Monthly Archives: January 2015

1.1.1 Getting to know your brushes (using acrylics)

 Acrylic experiments with mark-making and blending. 

I discovered different ways of using the medium – with lots of water, washes like watercolour can be produced, blended and graded; and with little or no water the paint can be applied thick, in a textural way.

I played with different size brushes, first getting to know them by organising them into filberts, flats and rounds. 


I made marks with 2 colours side by side on the brush; dabbing with the flat of a large, flat brush, and using it on its side; produced repeating shapes, stamping the paint on; made wavy lines, straight lines, stipples and so on, by choosing the best brush and holding brushes in different ways. 

I used the brush ferrule to get a dry-brush effect. You can be quite brutal with these bristle brushes apparently, but mine are a bit old and splayed from past oil painting, so I may need to invest in some new ones, especially filberts. 

The paint can be mixed on the support, on the palette, or in a dish if using wet washes. I tried blending with brush, rags, fingers – the last two felt quite visceral. 

When I painted the simple landscape from memory, I started out using the paint like watercolour. The paper buckled quite a lot, although it eventually dried flat. I used thicker paint for the middle ground, and neat paint for the textures in the foreground, using a variety of marks and ways of holding the brushes. I made the landscape painting very quick and simple.  The aim was to start getting familiar with the paint and what can be done with it, not to make a great painting. 

Seawhite A3 cartridge paper sketchbook

Seawhite A3 cartridge paper sketchbook


Seawhite A3 cartridge paper sketchbook

 The grapefruit was directly lit from the side and was painted on gessoed paper.  The paper still buckled, but the gesso made the surface more robust and less absorbent I think. The background was done with large flat brush with dilute paint in two colours, blended with the brush on the paper, trying to get a gradual transition from green to red-green. The fruit done with neat paint in quite coarse brush-strokes with a medium size flat brush, the marks left unblended and made to follow the contours of the fruit. The surface the fruit is on was similarly done. The notes under the painting express by feeling of struggling with a new medium. 

180gm fine grain sketchbook, painting is 17x17cm


1.1.2 Applying paint without brushes

 I’m familiar with using oil paints in a certain, rather narrowly defined way, having done a year’s course on oil painting a few years ago. That was ok, but it didn’t open my eyes to the wider possibilities of the medium. 

In this exercise so far I’ve used knives, credit cards, pastry-cook’s scrapers, cardboard, rags, silicone colour shapers and fingers to apply, blend and layer oil paint. I used thick, gessoed cartridge paper in both cases. 




Since doing these (rather timidly, at a desk), my tutor has given me some general advice about painting, including – 

Paint vertically“, meaning at an easel rather than a desk, allowing freedom of movement and broader gestures;

Don’t be afraid of the paint” ; I take this to mean be bold, not timid when applying paint. 

I have tended to do most of my drawing at a desk, so this is a new approach. 

Have lots of paintings on the go at once“.  I like the idea, because I find I need time between phases of a piece of work to decide what needs doing next to it.  Also, it will mean looking at the course as an organic whole, not simply a list of exercises to tick off. 

Pin things on the wall“. For this I need something fixed to the wall to pin things to. The benefit I can see is having work-in-progress, studies, sketches, inspirational material etc all around me in a way that leaves surfaces and floors uncluttered. I envisage just being able to whizz round in my office chair to see all this material around me, instead of having to hunt in sketchbooks and piles of loose sheets for things. 



1.1.3 Painting with pastels


For this exercise I made some experimental worksheets with soft pastels (a forty year old box of 30 Rembrandt Talens soft pastels I inherited from my father; and a new set of 72 Unison colours).  I used them on theirs sides, layering and blending, and using the points or edges for linear detail.

The colours are intense, but blending and mixing tones them down when needed. I practised getting a smooth gradation between two bright colours, toning the neat pigment down to grey or tan in between.

Linear detail can be achieved more or less coarsely, depending on the edge of the stick. To get a more precise line or edge I used a a pastel pencil.

Stippling was fun – when complete it can be blended or left as is. 

I’ve not used soft pastel with water before, so I tried it out and was excited by this new dimension.  I tried painting direct into wet paper; and using a wet brush over dry pastel to change things.  I tried using rags, colour shapers, fingers etc to blend the wet pigment and move it around.  If the pastel isn’t too thickly applied, the water acts as a fixative, so I added further layers and/or marks when it was dry.



I’d heard of using sandpaper as a support for pastel, so I bought a few A4 pieces of dark grey waterproof silicon carbide 400 paper. This took marks, swathes of colour, layers and water very well.   Blending with a rag was  preferable  to aabrading fingers!  The pigments looked bright against the dark colour; as I made the marks I felt the support was consuming a lot of pigment. It’s definitely worth trying other types of sandpaper, and getting bigger sheets.  



I searched the web for more ideas on using water with pastels, and had a go:-

  • Making marbled paper for use as a base on which to develop a painting. Shaving pastel into a tray of water, or marbling bath (thick gloopy consistency, less of the expensive pigment sinks to the bottom) and laying watercolour paper on top for a few seconds.  It’s rather wasteful and I got a similar result by grating pigment straight on to wet paper, without using a bath. I covered one sheet with cling film and let it dry. Below are the results of these experiments.
Unlike with wet media, I was able to direct where different pigments were dropped in the bath and transferred to the paper. This technique could be used to craft a loose underpainting, laying down tone and colour in predetermined broad areas.  Gazing at these sheets for a while I’m able to see images emerge, which could be taken and developed further. 



  • Coat watercolour paper with a thin layer of acrylic. Spray the support with water, add pastel and manipulate with brush, fingers and rags.  I used a mid grey acrylic base, let it dry, sprayed the surface generously and using the pastels on their sides, this rather bold abstract image emerged.
  • Drop ink onto wet paper, allowing the colours to flow. Work over that with pastels, blending some parts with water and a brush, keeping the surface wet with a spray. When dry, work over with pastel. I used a wet brush to soften some of the dry pastel marks. 
I need to crack on with the next project, so will use these techniques in a painting at a later stage.