Painting techniques are easily adapted for oil and watercolour, but fast pleasure is found by going for them in acrylic. Speedy drying times and the knowledge that mistakes can be covered up in an instant keep the process uncommitted and playful. Here are five that enliven the act of painting and are generous with surprises:
My second-year painting prof called them “suckerblends,” which I took to mean that they snuck into your heart and made you love them forever, like a sucker. There was a time when many painters believed that a smooth gradation was impossible in fast-drying acrylic. To avoid getting gummy, pre-mix two or three separate, smooth colours into a yogurt-like consistency with lots of medium and water. Pour the colours in little puddles and use a fan brush and broad arm motion to drag them towards each other. Becoming a gradation phenom should take somewhere between ten and ten thousand hours — outside of school time.
Not for the faint of heart and totally worth the leap, glazing is where a transparent, usually darker, tone is washed over dry, previously painted passages. Create a watery-thin glaze by mixing a small amount of semi-transparent colour (phthalo blue is a nice place to start) with 95% medium and water. Making sure the under-painting is completely dry first, pour a pool and wipe it off. Control intensity and highlight areas with your fingertip tucked into the corner of a rag. Try glazing over a painting you think is finished with an opposite on the colour wheel to tone down garish passages and amp up greys. Come to light once everything’s dry.
This is when you use a hog-hair bright or other semi-stiff, course bristle brush to lightly drag new colour over the surface of dry or almost-dry passages. Key-in dazzling vibrations by using the complementary or a colour surprise. Like blossoms on the pads of water lilies, deft dabs of warm and cool will ripple magic.
At the end of a painting, Canadian Group of Seven member and landscape revolutionary Lawren Harris flipped his canvases upside down to cut-in graphic skies. Edges are neat and designed with style: where the mountain meets the sky, cloud pockets, treetops and spots of light, the forest behind, edges of all persuasions. Opportunities for well-designed negative shapes lie waiting to be realized if you look to the in-betweens and the upside-downs.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a coat of final varnish protects and beautifies. Cure an isolation coat of acrylic medium for at least 24 hours and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Then apply polymer varnish with UVLS — cut 50/50 with water. Brush it on quickly or pour it and wipe with a lint-free rag. The more even the coat, the less chance for bubbles, blooming, holidays (those spots you missed) and dust particles. I won’t speak for the personal, discretionary magic of pet hairs.
PS: “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” (Malcolm Gladwell)
“In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster.” (Robert Genn)
Esoterica: Like a quiver of arrows, a handful of techniques keep happenstance and joy at the ready. The heart-skip happens when you get your nose up to the painting surface and can feel its aliveness. You see a record of the act of painting and the embodiment of your handwork, inclinations and understanding of this infinite and archaic technology. “I do not advocate utilizing a set formula for painting,” said Stephen Quiller. “There are many ways to paint and each expression should take its unique path. That is why acrylic is so rewarding — if you understand the medium’s potential.”