscape Acrylic Painting, by Nancy Reyner

This painting is created using layers of acrylic: acrylic paint, an 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.

Step 1.
Applying the Crackle Paste

I started with a sturdy wooden painting support that was 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, I applied Golden’s acrylic crackle paste over the entire surface of the painting support. I applied the paste using various tools such as a palette knife, a putty knife and an old credit card. I like using a variety of tools to get a variety of crackle effects.

The paste is applied ¼” thick to 1” thick. The thinner the paste is applied, the thinner the cracks while the thickly applied paste will crack in large crevices. I like to vary the thickness so I continue to get a variety of crackle effects. Apply the paste in different directions across the panel surface which also keeps the cracks varied and natural looking. Let dry 12-24 hours for cracks to form.

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

Step 2.
Making the Cracks More Visible

The crackle paste has dried and the surface has cracked sufficiently. The cracks do not show very well at this point so I like to make them more visible by adding color into the cracks. First I 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 I added 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 I spray the cracked surface all over with a water sprayer. By wetting the surface before applying the washes I will encourage the paint to seep into the cracks rather then stay on top. My goal is to make the cracks more visible with the color, but keep the top surface white so that it will be easier to paint the waterscape image later. After spraying with water I liberally apply the different colored washes to the entire cracked surface using a wide brush in varying and random patches of color.

Once I have applied the colors all over the surface, I heavily spray the surface again with water, and blot the excess paint on the top surface with paper towels. I repeat spraying the surface with water and blotting the color with paper towels until the top surface is white and the cracks are colored. At this point I blow dry the top surface using a hair dryer to quick dry the surface. If I 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.

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 blow dryer

Step 3.
Painting the Image

Now the cracks are colored and more visible and my top surface is still fairly white. The next step is to paint the waterscape image onto the surface. The surface is still spongy and absorbent so I continue to use diluted washes of paint color. However, this time I won’t pre-wet the surface by spraying it with water, because I want the color to stain the top surface.

First I select more fluid acrylic colors and add them to separate ice cube tray compartments. I like to use a full palette of colors for a wide range of color possibilities. I use red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, white and black. I add water to each color as before to create diluted washes of each color. I use a variety of painting tools to get different effects. I use 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. I started painting trees on the top part of the panel, then painted the water. The water is reflective so I painted a mirror image of the trees and added blue for the sky reflected there as well. I keep adding color until the image is just the way I like it. I let this dry for 12-24 hours.

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

Step 4.
Mixing the Clear Acrylic Finish

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. I start by pouring 16 oz. of Golden’s Self Leveling Gel into a mixing container. This acrylic gel is specially formulated to pour over acrylic paintings. I like to add about 4-6 oz of water to the gel to make it thinner to ensure that the gel can seep into the cracks. I also like to add 3-4 drops of Golden’s fluid Interference Blue (fine).

This is a unique paint which refracts light in an unusual way and adds a special sheen to the painting, enhancing the look of water in this waterscape. This final 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 I stir with a paint stirrer until it is completely combined.

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

Step 5.
Pouring the Clear Acrylic Finish

Holding the painting upright I pour the mixed gel directly from the container onto the top end of the painting. I continue to hold the painting upright and let the gel move downwards from gravity. When the gel gets to the bottom I turn the painting in different directions to let the gel seep well into the cracks. I 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.

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

Step 6.
Embedding Mixed Media

Acrylic is really a high quality glue, so while the poured acrylic finish is still wet I 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.

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

Step 7.
The Finished Painting

The clear acrylic finishing coat has dried clear. This panel already has sides on it so it doesn’t need a frame. When dry it is ready to hang.

Additional Resources:

Read this article for more ways to work with layering techniques and paint layers.

For more great tips on using acrylic read about my course The Complete Guide to Acrylic Painting.

Study with me online or in person. More info here.

14 thoughts on “Making an Acrylic Painting in Layers

  1. Hi Nancy,
    I saw this when it ran on HGTV & it has always stuck in my mind. It looks like you had a lot of fun shooting the spot.
    Thanks for all the tips. I've got some crackle paste just waiting for me to try it out.

  2. A good question. Crackle Paste is not considered as “stable” as the other acrylic products by Golden, because it cracks. I mean face it, an archival painting product is not supposed to crack. But Golden only markets high quality pro materials, and tests all products for their ability to last and be stable. The Crackle Paste, when used on a rigid support, like the panel I used in the video demo, should remain stable after the cracking phase (first 24 hours) and its full curing phase (2 weeks). Most tests by Golden on their products are for 500 year stability. In the demo, I add an additional stability layer, by pouring a fluid acrylic over the cracked and painted surface. This fluid pour works its way down into the cracks and anywhere between the Crackle Paste and the substrate creating an extra “glue” layer. For exact information on your question try contacting Golden Artist Colors, Inc and ask their tech department. They are very good about honest and factual answers. Website is http://www.goldenpaints.com

  3. Thank you for this website and your refreshing attitude to art – which has helped me reaffirm my intention of getting back to just having fun doing what I love the most – painting.

    I have been wild about acrylic paint for most of my life, i believe it’s one of the most versatile and satisfying paints to use. I have been trying for a long time to improve my technique and make my paintings more sophisticated because I really enjoy doing abstract work and large pieces. It is so inspirational to see your work.

    I hope i can find some of the products you mention on this post – particularly the fluid acrylic. I tend to us heavy gel mediums to create a textured background and ‘crack’ it myself, using various found objects and textural materials (like sand, gravel etc.) to make the thick surface. This method is obviously more time consuming and laborious than using a straight crackle medium – so i would like to try and get hold of that too at some point.
    I am from a suburb on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.
    Thank you again, for a wonderful blog

  4. you made me want to come hang out at your studio and paint! it looked like so much fun!!!

    thank you for sharing your enthusiasm – I added you to my blogroll – I’ll be watching 🙂

    Kyle

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